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Running, But Not Finishing, The ING NYC Marathon

Posted Nov 08 2011 7:41am

People keep saying that it must have been such a hard decision, the decision to leave the marathon.

It actually was not much of a choice. I first considered quitting around mile 11 but not seriously. I thought about quitting the way I always think about quitting during races. But then, I never actually do quit.

By 15, I was getting more sure I’d have to leave the race. I thought about the logistics and realized the best way would be to get to the 18th mile in Manhattan where my boyfriend was, and leave with him. Yes, I thought, that is what I’ll do.

But first, the beginning . . .

Last week, I would see the ING NYC Marathon ads on the subway and want to tell everyone around me, “I’m running that!” This week, when I see those signs I quickly look away and try not to cry.

Last week, all I wanted to read about online was the NYC Marathon. This week, I’ve been avoiding Twitter and blogs so I won’t have to hear about it.

Last week, I loved chatting about the race to all my coworkers about my upcoming race. This week, I’m hoping everyone forgot and won’t ask me about it.

Clearly, a lot has changed since last week.

The morning started like any other anxiety-filled morning. I woke up multiple times throughout the night and was up for good long before my alarm. I got dressed in my outfit and Tweeted this photo out so people would know to look for me:

And then I put on my hoodie, another hoodie, sweatpants and a robe. I also had two pairs of gloves, a scarf and earmuffs that I ended up not needing. With the exception of the bottom layer hoodie, the marathon will donate those items to charity. It was a warm, gorgeous day in November, which helped my stress so much because I am terrified of the cold. I am always much colder than everyone else and it really just hurts. I also never feel hot, and I don’t mind running in 85 degree temps. Some might even say I am oddly prone to hypothermia.


I arrived at the Staten Island Ferry about 45 minutes before my planned departure time (this is what crazy people do) and was waiting around when I saw Ashley . We chatted until our friends arrived, and we wound up with a little unplanned group for the trip:

[Melissa Z, Tina , Theodora , Emily, me and Ashley. Photo via Ashley.]

After a ferry ride and a long, hot, standing bus ride, we arrived at the start villages! We ran into Melissa and from then on she was in our little group. They were not what I expected and were comprised largely of pavement and people walking around.


I’m proud to say that this nervous peeer used the porta potties on Staten Island five times in the hour we had between arriving on the island and the start of the race. I have to say, this entire wait was pleasant. I wasn’t cold and the wait wasn’t long. Everyone always talks about the five freezing hours you spend waiting for the marathon to begin, but as long as you choose the right transportation time you shouldn’t have too long a wait. As for the freezing, well, we got lucky this year.

Before I knew it we were headed to the corrals, where Z and I stuck together as we broke from the group. We were lined up much closer to the Start than I expected. It was the most exhilarating feeling and the energy was incredible.

[My favorite photo. Possibly ever. Even my throwaway hoodie is pink.]

There’s the Verrazano Bridge! I felt great, happy, emotional and ready to run.

The cannon went off and New York, New York blasted through the speakers as we kicked off the race. Obviously I cried. I was finally running my marathon, after two years of planning, one year of qualifying and four months of .

Everyone was right. You will run faster than you planned over the Verrazano Bridge because of the excitement and adrenaline. You don’t feel like you are running up a long, steep uphill even though you are. Brooklyn is like one big block party. People cheer for you by name (or chant! There is nothing like having a complete stranger CHANTING your name!), bands and speakers and playing music and it’s just fun. There’s no other way to put it. Brooklyn is a fun time.

The fist 7 miles went by so quickly I could not believe it each time we passed a mile marker ‘already.’  These miles did not even feel like effort; I was cruising. It was going so well that even with a porta potty stop I was well on track to run a strong race and finish under my goal time. As Z and I ran together with our matching neon pink compression arm sleeves, people would cheer for us a as team: “GO DORI AND MELISSA!” I loved that we were a team even to these strangers. We qualified for this marathon together, trained together and planned to cross the finish line holding hands.

When Brown Eyed Girl blared through the speakers, Z and I started singing, shouting along with the line “laughing and running, skipping and jumping” — much to the entertainment of the crowds. This marathon, it just sucks you in to a world where everyone is awesome, chanting your name and offering support. There is music everywhere. It is a total sensory overload with all the new sights and sounds and signs and people. It’s easy to forget about the world outside the marathon. The excitement enveloped me.

