Saturday, December 6, 2014


"You're not a true runner until you have a DNF under your belt" 
- Rebecca Trachsel, Oiselle teammate and friend

Well, after DNF'ing the Philadelphia Marathon, I guess that means I am now a true runner...according to Rebecca anyways. It's taken me a long time to find the motivation and the desire to write about what happened. I tried forgetting about it. I tried drinking tequila to numb the sadness. I tried looking on the bright side and focusing on what's ahead and not on what's in the past. But my mind keeps returning to those miles in Philly. Those miles that didn't go as planned. Those miles that lead me to the finish line of the half marathon, not the full. Those miles where I doubted everything, including myself. Those miles when my body felt like it was fighting against me. I wish I could go back and rewrite a different ending...but since I obviously can't do that, I'll write about what happened in hopes of being able to move on.

The weeks leading up to Philly went exactly as planned. Training was going great and I was feeling ready. I honestly believed I was going to cross the finish line and see 3:5x:xx on that clock. I believed I was capable (and still do). In the days leading up to the race I was feeling on edge. More so than usual before a big race. I was nervous, but excited. I had a million different thoughts and emotions running through me, and I just couldn't wait to get to that starting line.

in the midst of one of my freak outs
my incredible friend, Beth, sent this to me...
so thankful for friends who are always there to help when I need it most 

I left early on Friday morning to head to the airport where Stacey was already there waiting for me. Our flight took off at 6:30am and we were on our way to Philadelphia. Thankfully the flight wasn't full and I was able to move my seat to sick next to her. It was a quick flight and before I knew it we were landing in Philly. Danielle was there to pick us up and bring us back to her house where we would be staying for the weekend. 

Philly here we come!

Friday was spent hanging around, shopping, eating, and visiting the expo. Seeing the city helped change my nerves in to excitement. I could feel the energy and was excited to see more of the city on Sunday. It was on Friday that I started to notice a little feeling of fatigue when walking up the stairs in the subway stations and at Danielle's. It's a weird burning feeling in the muscles in my legs that I've felt before. I tried not to let it freak me out, and hoped by Sunday I would be feeling better.

Stacey and I after getting our bibs at the expo

By request, Saturday was perfectly low key. We relaxed on the couch for many hours of the day, went for a short run, then got ready to head to dinner with some other Oiselle birds who were running that weekend. It was so much fun seeing and chatting with some familiar, and some new teammates. After dinner we went back to Danielle's and I went to bed pretty early knowing Sunday morning would come quickly.

hanging with my legs up the wall trying to get 'em ready to run a marathon 

carbs, wine, water, and birds

Sunday morning my alarm went off around 4:30am. We planned to leave around 5:45 to get to the start, drop off our bags, use the port-a-potty and be ready to go by 7:00. My stomach was very uneasy all morning, but I chalked it up to race day nerves and hoped it would pass. I had decided to carry a water bottle with me and shoved my shot blocks and phone in the pocket. I've never carried a handheld during a marathon before, but thought I would give it a try. It was a cool, but perfect morning for a race. The temps were in the high 30's-low 40's. I wore my singlet, stride shorts, and gloves. I was cold waiting in the corral, but I knew I would warm up quickly. Just as the sun was coming up, it was time to go. 

waiting in the corral

Danielle was amazing and got up bright and early
to come to the start with us, ready to cheer

Stacey and I ready to go

My plan was to keep my pace around 9min miles for the first half or so and then depending on how I felt focus on holding that pace, or speeding up if I could. I was debating whether or not to wear my watch, but in the end I decided to wear it to keep myself from going out too fast. I kept an eye on my pace for the first couple of miles to make sure I was on track, then I switched the screen so I would only see the time of day. I didn't want to focus on what mile I was on or how many I had to go. A few miles in I started to feel a little cramp in my left side under my rib. Luckily, I don't usually have to fight with cramps, so this caught me by surprise. I tried to focus on my breathing, and trying to relax so hopefully it would go away. This cramp kept fighting to make its presence known. As a last resort, I ate a margarita shot block, thinking the extra salt might help? It did seem to least until I felt another dull cramp creeping up on the other side. My stomach still didn't feel right either. I tried to switch my focus and look at everything around me, the crowds, the buildings, and knowing I would see Danielle at mile 6. 

Each time my watch would beep and display the pace, I would look at it to check to see if I was still on target. For the most part I was, but these early miles were feeling a lot more difficult than they should have. I was worried. I saw Danielle and got a short burst of energy and confidence. It didn't last long though, and each step began to felt more and more difficult. There were a couple of hills around mile 7 and 9 I believe. They took a lot out of me. I couldn't believe how badly I was feeling and I wasn't even through the first half yet. It was hard not to feel a little discouraged. My legs felt like they were fighting against me, instead of working with me as I had trained them to do. I began to slow down slightly. 

