Marathon Training Week Eleven- When It All Falls Apart

This is not the post that I wanted to write. I've had to write one like this before-hated it then, hate it even more now.  But if there is one thing that I have learned along the way its that sometimes when you have to emotionally dig deep, there is a lesson to be learned. A lesson which was learned the hard way, as many good lessons are.

Before I jump into it, here's a look at last week's training:

Monday: Cycle Pump (1hour 15min)
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: 5km run
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Rest
Saturday: 22km run
Sunday: Recovery

Total Distance Ran: 29km

Here's the story:

Sometimes you can do everything right, like for-going the third drink at the wedding, scaling back on training during a taper, drinking lots of water and getting a lot of rest and things can still go terribly, terribly wrong.

I went into the MidSummer Night's Run with the most humble of intentions: to finish the run.

30km, especially given my training thus far, is a force to be reckoned with. And like anything of that magnitude I had the utmost respect. I did not expect it to be easy. I thought I was prepared.

500 metres into the race it became obvious that my body did not agree.

Extreme abdominal cramping like I have never felt before.

Despite my best effort to push through it and control my breathing I had to drop to the side and try to catch my breath. Less than half a kilometre into the race and I was already walking. Not a good sign.

It was humid- that kind of humid that amasses before a storm and makes the air feel thick. That kind of humid that it even worse then beating sun, which would have been a welcomed alternative.

I tried my best to maintain my speed and keep up with the pace group but I was over taken by unavoidable cramping and had to let them go. My heart sunk as they gained more and more distance on me and I knew that I was struggling more then I could have imagined.

It was only the sixth kilometre.

I pushed when I could, tried to steady my breath and pull air deep into my diaphragm but the emotional damage had been done. I was feeling defeated and I wasn't even a third of the way in. Twenty two more kilometres might as well have been a thousand. Impossible is impossible whichever way you look at it.

Text message to the Boyfriend: "I can't do this"

I plodded on for another twenty minutes seriously considering dropping out. I knew I was about to see the Boyfriend and desperately wanted it to be over. Until I didn't. I managed to get into a steady, albeit slow, pace and the cramping had partially subsided and I started to believe that I maybe, just maybe I could do it.

I wanted to believe it.

When I reached the Boyfriend I ditched my running belt, waved off what was supposed to be a "look how happy I am to be running this race" photo and plodded on. The next leg of the race was a gruelling out and back on a thin slice of land with no option to give up. It was exactly what I needed and the worse thing possible all at the same time.

The cramping returned in full force after only a kilometre. The water on the course was warm. The breeze was thick and hot. I was completely miserable.

I pushed when I could, wanting to keep running and becoming increasingly frustrated because I couldn't. I didn't even need to regain my original pace- all I wanted was to finish the race. Nothing is more infuriating then willing your body to cooperate and coming up empty.

The time on the Leslie St. Spit seemed endless. I was tired, disappointed, in pain, hot and confused. I was running south for what seemed like forever and grew more weary as the minutes ticked by. How far could I possibly have left to go before the turnaround? How was I so far behind the pace group who had passed me on their way back? There was no way I would make it to the 21km checkpoint before the cutoff. I was done.

Except I had turned without even realizing it. And that realization was so small but yet big enough to renew my hope that however slowly it would be, I'd get through it.

Until the pain mounted again and I was forced to jog so slowly that I was being passed by speed walkers. I couldn't speed up and I was too panicked by the time to slow down. 135 minutes of pain and I wasn't anywhere near the finish line that I so desperately craved.

I wanted to cross that finish line more then anything in the world at that moment.

Tears started to flow. I was so angry and so frustrated that I couldn't help it. Eleven more kilometres seemed so impossible. I tried to tell myself that I had already made it nineteen but I didn't need reminding. The heavy ache in my legs was enough to know that I had come that far. And that going the rest of the way would be more rough then I could really imagine.

