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the 2016 San Francisco Marathon race report – DNS

the 2016 San Francisco Marathon race report – DNS

I’ve been in the marathon training and racing world since 2007, and during that time, I can count on one hand the number of races I’ve DNSed (did not start). They all had good reasons, and typically, I’ve decided to DNS well in advance of the race.  A list, because lists are fun and make for easy reading on mobile devices:

  • a Bastille Day 5k (or 8k?) in Chicago. reason missed: I wanted to go see Salman Rushdie speak at Harold Washington Library. While I didn’t get to hear Rushdie because I didn’t get there in time, I scored some autographed books instead, so I still consider this a win in my book (slow clap for that horrible pun).
  • the Shamrock Shuffle 8k. reason missed: This was just a few weeks before my first Boston Marathon, and I took myself obnoxiously seriously and wanted to ensure that I was going into Boston as healthy as could be. The SS weather that year was for shit — we’re talking ankle- or calf-deep slushy, thick, nasty nonsense, with sideways snow and the whole shebang — and while I will gladly train in that before I get on a treadmill (true story … it’s not so much a pride thing as it is that I don’t like how treadmills make my body feel), I didn’t want to risk getting sick before my first Holy Grail of marathons.
  • the Lakefront 50/50 (50k option) in ’08. reason missed: overtrained and ITB issues. I’m lucky a few weeks of reduced volume did the trick because I was head-over-heels in overtraining and ITB maladies.
  • an 8k in Rockford, IL, over the summer just recently. reason missed: exhaustion. I lovingly blame my children, travelling, and humidity, that last one to which I have become wildly unaccustomed in the last three years.
  • and finally: the ’16 SF Marathon. reason missed: fucking stomach flu that showed up on Friday morning at 4am, on race eve eve.  boo hiss scorn
a great icon that I posted on my IG with the explanation of "well, not really." next year. next year.
a great icon that I posted on my IG with the explanation of “well, not really.” next year. next year.


The girls and I returned to California from our midwest sojourn on Wednesday, and in terms of the cross-country travel, everything went swimmingly. On Thursday, I spent most of the day getting our life back in order by doing the usual mundane things like cleaning, groceries, and laundry, and everything was fine. I opted to take a rest day on Thursday instead of Friday because of how G had slept Wednesday night-Thursday morning, but nothing seemed too out of the ordinary.

our last night in the midwest, hanging at my nephews' football camps. seems like a perfectly good thing to do on a summer night :)
our last night in the midwest, hanging at my nephews’ football camps. seems like a perfectly good thing to do on a summer night 🙂


Come Friday morning at 4am though, wow. I’m not one to shy away from TMI details about the gory details of anything, really, but suffice it to say that I had abdominal pain that literally took my breath away, and I spent the entirety of Friday daytime and evening in bed … or in the bathroom. For perspective: I don’t think I’ve ever called C at work and asked him to come home to watch the kids because I’ve felt so bad. It was ugly. I’m not a medical practitioner or a medical student, nor do I know the exact inner-workings of how our GI systems operate, but holy shit (bad pun, sorry, slow clap for that one for sure) I don’t think there was anything — anything — left in my system by Friday night.

In case you’re new to the marathoning scene, fully “emptying” your “system” 48 hours pre-race is basically the antithesis to how things are supposed to happen.

I was deliriously hopeful for things to turn around as quickly as possible because for as much as I love running TSFM — and as far as marathons go, it’s a hard course, and it’s hilly, but it’s beautiful, and SF in the summer is just unbeatable — I love the social stuff surrounding the weekend as well, the opportunities afforded to me by being a race ambassador and the opportunities I get to see SF friends I never get to see (hi, Erin!). Chicago-based friend Erica would be in town to race SF as an anniversary run of her first marathon, Portland-based Austin would also be in town … #yaddayaddayadda … I had a race to run and people to see! I knew in my heart of hearts, though, that even if I woke up on Saturday feeling like a million bucks, totally “free” of the gnarly-ass symptoms I had on Friday, that attempting to run, much less race, 26.2 challenging miles would be unwise. In fact, it would be idiotic. Thus, by 9am, I called it, told the people I needed to tell, and decided to DNS my first marathon, what should have been marathon #28, I think, and my three-peat of TSFM since 2010.

Admittedly, deciding to bag it was a tough decision.  Aside from all the stuff I just elaborated on above, in the running world, it seems like social media has aggravated this bullshit notion of “no pain, no gain” or “doing it for the insta” (gag me) or whatever. I very much wanted to cover SF by foot, and I knew that I’d probably physically be able to, but for what? What do I have to prove — or to whom do I have to prove it — by running a marathon two days out from a nasty stomach bug that left me in bed and basically fasting all day long? A marathon is just that — a marathon — a distance you just can’t “gut out,” especially when said guts have been seemingly “gutted out” (I’ll be here all night) in the preceding days by a (probable) virus. This is all to say that I very well could have just sucked it up and slogged through the race, posted a pic on IG about how I had stomach flu 48 hours before the race and look at me! I have a marathon finisher’s medal around my neck! I am so badass and tough that I can go run a marathon feeling sub-par just for the hell of it! People do this shit every weekend on social media, and every weekend, other people applaud these people’s efforts and commend them for how much “stronger” they must be than they actually realize.

