May 21, 2015

My real moment, aka my first DNF (Race Report: Armed Forces Half-Marathon)

I have never not finished a race before.  I've pushed through illness and injury straight to the finish line.  This race, that would not happen, no matter how hard I pushed and I tried.  I've run plenty of half marathons, and after finishing a full, I don't view them as a challenge anymore.  I should though, as covering 13.1 miles is still a major feat of endurance, strength, speed, and stamina.  I should've taken this race more seriously.

As I usually do, I checked the weather for race day to make sure I wear appropriate attire.  My weather app said 58-degrees, 5 mph winds, and chance of some sprinkling.  Sure it was a chance of rain, but still I decided to play it safe and I wore a windbreaker, long capris, and a hat.  I sported my Skirt Sports 261 Fearless outfit.  I love the fit, the comfort, and how it proudly displays the word "Fearless".  This is one of my favorite running outfits.

When I got to the packet pick-up tent, it was a little chilly, in the high 40's, but it really didn't feel bad.  I pinned my bib over the jacket since the sky was a bid overcast and it did start sprinkling.  So the cap was a good idea.

I felt great the first five mile of the race.  The skies cleared, it got warmer, the view was great, and I was keeping a great pace.  I was going a bit faster than normal, but the field was pretty fast.  I started off last, and about at mile 3 I passed one person, but that was all the passing I did.  It looked like the average pace the others were running was  about 8:30-9 minutes a mile.  I was happy with my 10 minute mile pace.  As I said, faster than usual for me.  And the first half of this course was going up an incline towards the mountains with rolling hills.  The view was beautiful!  There wasn't much greenery on the course, but this left the mountain views unobscured.  I love the beauty of the Sandia Mountains.  It felt like I was about to run right up them.

Right after I hit the the turnaround, maybe a mile after, everything changed.  The wind shifted and a storm was blown right on top of us.  The sun disappeared.  Then the temps lowered under 40 degrees and the winds picked up to 20-35mph.  They brought with them rain at first, then sleet and hail, and finally a rain/snow mix.  All within an hour.

It's funny, I felt cold only for maybe half an hour, then I felt fine.  Except I lost feeling in my hands, I felt sluggish, I stopped shivering, and my mind just kept repeating "Just finish.  Just finish.  Just finish."  I don't know how long this went on.  But I do remember passing the mile 12 sign.  And I do remember a car driving up and insisting to take me to the med guys.  In turn, I insisted I was fine and that I was almost there.  But he was more insistent.  Apparently, my lips were blue and my skin was bright red.  Apparently I had hypothermia.  Apparently, the weather was so bad that the finish line crew had packed up and left.  And apparently this was the first time I would DNF (did not finish).

I had so many things working against me.
The medics were great and quick to supply me with warm drinks and blankets.  They helped me get warm enough to the point where I started shivering again.  The red and blue started to fade somewhat, and I got sensation back in my hands.  Once I was feeling cold and had feeling back, they released me to drive back to my hotel and thoroughly warm-up.  I filled my bathtub with the water all the way to hot and just soaked in it until the shivering stopped.  After a quick shower, I then went downstairs to my hotel's hot tub and just relaxed there until I felt warm again.

Now during this whole warming-up/recovering period I was really beating myself up.  I hate not finishing something I've started.  It bothers me.  It taunts me.  I feel like a failure; like a disappointment.  And all these feelings were simmering in my head and my heart as I sat in that hot tub.  I felt like I'd been a marked a quitter.

Once I came to my senses, and after talking with a great friend, I realized that DNF'ing that race was smart and in my best interest health-wise.  After all, I would be so mad if I lost a finger just to finish a race.  I'm also lucky that I didn't get pneumonia afterwards.  Sure I got a pretty awful cold, but it could've been so much worse.

As I write this, about a week later, I've come to terms with my DNF.  In fact, after reading stories about professional runners, I realize that most have a few DNF's under their belt.  Maybe this is another sign that I'm a real runner.  Maybe I should be proud of the fact that I was smart enough to stop, get out of the weather, and get some medical aid before anything truly terrible had happened.

So there it is, my first DNF.  And it wasn't the end of the world.  On the contrary, I feel stronger and wiser because of it.  In light of this race, I've decided to focus on the 10K for a while, until I'm fully recovered from all the injuries I've been fighting.  I think the 10K will help me find my stride in training, and help me find the joy in running again.

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