Pain in my abdomen. Pain in my chest. Pain in my legs and feet.

And then the hardest thoughts crept it. "Just quit. This is torture. No one should put themself through this"

I wanted to fight those thoughts and I did my best but at 21 kilometres and the news that the water station had run out of water I gave in. Even my walking had slowed down. I had ignored the sign to stick to the right and just kept trudging ahead, tired and crying and wanting to be away from this race, this nightmare.

I saw the Boyfriend, who had come to look for me when he realized something must be wrong, and bawled my eyes out. I heaved and sobbed for every step I had taken that was now for nothing. I wasn't finishing the race. I was giving up. I was a quitter.

But, and its a big but, I realized that I am not a quitter at all.

I did not finish the race but I endured more of a  physical struggle and mental challenge then I have ever gone through. For three hours of my life I fought through pain, discomfort and a gauntlet of negative emotion because I was determined not to let it go unless I absolutely had to.

At 8:30 last night I had to.

I am disappointed that I didn't complete the race, that I don't have a shiny medal to hang with the rest of them but I also know, as I sit here with sore legs and tell the story I didn't want to tell, that I had the courage to start and that means something.

I could choose to focus on the 8 kilometres I didn't run- the 8 that are the difference between a finisher's medal and a DNF- but instead I will focus on the 22 before that.

I can't get down on myself about 22 kilometres. Two years ago that distance was only a dream to me. And yesterday, however slowly, however begrudgingly, I covered the space against the odds that were against me.

I would have been proud if I had run a great race and gotten my PDR. But the absence of that milestone only means that I am proud in a different way.

I pushed myself when I could but I also recognized when going on was no longer an option. In the face of failure I decided I had another option: To not view not finishing as failure at all.

Will there be other races? Hopefully. But today isn't the day for me to make that decision. Today I will just try to forget the hurt but always remember the lessons that I learned the hard way.

Thank you for being there with me through this journey and this story.

So tell me, have you ever had to give on something that you wanted only to gain more from the defeat?


  1. Oh Sam. I've been there. I DNF'd on my first triathlon of the season this year after a panic attack in the water. But I took it and learned from it. I focused on swimming like crazy, and now it's one of my favorite things to do!

    Focus on your amazing effort and hard work out there. Try not to beat yourself up. 22k is still a sizable distance!

  2. So sorry that you had a bad night. I'm not sure I'd have been able to shlep through 22K in that kind of discomfort. Unfortunately they don't give out medals for just plain gutsy efforts. Disappointing, no doubt...but it'll fade. Be good to yourself.

  3. oh honey, im so sorry. that really sucks. u looked really good at the start.
    there will be other races.
    think of this as a learning experience. U ran 22 friggin kilometers. that is AWESOME! and so what that u didnt finish.....u still ran ur little heart out.and this was a night race and that is so hard to prepare for.

    take some time off, relax, and take it slow and u will rock ur marathoN!!!!


  4. Thank you for sharing this. It seems it was a hard race for a lot of people. If nothing else, you can be glad you weren't one of the people the paramedics had to attend to around the finish line.

    iRun magazine published a nice little article on goal-setting and dealing with DNF that seems appropriate: http://cot.ag/qHj4h8

    You'll do better next time! Believe!!

  5. Hey Sam, this was still very inspiring to read - 22km?! INTERNET HIGH FIVE. My running group had 3 people with DNFes, and they are some of the top folks - I love your outlook and this post. There will always be another race... enjoy your Sunday!! xo Liz

  6. Sam, I'm so sorry it didn't work out the way you wanted it to. You sure did battle though and I believe that is something to be proud of.
    Last year I got injured at the beginning of training for my first full marathon. I kept thinking I was better and trying to run, only to have to cut runs short or call for rides. It was super defeating but now I appreciate ever mile more than I ever did before.
    Proud of you :)

  7. I'm so sorry to hear about your race, Samantha, but you ran 22K -- that's an incredible feat and one that 99% of the people cannot do. Also, you kept going when you wanted to quit early on and by hearing about those conditions + the ab cramps, I would have been the first to throw in the towel!

