D.N.F. The three letters that no runner wants to see next to their name.
As I stood in the well-below freezing temperatures at the start of the 2008 Philadelphia Marathon, I had every intention of completing the full marathon. Less than a month before this, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in about 5 hours. In that race, I had picked up a problem with my hip, but the problem wasn’t significant enough to keep me from preparing for or make me think I couldn’t complete this race.
At this point, I had completed 4 marathons and knew that there were always aches and pains during a race and also in the days and weeks after. So, I had confidence that I could complete them even if they weren’t always the easiest.
I was about to learn that confidence doesn’t always guarantee good results.
Other than the cold temperatures, everything started out as expected, but things quickly changed.
After a few miles, the pain in my hip had started to resurface. At the same time, the cold was beginning to have an effect and the doubt started creeping in to my mind.
By mile 5, I started thinking there was no way I could complete the race in one piece. Shortly after that, I started walking. Here I was about 8 miles into a 26.2 mile race and I was already walking and couldn’t help but feel embarrassed for it.
There were so many excuses to stop racing. The cold temperatures, the pain in my hip, my brother standing somewhere in the cold waiting for me to finish.
The main reason to continue was to fight through the extremely cold temperatures, which were around 15 degrees F (about -9C) to finish what I had started. After all, running in the cold has always been my favorite weather to run in, so why should this day have been any different?
Usually, I enjoy the physical and mental battle that goes on during a race. This is what makes racing fun for me and keeps me coming back for more. There’s just something about overcoming these challenges that I guess is addictive in some ways.
Unfortunately, on this day, the excuses to stop won the battle and I decided to drop out of the race.
I texted my brother and told him I was walking and I’d meet him at the half way point to go home. Such was my shame in quitting, I quickly put my jacket on and zipped it all the way up to hide my race bib as we walked back to the car.
Just for clarification, there’s nothing wrong with walking during a race or even having to withdraw from a race because of injury, but on this day it was hugely disappointing to me.
Looking back now, maybe I just didn’t have the experience or mentality to be able to handle these types of weather conditions combined with my early signs of trouble in this race.
In the days after the race, I was disappointed that I had to withdraw from it. And honestly, I was really annoyed with myself for “not being prepared” for the race.
As time went on though, I knew that the best thing to do was just to focus on recovering and, once I was able to train again, start thinking about how I could better prepare myself for the races that I had already scheduled in the spring of 2009.
After a few good months of preparation, in March I completed a half marathon in what was then my best time. This set me up nicely for a little bit of redemption from my disappointment in Philadelphia!
In May, I completed the Frederick Marathon in the rain, which was heavy at times, and in a time that was 50 minutes faster than my previous best.
While I was really happy with my new personal best time of 4:11, I was most happy to have completed the distance again with the memory of my DNF still fresh in my mind.
To this day, I still think about my morning in Philadelphia, even if I don’t talk too much about it.
The only difference is that now I use the experiences of that race to motivate me to keep going!
Over the years since this race, my mentality has changed from embarrassment to using it as a source of motivation. The race always seems to come up in my memory if I’m having a tough run and in all of my marathons since then it’s been in my mind, but instead of it being embarrassing I now use it to spur me on.
Obviously, I’d rather not have another day like that, where I have to withdraw from a race, but if I do I’ll try to learn from it and use it as a learning experience again!
One day soon, I’ll go back to the Philadelphia Marathon and stand on the start line and I’ll think about the day that I started the race, but didn’t finish it.
And I’ll also think about that day as I’m crossing the finish line!