My First DNF & Lessons Learned

In 2014 I completed my first marathon, the Asics LA Marathon. I was in love with the enthusiastic civilian support I encountered along the route. I accepted candy from strangers. I ran without headphones, and entertained myself taking in the crowds both in the race and on the sidelines. My favorite stretch of the course was West Hollywood, where the wide berth the previous onlookers gave us was removed and all the dashing ladies and gentlemen of WeHo bumped and grooved right up on us, creating a sort-of running Soul Train.

This year I decided to sign up again, with reservations from the start. Though the first 18 miles of the 2014 marathon had been great, I suffered pretty intensely for the last 6. In addition, there came another feeling of foreboding in the days leading up to my would-be second LA Marathon, and it had nothing to do with the actual running. I was in a totally negative space around personal issues, and my head was not in the game. I believe our thoughts influence our behavior, even down to one foot in front of the other.

Back to the race: My pre-race adventures with my running buddy Annie (see last post) finally had me excited to make the trek to Santa Monica. I departed the Dodger Stadium parking lot patient and intent upon running a smart race. After 40 minutes of running, I was warm and energetic. I was keeping about a 9:30 pace, which was sustainable. I grabbed a cup of whatever at the mile 5 station, and started running on the diagonal back to the middle of the pack. I missed seeing a dip in the road, and I felt my left ankle start to roll.

Normally, when I think I’m going to fall, I just fall, because I’d rather come down hard on some other body part than risk injuring my knees (I had two knee surgeries in high school). This time, however, I was in the middle of a pack of people, so I tried to stop myself. My thought was, “If I fall, I’ll become a hazard, get stepped on, and bring others down with me.” 

I tried to stay upright while my ankle continued to invert. I fell anyways. I got up and tested it out, hobbling, walking, and even trying to jog…my ankle felt what can best be described as “loose”. I went into planning mode. The next official first-aid table was miles away, according to my marathon app. Instead I found a civilian-managed aid table and asked for help. By the time the ambulance arrived my ankle was the size of a baseball. Good move not trying to go further. A very kind woman (I want to say her name was Lisa but I was in a daze), held ice on my ankle and kept me alert and breathing normally as I started to go into shock from the pain and trauma. I couldn’t believe what was happening to my body, as other runners continued onward right past me.

At the hospital, I found out my ankle was broken. Through the mental fog, that settled in with the addition of morphine to my physical and emotional exhaustion, I tried to organize in my head what to take care of next. My phone was dying and I needed to reach Annie to let her know I wouldn’t be at the finish line. I needed my gear check bag because it had my keys in it. I wouldn’t be able to run or work. I work retail, managing a stockroom, which is no easy task on crutches. I finally was released from the hospital and took a cab back to Annie’s house. Luckily I had given my spare keys to a friend that house-sat for me earlier that month, and I was able to track her down to get the keys back that day.

Thanks to Annie and her family, I was able to get my medication, my gear check bag, groceries… kind acts that further alleviated the anxiety over this short term lifestyle change I was embarking on. For the next six weeks I spent most of my awake time on the couch, where I contemplated my dependence on running to stay happy and feel like “myself,” and if maybe I was missing something there…

Some Lessons Learned from My DNF

LESSON #1: Be careful when approaching and departing water stations. Its like the zombies are attacking. Everyone is running on the diagonal and completely entranced in their own movement.

LESSON #2: Just freakin’ fall. Just fall. I’ve fallen a lot on my runs, and learned how to float down with minimal scratching and bruising. This particular time I was afraid of getting trampled or tripping people. I wish I hadn’t been so considerate. A foot to the face or serving as a landing pad would be well worth avoiding a broken bone.

LESSON #3: Keep your damn keys on you if there is a lot of mileage between start and finish, say oh, 26.2 miles. Until this race, I had always kept my keys on me for races of distance longer than 10k. You just never know.

 

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