Traveling for races is challenging for me due to my job, family and budget so I tend to pick races close to home. I'd been eyeing a trail race that takes place on the trails I've started running. 10 minutes from home--easy, peasy. I put off registering to see if I had the day off work--and then the race was full. However they opened a few more spots for the half marathon and even though I was probably more trained for the 15k I went ahead and registered.
Then I took a fall 3 weeks before the race.
I seriously bruised both knees and the scabs were deep and restrictive to movement. It took a good 10-14 days for it to not hurt when I walked and to actually attempt to run.
I'm working nights right now, so my running time is somewhat restricted. I ran twice and hiked once in the days prior to the race. I did a bunch of low-impact DVD workouts in an attempt to keep up my fitness.
The Stairway to Heaven 15k/Half Marathon prides itself on being a challenging trail race. And it's in the middle of August, known for HEAT in San Diego. I knew all this going on. But I decided I would just do my best, even if it was slow and grueling.
I worked on the Thursday night and Friday night prior to Sunday's race. I got decent sleep during the day, but it's never quite the same. The first night I sleep after working a few nights it can be challenging to get back into a good sleep pattern. I didn't sleep great on Saturday night, although I did sleep some.
I woke up Sunday feeling tired, but what else is new?! I was thankful I didn't have a long drive. Check in was easy, got my bib and then had maybe 30 minutes to wait before the start of the race. I met a few moms in the San Diego Moms Run This Town Facebook group which was fun. It was beautiful at the start, but already over 70 degrees. At 7am.
And then we were off. The first few miles were fairly easy and I was feeling good. I was wearing my Polar A300 which showed just my heart rate and the elapsed time. I didn't stress about pace or mileage. I figured I'd finish in around 3 hours due to all the climbing involved.
A few miles in was a crazy 3/4 hill climb. I've done this hike once or twice before and knew it was intense. There was no running involved for me.
This was the start of the climb. It ends at those poles at the top.
Finally, the top of the crazy hill!! Next we had some downhill and then repeating a short loop twice with climbing and descent. At this point I decided this was just going to be a good hike. It was getting hot and by mile 5 or so my body was reminding me we hadn't truly run in 3 weeks. I ran flats and downhill when I could but even then I did some walking. I texted my husband a little more than an hour in that it was looking like a 4 hour race for me, which was also the time limit.
After the loops there as a flat portion before we reached the namesake of the race--the Stairway to Heaven. Another crazy ascent of more than 500 feet. The race in total was a 2500 gain. That's a lot of climbing. It's not easy to see in this picture, but the important fact is that we climbed a steep track to the top of that ridge.
A few hundred railroad ties provide footing on the way up.
This was the first time I have ever stopped to rest during a race, or even a trail run. But the temperature at this point was at least 90, probably higher and I started really feeling the heat and fatigue. My heart rate was staying elevated, so I stopped a few times for a short rest.
It was CLEAR I was not well trained for this event. And I needed more than 1 night of recovery sleep after working. There was a lot of positive and motivational self-talk going on in my head to keep me going. I also started telling myself that I should do more hiking and walking in general. And I wondered WHY I hadn't done these particular hills more during my runs on these trails.
Once I finally reached the top I was feeling spent. I carried a water bottle with me and had one pack of Honey Stinger chews. I had intended to bring two packs with me but forgot to buy another. My stomach didn't feel great, so I ate just a few chews at a time. I did down at least 3 or 4 bottles of water. I am not sure what was up with my stomach. This is something that has happened to me before at races. I don't know if it's the stress/anxiety of the race. It hadn't been a great week for my stomach in general. I really need to work on my nutrition and hydration techniques. I haven't raced much since going Paleo and a lot of the typical nutrition just doesn't work for me. This means I need to do some longer training runs to practice my fueling.
Next I had to go back down that huge hill--I did run most of it, but by now my feet and toes were hurting in addition to my body being tired. At the bottom of the hill there is an aid station and the 15k'ers headed toward the finish while the half marathon had 3 more miles. I should have just decided to finish with the 15k'ers. That would have been smart.
I headed on to the last 3 miles, telling myself I could do this. We were back on familiar trails. Then the curveball came. Part of the last little bit included another short climb. One I hadn't done before and even though I knew it couldn't be that long, it really threw me. I was with a few others at this point and we were all giving each other a pep talk. We had less than 2 miles to go, we could do this.
