The dreaded #dnf. The hashtag you never want to have to put on a post. Did Not Finish. It turns out there’s a first time for everything, and sometimes it just sucks.
I had my first half marathon of 2017 scheduled on Saturday. It was a small, fast, net downhill race on a scenic trail in Greenville, SC – about 1.75 hours south of home. The minions and the hubs didn’t join me this time; instead, one of my best girlfriends came with me. The plan was to run a quick, easy race Saturday morning, then have a kid-free girls’ weekend (shopping, food, drinks, dancing… ?? that didn’t happen). “The best laid plans of mice and men…”
Race morning started out great. It was 50 degrees, slightly overcast, virtually no wind. My legs had been stretched out by the PT on Thursday, freshly foam-rolled on Friday, and woken up with a few sun salutations and air squats Saturday morning. I was well hydrated and well fueled. I had a new playlist and was in the middle of a really good audiobook! I even got the pre-race bathroom situation out of the way ?? (any runner knows that is half the battle!). The race was a point-to-point, so my friend dropped me off at the start and planned on meeting me exactly 1:45 hours later at the finish. I had big plans to push for a 1:45 finish, down a full 2 minutes from my 1:47:02 PR. It was within reach on rested legs, well-trained lungs, and a fast, downhill course. I found the 1:45 pacer who looked like a collegiate XC runner and thus well able to get us across the line on pace. (Much respect to race pacers! You guys rock.)
The first 5K of the course had “rolling hills,” which is usually race-speak for a bunch of annoying uphills followed by short downhills. Ok, no big deal, it was only a few miles. After that we were headed onto a beautiful, quiet, gentle downhill trail for basically the rest of the race. A lot of my recent training runs have been faster than expected, with a 7:45 pace requiring the same effort a 8:00 pace would have taken a few months ago. I was excited to see what I could do on 8+ miles of fast terrain.
It’s always easier to analyze what may have gone wrong after a few days of reflection. I think my issue started with the size of the trail, coupled with the size of the race. A smaller race means less people, yes, but it also often means less structure. There were no corrals, and while there were several different pace groups, the race director didn’t make any announcement for runners to line up according to their anticipated per minute pace. This meant a good deal of runners who aren’t used to racing simply lined up somewhere, not necessarily anywhere near their anticipated pace. The result was a congested start, with a lot of slower runners in front of faster pace groups.
The trail itself isn’t very wide, and we spent the majority of the first 3 miles weaving in and out of groups of runners to establish our pace. The pacer did a really solid job of not rushing things and making sure we were able to stick with him through the congestion. He hit every split almost on the nose, despite the traffic. The race was mostly local (North and South Carolina) runners, and you could feel the southern hospitality. “No, after you!” “Please, you go first!” No elbowing, just really polite runners! Way too much congestion, nonetheless.
I rolled my ankle right around the 3-mile mark. I slipped off the edge of the concrete walkway and the foot went left, the ankle went right, and that was that. I felt it on the outside top of my foot, and all the way up the side of my calf. I hobbled to the nearest bench, stopped (it’s sooo frustrating when you have to leave the pacer! ?), and stretched my calf and ankle as best as I could. It hurt, but I thought it would be ok for the race. A PR was out of reach for sure, but that didn’t mean a finish was. I picked back up after 30 or 60 seconds, and it took maybe another 1/2 mile before I knew it was pointless. At this point I was seriously limping and favoring my left side. I stopped when I reached two traffic cops at mile 4.
I’ve gone over this in my head a few times since Saturday. I have a really hard time not finishing something. I feel like a failure, like I quit. I come down hard on myself and feel like I need to justify my decision over and over. In the end I decided that it wasn’t worth agonizing over it. This was a local race. It was meant to be fun; I had nothing contingent on this race. It wasn’t a milestone race on the way to another, more important one. I had a friend on standby who immediately came to pick me up from the side of the road (like any good friend will do, no questions asked!), and we had a really fun, relaxing weekend – after I spent an hour icing my elevated ankle.
Nobody goes into a race hoping for a Did Not Finish. But that’s what I got this time, and that’s ok. I saw my trusted physical therapist this morning, and I’ve been instructed to stay off my ankle for the rest of the week. Next week I’ll pick up where I left off. There will be another race and another chance at a PR. For now I’ll chalk this one up to experience and try to focus on the positives (I didn’t break anything, I wasn’t stranded on my own with no way back to the hotel, I had a brownie afterward…). Onward and upward!