    Now's a great time to get some rest, reflect, and well, eat some yummy food! Hang in there!

  8. Oh no, I'm soo sorry this happened to you!! I hope you are feeling better now and recover from this race soon. I'm proud of you for hanging in there for so long, many people would have quit way earlier. This experience will make you stronger for future races, just keep believing in yourself!!

  9. Don't beat yourself up too much about it! I can understand the disappointment - but you learned a ton during that race. 22km is amazing :) Sounds like you gave it ALL you had - and really you can't ask yourself for more. All your posts are inspiring (even the ones you don't think are). Don't give up and try try again! (p.s. for the record you ran over a half marathon. no one can hate on that!!)

  10. Yesssss, I've definitely had times like this!! And I thank you for sharing this so we can all know we're not alone in these situations!! I know you didn't like writing this post, but these kinds of posts are sometimes my favorite because they are so human, raw & inspiring. :-)

  11. We've all had rough times like this girl! Honor that you put yourself out there - you are human - and awesome :)

  12. Came across your blog recently, really sorry that you couldn't finish, but it's smart to stop when your body really tells you to. There will be other races.

  13. SO sorry to hear about your stomach issues :( I had awful stomach issues my second half-marathon and the ONLY reason I finished is because it was a point-to-point marathon and I had no phone on me to call my friend who was waiting at the end to come and get me. Stomach problems are the worst! Hope you feel better soon.

  14. I'm sorry that you weren't able to finish the race, but I so respect you for your strength and perseverance that you exhibited throughout the race. Running with a wicked side cramp is really difficult, and the fact that you continued as far as you did is really impressive!

  15. you did really well to run as far as you did, and that is a major achievement in itself! Well done :)

  16. You did really great given your situation. You really did! Rest up and try not to think about it right now. As you said, now is not the time to make future race decisions. You are brave to hang in there for 22km and brave to share your story with us. Can't image how you ran with cramping. Be proud!

  17. Thank you sooooo very much for writing this post :) I think it's great that you are so honest and your re-living the event from your inner perspective is awesome! I am not trying to say I'm glad you didn't finish but I have my first 5k this fall and sometimes when I'm training for it I get like that when I'm hurting. It's crazy how we (athletes, heathy people, exercise nerds) are sooooo tough on ourselves. WE are AMAZING!!!! looking at what your body managed to accomplish WHILE in pain, I may add is simply remarkable!!!! it gives me hope. Now I know not to hate myself if I can run the whole distance I've set out for myself, but I also know to TRY my damn hardest :D I know it's only 5k for me but one day I hope to be able to do marathons like you. CONGRATS on banging out 22 when you were gone at 500m :)

  18. I can really relate to this post and thank you for your candor and honesty in writing it. I am looking at giving up running my half marathon in a couple of weeks due to some very similar sounding stomach cramping issues I've been having during my training runs - the body just does NOT want to cooperate. I'm really frustrated, but you are so right...there will always be other races! I am trying to tell myself that knowing you need to stop for your well-being is a courageous decision as well. Congrats on your 22km, though, that is seriously awesome, even more so with the pain you were experiencing!

  19. :( I'm sorry you had issues during your race. I am so proud of you for sticking out for as long as you did. Your 22k is an amazing accomplishment considering how you felt. Be proud of yourself what you did accomplish! :)

  20. I totally know how you feel. For my second marathon, I wanted to beat my first one by at least 30 minutes. I was actually slower!!! I got injured at mile 14 and pushed slowly to the finish. It was painful and horrible!! I probably should have stopped, but no- we as runners can be so stubborn! We all have sucky runs, this one just happened to be on race day. The good runs make us appreciate the bad ones, that's for sure.