So I started up the climb and aimed for 20-30 seconds of climbing with a 10-second rest. A few minutes in and I had to sit down. I sent the others on. I was fighting feeling lightheaded at multiple points in the last few hours of the race. I'd rest, recover and move on. This time, recovery wasn't coming so fast. I tried to stand up again and I was dizzy.
I sat down again.
And I knew I was done. I just couldn't do it. I didn't know how long this last stretch would take me and I didn't want to fall or pass out. And I was cutting it very close to the time limit as well and with how I was feeling even if I continued I wouldn't make the cut-off. It was utterly humbling. I got my phone out and called my husband. I said "I'm done" and his response was "congratulations, you did it!". I replied, "no I mean I can't finish, I have two miles to go but I am lightheaded and just can't do it. I'm dropping."
He quickly became very concerned and wanted to come pick me up. I assured him I could make the few minute walk back down to an asphalt road and then walk in to the finish, hopefully finding an aid station or someone to get me a ride.
This is my "I just dropped from a race with less than 2 miles to go and earned my first DNF" selfie. I struggled at the end of my full marathon, but that didn't even compare to how spent I felt at this moment.
Oh, and by this point it was over 100 degree. I'm sure at least my last hour or more was spent in over 100 degree weather. And while I was drinking water, I wasn't taking in any electrolytes and my nurse self should have known I wasn't able to absorb the hydration properly.
I made my way to the street and started my walk of shame. A race crew member on a bike approached me and was so kind to say "the half marathon finishes the other way." Nope--I'm not finishing, I can't go on, I need the shortcut. She was very helpful and offered me Gu (decline) and a salt tab, which I took. I told her I'd keep on towards the finish.
Another 10 minutes passed and a woman I started that last climb with came up behind me with congratulations. But I told her I turned around and cut--but she did awesome!
And then glory, a cart drove by with some other racers on the back who weren't finishing. I didn't recognize them and figured they must have been behind me (maybe 15k'er) and were being swept. I had no qualms about asking to squeeze in for a ride to the end. The driver of the cart was so sweet--after everyone offloaded he came to me as I was trying to get myself together to figure out where to go for some recovery and quietly said "I'm going to drive you back to where I picked you up and then I will follow you in. You were so close and I want you to finish." I wanted to cry as I told him that was very kind--but I had already taken a short cut when he picked me up and I just couldn't do any more.
He directed me to someone who took me to an aid tent where several others were recovering from heat stroke and heat exhaustion. They got me glasses of cold electrolytes (yay Nuun) and used ice to cool me down. I kept breaking down into tears I was just so overwhelmed by everything, in addition to being sad I had to drop.
The hubs had been texting me about every 5 minutes for an update and wanting to know where I was so he could pick me up. There are several trailheads to this area so even though he was familiar with the trails he didn't know where to find me. I kept assuring him I was fine, I would recover and could make the 10 minute drive home. After the 20th text asking where I was, I relented and told him. He showed up quickly full of concern. While I know I COULD have managed, I was grateful he came and it was a comfort to have him there.
After 20 or 30 minutes in the aid tent I was feeling up to moving again. The minivan was parked very close so I didn't have far to walk.
I ate two bananas and took a shower at home and dozed on the couch for over an hour. It took quite a while for me to even feel hungry. I drank more water. I used the porta potty probably around 6:30am and didn't have to pee again until after 2. Yeah, definite hydration issues.
The middle girl had a sleepover planned at grandma's and the other girls wanted to go bowling. The frigid air conditioning felt amazing as I chugged another bottle of Nuun and water. I managed to bowl a few frames--including a strike--but my feet were so sore that the snazzy bowling shoes hurt.
It was good for me to get out and be with my family and be reminded of what's important. I felt bad that my morning had turned out to be so long and I was so wiped afterwards that I was pretty useless. My kids didn't really care that I didn't finish the race, they were rather intrigued with my story. And hopefully if they are ever in a situation like mine, they will remember that their mom was brave enough to drop, when pushing to the end is more my style.
You have to take care of you and no finish line is worth more than you are. Family is what matters most and in the future I will choose my races more carefully and plan around them because while running feeds my soul and is a great outlet for me, it is just as important to me that it not take away from my family.
This race taught me a lot of lessons...more to come on that later.
I guess all runners need a good DNF story. Hopefully this will be my only one.