To this — to this seemingly unending cycle of “being badass” or “tough” or “having guts” and racing when you’re not well — when you’re physically unwell (having a virus or some other sickness) or FOR FUCK’S SAKE WHEN YOU’RE INJURED (“I’m pretty sure I have the beginnings of a stress fx. Doc, do you think I’m okay to race a marathon next weekend?”the answer is unequivocally nooooooooo) — to all of this nonsense that no doubt feeds into the apparent reality that all runners get injured and that if you run, you will surely suffer from a running-related injury (or three) during your lifetime — I call bullshit. Please. Make it stop. Stop perpetuating this crap.

I’m probably being a bit crass about it, but I tend to think that runners self-divide into two camps — those who tend to think of their running in the long-term and those who tend to think of their running in the immediate — and more often than not, I feel like we in the running community are doing ourselves an enormous disservice by running (or by continuing to run) when we’re sub-par because for whatever reason, the immediate present matters more than the long-term. This isn’t to say that I think I’m higher and mightier for choosing to sit-out SF this year — see the paragraph above when I mention that it was a tough call for me; instead, I feel like if I want to continue to run at the volume I do (or higher), for as long as possible, it’s nothing short of imperative to think long-term. If we live and run solely in the here and now, we’re not being smart, gang, especially if you want to be doing this stuff for a long time. For me anyway, immediate gains absolutely pale in comparison to the long-term benefits I get from running and the goals that I have yet to realize. Perhaps you can relate.

giving your eyes a break here. (from a run in Akron in July). all the pretty mosquito-infested woods!
giving your eyes a break here. (from a run in Akron in July). all the pretty mosquito-infested woods!


Basically, if you take nothing else from this diatribe, take this. If you’re about to toe the line at a major running event, particularly those that are of the extremely strenuous and endurance variety (halfs, marathons, ultras), and you’re toeing the line not feeling 100%, ask yourself why you’re still there.

To whom are you proving?

Further, what are you proving, exactly?

If your BRF told you that she/he was suffering from the same thing that you are carrying at the starting line, would you advise him/her to still do the race?

And finally, how much are you willing to give up by completing this race?

If you’re running while injured or sick, how willing are you to take some possibly-significant steps backwards in training — due to further injury and/or compounded sickness — so you can complete (semantics here — complete, surely not compete in) this race?

Again, I wanted to share my experience here because I’m a normal gal who likes to run and race with the rest of us, and seeing my friends’ pics and hearing how fun race weekend was left me feeling a little deflated and gutted …

… until I realized that there’s always next year at SF and that there will surely be other marathons to run (I live in freaking CA, FFS. It’s like a veritable landmine for marathoning year-round). I totally get the sting that can come with money lost on race registrations, travel, and the like, but surely your long-term health, not to mention your ability to do this type of stuff in the first place, also matters. Like I admitted earlier, it can be a tough call.

Hopefully, you won’t get injured in advance of your race or contract a nasty bug that leaves you belly-up in the hours preceding your race, but if you do, please, for the love, have a chat with yourself (not weird, promise) about the race. I’m not a coach or a medical professional, but I will wager that chances are high that if you’re about to step into an endurance event feeling less-than, you will give yourself a hearty dose of humble pie during the race, if not also a hefty serving of totally-preventable-setbacks afterward. Maybe none of your friends want you to consider this reality, so let me. It’s probably not worth it. It wasn’t for me, anyway.

the long-distance runner is (voluntarily) lonely no more

the long-distance runner is (voluntarily) lonely no more

The backstory to this post is that I wrote it for The SF Marathon’s blog, since I’m a social media ambassador for the race (and totally want you to run it! It’s so fun). I’ve had the great pleasure of having family visiting for about the past month, so between all the wonderful family QT and just general life happenings — all good things, all good things — sitting down (or rather, standing) to write hasn’t been much of a priority. I have notes scribbled out, ready to be made coherent, for a handful of posts, so now that life is back to its regularly-scheduled-programming, perhaps my blog-posting regularity (eh), too, will commence. We’ll see. Anyway — yay running. Here you go; I think many of you (my team! my people) will totally get this.

People often ascribe some element of martyrdom to running. It doesn’t really seem to matter if you’re going for a little jaunt around your ‘hood one morning before work or putting in hours upon hours (and miles upon miles) during training for a half, full, or ultramarathon; for whatever reason, if you willingly run, people seem to think that you’re martyring yourself to a fruitless and futile endeavor, one characterized by literally doing the same thing – putting one foot in front of the other – hundreds of thousands of times.