It was around mile 10 or 11 I think when Nicole ran up behind me and said hi. We hadn't actually met before that, but it was so nice of her make an effort to check in on me. She asked how I was feeling. I couldn't find any words other than not good. She gave me some words of encouragement and then ran off in to the distance. It was at this time when the thoughts of not finishing started to fill my mind. I felt awful. I don't really know how to describe exactly how I was feeling. I felt heavy...tired...drained. I felt a million times worse than I should have only 10 or 11 miles in to a 26.2 mile race running what should have been a very comfortable pace. It didn't make sense, and I couldn't believe this was happening. 

I knew Danielle would be at mile 14. Suddenly I had a very difficult decision to make. I could either go left, get myself to mile 14, throw any hopes of finishing under 4hrs out the window, focus instead on just somehow getting myself to the finish, and praying to the running Gods that Danielle would have some incredible words of encouragement to carry me through the remaining 12 miles. Or, I could turn right, and cross the finish line with the half marathoners...finishing 13.1 miles less than planned. I wasn't ready to handle a repeat of Vermont. I didn't want to suffer though a walk/slow jog/death march for 13 miles again. I already felt so terrible, I knew the second half would only be much much worse. Without even really realizing it, I found myself running to the right and seeing the finish line chute. I couldn't bring myself to look around at all the cheering spectators. All I could focus on was ground in front of me, knowing soon it would all be over. I crossed the finish line feeling more defeated than I ever have before. 

I kept walking, trying to fight back the tears. I got my bag and then started to contact Danielle or Stacey to let them know I stopped and figure out where to find them. Of course, my phone decided that would be a good time to stop working. Cue panic. Just as I was about to try to figure out how to walk over to mile 14 to hopefully find Danielle, I heard someone say my name. I turned around and saw Stacey. She gave me a hug and I burst in to tears. I was so thankful she happened to find me in that moment. My emotions took over and I couldn't hold back the tears. Thankfully Stacey had her phone and was able to get in touch with Danielle. We made our way over to her and Carolyn, who also ran the half marathon. My mind was all over the place. I was so happy for Stacey and Carolyn, who rocked their races, but so sad about what happened to me. I went back and forth between confusion, anger, defeat, and then pure sadness. I was in shock.

After standing around for a few minutes, we all started to get pretty cold and decided to make our way over to a restaurant for brunch. Bloody Mary's and mimosas (yes, plural) were just what the doctor ordered. In those moments of raw emotion, sadness, and disappointment, I was SO thankful for friends who let me try to process it all. I really don't know what I would have done without them. 

love these ladies

The rest of the day was spent on the couch watching TV, drinking tequila, and eating all the food. We met up with Abby later that night for Mexican food, and margaritas. Abby also ran, and rocked the half marathon earlier that day. While I was still really upset, and trying to figure out what happened...that day was probably one of my favorites spent in Philly. Good friends, good food, and good doesn't get much better than that.

So...what happened? I have no idea. If anyone has had a similar experience, or has any ideas, please share them with me because I am completely clueless. It sucks.

What's next? Well, I think I will be taking a break from the marathon this spring. Instead, I will focus on shorter races and improving my half marathon time. I'm definitely stronger in the shorter distances, and I feel like I have some more untapped speed in these legs I'd like to explore. I'll probably pick a goal half for the spring and run some more 5 and 10k's leading up to it. I also plan to make and appointment to see a doctor for some blood work to try to figure out if there's something going on with my body I can work towards fixing in hopes that this won't happen again.

Am I done running marathons? Absolutely not. Most likely I'll make my return in the fall of 2015. Believing that I haven't reached my potential, is what keeps me going. Bad races are just as motivating, if not more so, than good races. I'll be back.

"Find inspiration in the place between where you are and where you want to be" -Lauren + Ro 

time to look forward to brighter days.


  1. You are amazing and a true inspiration! I have had races too where I get cramps and it is so frustrating. It could be dehydration or nerves, or even just bad luck. Focus on the positives as your'e trying to do, but I know that's hard. I love you and you inspire me often! Keep flying little bird <3 xoxo <3

  2. Jessica,

    Keep your head up! You have the right attitude and the heart driving your forward. Even when races don't pan out the way we hope, there is always growth to be found.

    I'm very glad you had some of our Flockmates to support you in Philly.

  3. I experienced my first DNF last year and it hurt - way more emotionally than physically. I had what I think was a panic attack around Mile 3 or 4, likely from a lot of pressure I put on myself for a BQ, and ended up feeling like I was at mile 20 of the marathon from then on. I ended up dropping at Mile 8. I was surprised afterward how mad I was not at my body for failing but at myself for not finishing. But, in the long run I knew that it was better to save my body the extreme beating of a marathon so that I could be fresh for my next attempt.

    Don't beat yourself up too much. DNFs happen to the best of us. Our bodies don't always cooperate the way we want them to (I learned this lesson again yesterday at my latest BQ attempt). Truly racing a marathon is no small feat and every part of your body and mind must come to the start line prepared to battle it out and unfortunately we can't always force them to show up.

  4. Jess, thanks so much for sharing your experience. I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like to have to make the decision you did at the halfway mark; I commend you for recognizing what was best for you in that moment and staying true to that knowledge. Running is just so weird, isn't it? Or maybe just our bodies? Well, if you figure it out, please let me know - ha! Can't wait to see what the new year holds for you; you'll be great, no matter what.