What do you get when you line up for a full marathon under trained, over confident, and shoot for a 30 cut on your PR?
You get spanked, three ways; Hard. Fast. Often.
Then you bail out a the 13.1 mark, pick up you bags and go home to do housework.
Saturday, on the hour-long drive to packet pickup, my right thigh felt twitchy and on the verge of cramping all day long. It was a bit of a concern, but I had been fighting some minor low back pain for a couple of weeks and figured it was just because of the longer car trip. After packet pick up, we grabbed lunch and then headed further south to visit my mom at the beach house. We had a nice, but short visit including a walk down to the beach and a couple of small chores. We left a bit later than planned an didn’t get home until close to 5:00pm. I caught a quick nap, then a carbo dinner, and early to bed.
The alarm went off at 4:00am. The race didn’t start until 7:30, but parking close to the start/finish area can be a problem, so I chose an low-stress but early morning, vs sitting in traffic for hours looking for a parking spot. Fran woke up twisted like a pretzel from back spasms, so I told her to stay home as there was no point in further aggravating the problem by standing around in the chill air for several hours. So she climbed back into bed, as I got in the car to drive to the race.
The only potential problem with this theory is that I would be without the legendary “Weazer Primo Parking Mojo”. At every race we’ve gone to where parking is an “issue”, Fran is able to locate a sweet spot that I can easily hobble to after the race, and gives us a very easy exit from the venue. We speak of this ability in hushed tones so as not to upset the force that provides this special manna.
As I walk out the door of the house, temps are in the mid 40’s and it’s raining.
Since no one in their right mind is headed down the shore at 0-dark-thirty on a Sunday morning, I made it to the race start smoothly, choosing a slightly different route than we drove on Saturday, and avoiding “downtown” Long Branch. The forces of darkness must have been sleeping late, or the mojo was still in the car, because I got a GREAT parking spot, just few yards from the main venue. As I walk to the hotel entrance, the rain has stopped, and there is a slight hint of a sunrise appearing over the Atlantic Ocean.
I’m usually a pretty calm guy before a race. Even during an “A” race I’m in a different spot. Usually I’m not completely confident in my training, but satisfied. I’m not completely confident in my goals, but hopeful. I’m not completely confident in the race conditions, but willing to let the day come to me. As I sit in the lobby of the Ocean Place Resort & Spa Hotel, I’m feeling not much of anything. No apprehension, no fear, no emotion of any kind. Only sort of an anxious “lets get this thing done” sort of emotion. As I will learn later, I’m in complete denial.
I drop off my gear bag and head off toward the start. As I head to the boardwalk, it’s starting to drizzle, and has gotten colder and more overcast. Just frigg’en great. As soon as I step outside I start to shiver and wish I had brought more to wear. At the start I meet up with some friends and folks I’ve raced with in the past. We chat and wait for the start. And wait, and wait, and wait. There are now 7000 cold, anxious and stiff athletes waiting for the start. First the announcements, then an invocation, then the worlds worst American Idol rendition of the National Anthem and finally, 20 minutes late, we waddle toward the start.
I’m about 20 yards behind the 4:00 pacing flag, and as we start I immediately feel the need to catch up with and run exactly behind the pacer. As I sprint to catch her I realize that I’ve made this very same mistake before. Not one to let a perfectly good mistake go un-repeated, I push, dodge, jump and make-my-way-like-an-a-hole my way right up behind her.
We start clicking off the miles: 8:40, 8:31, 8:40.. A nagging voice starts to develop in the back of my head. It’s saying “umm, dude, you are going out WAY to fast” And as an overconfident Ironman I say “Shut the f*** up, I know what I’m doing! I feel great!” The little voice says “ok, it’s your race..”
Thee more miles pass in 8:45, 8:45, 8:53. The nagging voice is starting to get louder, deeper and more malevolent, and now my bladder is starting to sing. I hustle to the porta-john where there are several people already in line. I finally get my spot, do my business and head back out on the course.
Now any sane person would proceed to drop into some 9:00 miles, and not worry about catching the pacer. Since my sanity left me as soon as the gun went off, I proceed to try to bridge up to the pacer. Mile 7, including the rest stop goes by at 9:50, then 8:45, 8:40, and 9:02.
At this point the quads are starting to protest. Actually, they are going out on strike. At about mile 11 my left knee refuses to cross the picket line, followed quickly by my right. I’m developing sharp stabbing pains in both knees. I figure it’s reality clamping it’s jaws around my legs. I slow to walk for a bit, and the pain barely eases. I start to try to jog a bit and the pain comes right back, but has now brought friends along for the fun and they are starting to gnaw the bones.
Totally devoid of my senses I try to run up through mile 12 and the start/finish area. Almost instantly both legs explode. I slow to a jog, cross the timing mat at the ½-way point and decide that the only way I’ll finish the day is to walk the second loop. I saw no point in that, and turned in my chip. The last 3.1 miles took 32:50.
As I walked up to retrieve my checked-in bags, I crumpled up my marathon race bib, and held it in my fist so no one could see it. I was truly humiliated from the DNF and felt embarrassed holding onto the thing among all the other “real” half-marathoners who completed their race. I grabbed my bag and headed home.
I’m slowly getting over the sting of my first DNF. I’ve learned from this experience, and know what I have to do in order to be successful at the next one!
I was born a Jersey Boy, now living Los Angeles. I definitely know the feeling of being stupid and overexerting yourself on race day. I haven’t DNF’d (yet) so I have no advice for you. All I can say is “sorry dude, I feel bad for ya.” You’ll kick butt next time.
Been there. Undertrained and overconfident has been my theme song since IM Florida. I DNF’d my first race in February and tore my legs up in another in April.