Planet Adventure Half Marathon Recap: My First DNF

I’m trying to be philosophical about not finishing. That I made the right decision given the circumstances, that it wasn’t all a waste, and that it was still a good experience. But there’s just no way of getting around it: when you train for something for three months and don’t finish, it just darn STINKS.

Yesterday started out cold but clear. We got to Eagle Creek Park in Indy around 4:30 for packet pickup. I got my bib pinned on, we walked around the start area and took some pictures, and then sat in the car to wait because it was just so cold out. I think it was about 29 when we got there, but it felt a lot colder.

Ready to race!

At 6:00, the quarter marathoners – those running one lap of the 6.55 mile course – took off. Then, people running the half took their place in the starting chute. The sun was close to setting, and everyone turned their headlamps on. At 6:10, we were off. (The full marathoners left at 6:20.)

Imagine 600 of these lights coming at you from the woods. Wooooo.
Imagine 600 of these lights coming at you from the woods. Wooooo.

Within the first mile, I knew my pace was off. There were so many people that we were forced to walk at several places because it was so backed up and the trail was single-track. Then the difficulty of the trail started to take its toll. It was snowy and every step seemed like a struggle for balance and stability. I had to knock packed-up snow off my shoe several times.

Still, it was absolutely gorgeous. As the western sky dimmed, the full moon began to rise above the trees to the east. So beautiful. I was only using my music function on my phone, but I knew by the number of songs that had played that I was going way slow. But I had decided to run my own race, enjoy God’s masterful creation, and just get through it.

Moonlit path

During the first mile, I thought I would be too warm in a tech t-shirt, long-sleeved running shirt, and coat (and two layers on my legs). I took my gloves off and unzipped my coat to expose my neck, and that helped regulate my temperature. But as the night went on, all I could feel was cold. My face was like an ice block. Who was the dummy who signed up for a WINTER NIGHTTIME TRAIL RUN??

I came across the starting line to begin lap two about 30 minutes behind my planned pace. But I was feeling OK, and confident I could make it back. Steve was right there and gave me a high five before I scampered back into the woods.

About half a mile later, BOOM. I hit a solid sheet of ice, my legs went out from under me, and I fell flat on my back, hitting my head. I must have tried to break my fall with my right elbow and left hand because I have bruises there today. Groaning, I pulled myself off the trail to the side. A group of runners were right behind me and stopped to ask me if I was OK. “I think so,” I said. “Well, you don’t look like it!” this one guy said. Eh, he might have been right.

A smart person would have turned back then. But I am a stupid person and was determined to keep going. I texted Steve to tell him of my mishap, and started walking, then tried jogging. The wind had been knocked out of me when I fell and that must have affected my diaphragm or something, because soon I was gasping for air, as if I couldn’t take deep breaths. I’m not asthmatic, but from what I understand of asthma, that’s what my breathing was like. It was as if my lungs were shallow and I would never be able to breath deep again. Very scary.

I knew there was an aid station at the 2-mile mark, so I pushed through the next mile and a half until I saw the lights of the station twinkling ahead. I talked with the medic there, rested a few minutes, and – because, as mentioned before, I am a stupid person – decided to keep going. I made it about 100 meters before the gasping came back and my back was screaming at me. I just knew there was no way I could do another four miles on that terrain. I called Steve to tell him I was turning back, and then began crying which of course made the breathing SO much easier!

I stayed on the phone with Steve (“Calm down, breath deep, keep walking,” he kept saying) as I limped back to the aid station. The volunteers made me comfortable in their heated area and called a car to come take me to the starting line. I was crying and very pathetic, and they were incredibly kind to me. The medic gave me some tips to treat my back and encouraged me to talk to the paramedics at the start line, and to go to a doctor if I started to feel worse. All in all, they were amazing.

We got back to the starting line, and started bawling again when I saw Steve. It was just so disappointing to not finish. I’m not a quitter. I PUSH. But the fact of the matter was that I was injured and it was time to call it a day. I think I might have had a very minor concussion as well because as we drove home, I started having a headache and feeling nauseated, and I’m still feeling a bit of that today along with neck pain. Advil is helping, so it’s not terrible. I’ve had way worse.

Steve was incredibly encouraging and affirming as usual. He knew how much I wanted it, but he also didn’t want his wife injured and alone in the middle of the woods at night. Which I totally get. I couldn’t ask for a better hubby in the whole world! We had a consolatory dinner at Chili’s, drove home, and then I soaked my aches in the tub. It was after midnight by then, but I was too keyed up to sleep. So I called my best friend in Thailand (one instance when the time difference was helpful!) and had the kind of talk that heals all manner of wounds. (Thanks, Mel!)

My Takeaways:

1. In order to succeed on a trail race, you must train on trails. Your muscles have to be trained to adapt to that kind of surface, and mine were not. There are no good trails close to us, so for the foreseeable future, I think I will steer clear of races of this length that are solely  run on trails. The Lakestride, for example, has trails but only for about two miles. Two miles is no biggie. 13 miles is a different story! For now, I’ll stick with races that are primarily road races. And I’ll need to not skimp on the speed runs and strength workouts.

2. The reason I signed up for this race was to have a goal to work towards after my surgery and to keep me working out over the holidays. It did all that! And even though I didn’t finish, I still ran nine miles on trails at night! I keep telling myself it’s still worth being proud of. The bib is still going on my office wall along with the others, and I am wearing the race t-shirt right now.

3. As much as I would love to do the marathon in Schaumburg in May, I’m starting to think that maybe it wouldn’t be the wisest of moves. I think I need more time prepare for that, and pushing myself might not be worth it. So, I might focus on working on getting my pace down for the Lakestride in June, and maybe do a smaller race on the way there. I can always do a marathon in the fall after a triathlon or two.

I can honestly say I am grateful for this experience, even if it was technically a failure. We have the chance to learn so much from failures, don’t we? They shape us in ways that successes don’t – if we allow them to. In the words of Rafiki, “Ah yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, we can either run from it, or…learn from it!”

Maybe I will run TO learn from it? There we go. On to the next adventure!

And a BIG Thank You to all my wonderful friends and family who have encouraged me along the way! It means more than I could ever say.

1 Comment

  1. //

    I so feel your pain and admire your attitude. I was unable to even make it to the starting line for a 1/2 marathon in October because of a knee injury. I still put the bib on my wall and I still wear the shirt. But I am thankful for all God has helped me to accomplish over the past 3 years, so I have nothing to complain about.
    By the way Debbie and I will be at WGM in June doing the FD retreat. Hope to see you then.
    Keep on running!

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