[I am much faster than I led you all to believe]

There are a few mistakes I made during these first seven miles. I think singing and shouting was one of them. Another was the high fives. I didn’t plan on giving them (I wanted my energy for myself) but when Z kept saying “Dor, give that kid a high five” I felt like a bad person for not doing it. So sometimes I did. The big one, the one I am having a hard time letting go, was worrying Z would get away from me at a water stop when I saw her jogging (really she was just bouncing because it helped her legs not to stop) rather than walking. Not wanting to lose sight of her, I jogged too. While drinking from my cup.

Right away I knew I made a mistake and switched back to a walk; however, I felt OK for a little while after that so I don’t know if that decision caused what came next. I just wish that incident didn’t happen so I could stop blaming myself and instead chalk it up to ‘one of those freak things’ – which it probably is. I just hate this doubt,  this idea that I could have finished the marathon happy and strong if I didn’t make such a stupid decision Finished the marathon I worked toward, trained for, spent lots of money on and looked forward to for the better part of two years.

We started mile 8 with Brightroom photographers suspended high above us. I felt amazing as Z grabbed my hand and we raised our arms for this photo. Also during mile 8, we stopped quickly at a porta potty. I think it was later during this mile, or perhaps during mile 9 that the pain started. An air pocket in what I believe is my esophagus. Through my two years of running and my four months of training, I experienced this pain only once before. It was on a five mile training run one evening exactly a month ago. I rarely run in the evenings because I am wary of running with any food in me. When three miles into that run I felt this air bubble in my chest, I only had two miles to push through. They ended up being fast despite the pain, but they were miserable miles and I knew I could not run another second past the those. I felt better once I stopped running. Because it never happened before it since, I didn’t think anything of it.

So I was surprised that of all the troubles I had during marathon training , it was this gas pain high up in my chest that made an appearance.

No amount of training or preparation could have prepared me for this one.

I didn’t know how to deal with the pain the first time and I still had no idea on Sunday. I think a good burp would have taken care of it, but I don’t know how to burp. I never burp and I don’t know what it feels like to have to burp.

I didn’t tell Z at first, not wanting her to worry. Also, talking hurt. We became silent running partners, me just mmmm-ing in response if she said anything. Finally, I admitted I was in pain. A lot of pain.

Since burping was not an option, I tried swallowing the bubble down. Yes, it could have just created pain in a whole new spot, but it also could have had a possible way out — a strategy that worked with belly pains I had during my first 20 mile run . But I was unsuccessful in my attempts. The pain and pressure in my chest were indescribable. It destroyed me. I couldn’t talk and even worse, I couldn’t eat. My sips at the water stations became smaller and eventually I could not stomach Gatorade anymore.

I kept having these mini dry heaves. As I ran. It felt like the bubble wanted to come up but couldn’t. A couple of times I felt like I could throw up, but I was never able to. I wasn’t even nauseous, but clearly something was trying to get out.

I stopped caring about the crowds; I stopped noticing them. Though I did notice the one guy dressed as a penis next to a sign that read; “That is a penis.” But I mean, of course I’d notice a penis. However, all the cheering did not help and I did not listen out for my name. It is possible people cheered for me. I did not hear them. All my energy was focused on the pain and the run.

Mile 11 hurt. By mile 13, I just felt worse even though I pretended to be in good spirits: “Halfway there!” We ran up the Pulaski Bridge. It was a a struggle. My pace had slowed and I looked forward to every water station because it meant I could walk. I was relieved that runner congestion meant we had to go slower. I let go of my time goal. Finishing under 5:00 was no longer an option. Now, my goal was just to finish.

I know it was hard for Z to see me in so much pain and not be able to do anything. She kept asking what she should do and I told her not to let me slow her down, to go and run her best race. She stuck with me on our short jaunt through Queens — none of which I remember well — and onto the Queensboro Bridge. At one point she forced me to eat a Shot Blok, only my second of the day, which was not an easy thing for me to do. It was the smart thing, since I needed to fuel if I had any hope of running another 12 miles.

I thought about putting on my music for the bridge. The reason I brought my iPod — hell, the entire reason I even bought my Nano — was so my music could push me through the quieter, more difficult parts of this race. Like this bridge. But I did not have the energy to even bother. Not even for my favorite uphill running song , Blackjack.