To say that you’re a runner is to give many people the idea that you’ve taken upon the badge of honor that has begotten runners and joggers alike for the past few decades: a loner, someone who’d rather spend time with his or her thoughts than with other sentient beings. Becoming a runner is to add yet another character to the ongoing saga of “the loneliness of the long-distance runner,” a mythology surrounding our sport since the jogging boom of the 1970s. To be a runner is to live in isolation, away from every_one and every_thing, to be forever an introvert, and to be happiest when being alone.

Except that running isn’t a solitary endeavor. It’s as much a team sport as any out there.

There are so many elements to the running community that seem to have withstood the test of time simply because they’re tradition. It’s practically sacrilege to have anything pre-race but pasta, evidenced by many races’ Marathon Eve pasta feeds, wherein many a runner will stuff him- or herself to the gills with the starchy carbohydrate in part to top off glycogen stores (one can hope) but mostly, I’d guess, out of deference to the tradition. Similarly, many in the running community and those who support us perpetuate this ongoing mythology of “the loneliness of the long distance runner,” conjuring images of runners out there pounding pavement each morning to the tune of … nothing.

While the pasta/carbohydrate loading pre-marathon might have a glimmer of basis in science, I’m calling bullshit on “the loneliness of the long distance runner.”

Thanks to the explosion of social media over the past few years and many runners’ willingness to put themselves and their training out there – creating blogs, twitter and instagram profiles, facebook pages, and creating and maintaining training groups through platforms like Strava, Dailymile, or MeetUp – if you’re a) even minutely connected to the internet and b) a runner, chances are you can easily connect yourself with a team (or three).

Running can, of course, be a solitary and singular endeavor – and many people revel in that quiet time to themselves, a time when they don’t need to stress about their work, family, or any other obligation – but it doesn’t have to be.

Maybe this proclamation is a bit melodramatic, but to run – to be a runner – is to connect yourself with prior millenia’s worth of history, dating all the way back to our earliest ancestors whose lives and livelihoods literally depended on their ability to run. Surely I can’t speak for you, but I think it’s pretty badass to (willingly!) do something our ancestors did so long ago. Not many other sports have been around for nearly the entirety of life as we know it.

Running as a team – running and training with friends – brings with it a lot of practical components that can be beneficial. Of course there’s the accountability aspect – because you’d probably feel like an ass if you left your partner high and dry in the predawn hours, when you’re supposed to be out running – but there are also many other ways that running with a team/with friends can help you, such as giving you more opportunities to run a variety of paces (slower or faster than you’d usually run), which in turn might actually make you a better (read: stronger, faster, fitter, healthier) runner. By actively being involved in a community of runners, you can also forge and cultivate some incredible friendships, and you might also find various avenues to link service with your running, since so many races (including TSFM) give you the option to run on behalf of a charity and to fundraise. It’s a pretty cool thing to be able to use a hobby like running to benefit some social good.

In the absence of physically running in real life with a team, social media can also be an acceptable way to join forces with runners near and far – and in the process, create your own virtual team (and even complete a virtual race, if you’re so inclined). Sometimes  overbooked life schedules preclude us from meeting up with our buddies for a run, but virtual teams – virtual accountability, if you will – can also be a lot of fun. It can get the job done.

When you train alongside someone (in real life or virtually), you’re giving yourself a buddy with whom you can incessantly “talk shop” about training, racing, running, or anything else that’s on your mind. Your team “gets it” – all the highs and lows of training, the momentary boosts of confidence and the crippling effects of anxiety and doubt – because chances are, your team is going through the motions just as much as you are.

Running and training for endurance events invariably give us opportunities to be raw and vulnerable as we set goals and work our asses off to realize them. Having a team is to have a sounding board through every step, every mile, of the process, and in our moments of confidence, anxiety, dismay, excitement, and the entire emotional gamut in between, your team’s got your back. Even when you’re running by yourself – because no one can run your race but you – your team’s in your back pocket.

So many people have run before you, and so many more will come after you. The greater running community is like one big hippy dippy happy family, singing kum-by-yah as we run mile after mile each month, sometimes praising our decision to run for fun and other times wondering what the hell is wrong with us that we’d voluntarily enlist ourselves in such a challenging activity.

In the most non-patronizing way possible: your team gets you. Your team understands. We do this for all the same reasons that you do (give or take).

Runners are a welcoming bunch, and I encourage you to put yourself out there and connect with some, either with clubs in your area or with the virtual running community. I think you’ll be surprised how much more enriching this sport becomes once you realize that yes, while no one else can run your mileage but you, being on a running team isn’t an oxymoron. If there’s any doubt in your mind, just watch the USA women’s Olympic Qualifying Trials from the LA Marathon on 2/13/16. I don’t want to reveal any spoilers (in the off-chance you haven’t already seen the ending), but believe me: the OQT will assure you that running is as team-based an endeavor as they come. I dare you not to tear up.