Long story short: I did not run 26.2 miles yesterday at San Francisco Marathon due to debilitating leg pain. Had there not been a half marathon finish line at the 13.1 mile marker, I would have had to take a true DNF.
On Saturday, the day of the expo and ambassador activities at Fort Mason, I led the shake out run with Bart Yasso (more on that later this week) and the nine minute/mile pace I ran felt much faster and more difficult than it should have been. Having received a massage on Monday, I thought my legs, particularly my IT bands near my knees, glutes, and quads would feel good as new, but that wasn’t the case. After running three miles, I worked at the 2015 registration booth for a few hours before heading home. I spent the rest of the evening stretching, foam rolling, and drinking electrolytes, but I went to sleep worried about my right leg.
On race morning, we arrived at the start line with a pacing plan: we would run 10 minute miles unless we slowed down running uphill or sped up downhill. Once we started, I felt the lack of range of motion in my right leg affecting my gait almost immediately. Running felt way more difficult than it should have after two weeks of tapering.
After the bridge, I knew I was in trouble when running downhill past Baker Beach felt worse than running uphill. Every step hurt, and I started feeling like I was dragging my right leg behind me every step of the way. Jesse asked me repeatedly if I wanted to stop at the halfway point, to which I said no way, I’m not going to fall short of my goal. After passing the halfway point in Golden Gate Park, Jesse stopped and asked me again, and I said no, but when we started up to run again, the pain in my leg made me realize that the right decision was to stop. I did not want to risk injury or sidelining myself for several weeks all for this race. At the halfway point in years past, I felt warmed up and ready to run 13 more miles. This was not the case yesterday. We ran towards the finish line feeling completely defeated; the walk through the finisher’s chute was anti-climactic and upsetting. While the half marathoners celebrated their accomplishments, I felt like a loser.
The worst part of my first DNF was disappointing Jesse. He really wanted to achieve his goal of completing an Ironman this weekend, especially after his second place age group finish at Vineman Aquabike (his second podium at a Vineman race this season). A half marathon is not a distance to scoff at, but having been pacing for the full, we ended up running the slowest half ever.
I think I set myself up for defeat when I wanted an A-race on my training calendar, after I decided to not train for Vineman. That race became the SF Marathon for me in May, despite not running farther than a 13-miler or 25 miles/week for almost a year. I thought I could get away with a short training cycle without any real base building or step down weeks, but I was wrong.
Something Matt Dixon said during talk at a Runner’s Mind really resonated with me: some athletes are resilient and some are fragile, and you have to identify which kind of athlete you need and train accordingly. This race taught me many lessons, and I know better what I can and cannot get away with. Living with Jesse, who is incredibly resilient and needs little recovery time, it’s easy for me to get trapped comparing myself to him or thinking I can do what he does, when the reality is I’m much more delicate and need more sleep and rest days and longer recovery periods in between hard training sessions.
Racing and training is a learning process, and I’m trying my best to accept this setback and realize this experience will only help me be better prepared for future endeavors.