On Sunday, while running the St. Luke’s Half Marathon (one of my goal races this spring), I almost had my first DNF.
The week leading up to the half was a bit hectic but I woke up on race morning feeling really good despite being filled with pre-race nerves. My legs felt rested. I wasn’t sleepy or exhausted. I felt ready to go after a sub-1:50 finish at the race.
We got to the start in time to take a team picture with Team St. Luke’s (since Adam works at the hospital) and had enough time to see our friends, take care of all the prerace necessities and get into the corrals. I had decided I would run with the pacer to at least the halfway point to try to keep my pace controlled. I found him in the corral and was happy to see one of my coworkers (who went on to absolutely crush his previous PR) in the pace group too.
We were aiming to average 8:24/mile for the race. The first few miles were a little quicker but I was actually shocked at how good I felt. Everyone had been telling me all week that I would crush the 1:50 time goal but as always self-doubt sunk in. However, after we ticked off about 6 miles around 8:17/mile I was surprised to find that my legs still felt fresh.
Around 6.5 miles into the race, the pacer told us, if we were feeling good, now would be the time to pick it up to get closer to 1:45. I decided at this point to not necessarily pick up my pace but to try to keep the pace group behind me. Just stay ahead of them and keep at a comfortably hard pace.
I managed to do this until mile 8 when everything suddenly fell apart. My legs still felt great and my energy was up but all of a sudden I started to experience a sharp pain in my chest and tightness. My heart rate was racing and my breathing was becoming increasingly labored.
This had never happened to me before. I mean, in speed workouts I’ve had some difficulty breathing but I’ve always just assumed that was because I was pushing myself. Never had I experienced the tightness in my chest or sharp pains. I decided at this point to stop and walk a little to try to get my heart rate down. After walking about 10 meters or so I started running again but much slower.
I walked once more during this mile up a hill and saw mile 8 tick off at 9:42/mile. There goes my sub-1:50 I thought. A man wearing an orange shirt ran up behind me and tried to give me words of encouragement, “Come one, you’ve got this,” he said. So I tried to pick up the pace again and work the downhills to see if I could at least get close to my goal. Just after passing the man who was trying to cheer me on my heart rate jacked up again. I started to walk and a volunteer asked me if I was ok. I really, really wanted to quit at this point. I was fighting back tears when orange-shirt-man passed me again and I decided to take some water and just try to finish.
I don’t remember how many more times I walked the rest of the race but it was a lot. There are a lot of hills in the last miles of this course and I wasn’t prepared for them. I came up the final hill right before entering the high school stadium where you run about 200 meters around the track before finishing and I saw Adam there cheering me on but I’m pretty sure my face said it all.
Usually in races I can give a good final surge into the finish but I just didn’t have it in me on Sunday. I came through the finish in 1:53:32, met Adam, and just wanted to sit down and cry in the bleachers. I felt so defeated and pissed off that something so out of my control had ruined my race.
It wasn’t until later on that I really was able to put it into perspective. My dad has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, “a disease in which the heart muscle (myocardium) becomes abnormally thick (hypertrophied). The thickened heart muscle can make it harder for the heart to pump blood,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is also the leading cause of sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes – it’s no joke. When I told my parents what happened they were pretty concerned. I haven’t gone to see a doctor yet but hopefully I don’t have my dad’s condition and it was just a fluke thing that happened.
Either way it was a scary experience and it made me realize that no matter how hard you train, sometimes the outcome is completely out of your control. I think I did the right thing on Sunday by reining it in but in all honesty it probably would have been smarter to take the DNF and get checked out at the medical tent immediately.
Besides my awful race, it was a great day overall. Adam ran the half (just six days after PRing in Boston!) and set a new half marathon PR. We also saw three of our friends run their first ever half marathon, which was really exciting. Other friends and coworkers set some really awesome PRs as well and I’m so happy for them! I’ll take another stab at running a sub-1:50 in three weeks at the Brooklyn Half Marathon. Hopefully it’ll go better!