[My marathon playlist]

On the bridge Z started weaving through people. She clearly felt strong on this long, difficult uphill. I kept sight of her for as long as I could, but I was not feeling nearly as strong and I lost her. There, I started to walk for the first time. There, not finishing the race became a real possibility. And a few steps later, it became a likelihood.

People keep saying that it must have been such a hard decision, the decision to leave the marathon.

It actually was not much of a choice. I first considered quitting around mile 11 but not seriously. I thought about quitting the way I always think about quitting during races.

By 15, I was getting more sure I’d have to leave the race. I thought about the logistics and realized the best way would be to get to 95th Street where Andy was, and leave with him.

While running down the bridge into Manhattan, I thought I could push through the last 10 miles. I don’t know what led me to think that, but the feeling was short lived.  Once I approached the turn off the bridge, I was done.

I did not notice any “wall of sound” that they say is such a force when you come off the bridge. The wall of sound that picks you up and provides you with a much needed burst of energy along First Avenue. I didn’t hear a thing.

When I passed my apartment, a spot I was SO excited to run by, I did not feel any excitement. Instead, I felt regret at not having my keys with me. I just wanted to lie down.

I was 34 blocks from Andy and I had no idea how I would make it all the way to 95th street. I had no choice but to walk at times. In addition to the GI pain was chafing under my right armpit. I wore the same shirt on almost every training run and that never happened — why now? It might have been bearable if everything else wasn’t falling apart. I needed to stop.

The spectators on First Avenue — who were awesome — would cheer like crazy for me when they saw me walk. I did not want them to cheer for me.  I did not want them to know my name. All I wanted before this race was to hear people cheer for me by name, and now hearing my name was the last thing I wanted.  I wished I could hide but I stuck to the left side of the street, right alongside the spectators, so I wasn’t in the thick of the runners. And so I could easily walk off the side when I saw my friends.

At one point, I considered walking the rest of the marathon. But even if I could have run or run/walked through the pain, I wasn’t able to eat and I could barely drink more than a sip of water at a time. The thought of Gatorade made me sick.  I was already under fueled as it was with just two Clif Shot Bloks and Gatorade from the water stops being all I consumed during these 18 miles. Because I had a hard time getting water down, I could have become severely dehydrated. Even if I could have pushed through the pain, it would have been extremely dangerous to continue. And I really did not want to hear any more cheering.

Those last two miles were the longest, most difficult miles of my life. I could have stopped sooner but I would have still had to deal with getting to my friends. And since straight lines are the fastest way from one point to the next, I had no choice. It took everything I had to make it to my friends at mile 18.

So to answer the question, it was a hard decision but it also was not a decision. The choice was made for me.

My goals changed a few times during this marathon. When I started the race, my goal was to finish in less than 5 hours. When the esophageal pain became so bad I had to slow down, my goal became to finish. When I entered Manhattan, my goal was to make it to 95th street.

The streets went by slowly, and at 70th I could not believe I still had 25 blocks left. At 85th I did not know how I would handle this last 10. 95th street became my finish line. Much like runners’ last push of the marathon is those last 400 meters, my last push was to make it to that 18th mile.

Even though I walked multiple times along First Avenue, I made sure I was running as I approached 95th Street. It was really important to me, for some reason, that I was running as I approached my friends.  I knew I’d be stopping as soon as I saw them, but I did not want them to see me walking or struggling.

I was so happy to see my sweet Andy’s face, along with my friends Missy and Lim. I also saw Z’s fiance. I wondered what Z told them all about me and how much they knew. The metal barriers that were along First Ave were not in place at this point. I was relieved that I would not have to do any climbing.

Finally, I reached 95th Street. I stopped and said calmly, “I think I have to quit now. I can’t run anymore. I feel really sick.” Then I burst into tears. 

I wanted to see if Andy would encourage me to keep going, to convince me I could be a marathoner. But he could see what rough shape I was in. He knew that if I said I have to quit, things must really be bad. I looked to my friends, but felt embarrassed and guilty. They came all this way to see me and here I was, leaving the race in front of their faces. But they were amazingly supportive as well.

I stood there for a few minutes, crying but not leaving, but also not making any real effort to continue. I just wanted to lie down. That is all I had wanted since I entered Manhattan. I thought about pushing through and walking the rest of the race, but not only was I in too much pain to do even that, the thought of getting out of Central Park and having to make my way all the way to Andy’s AFTER I finished was too much to bear. If I finished the race, there would have been too much time between the present moment and getting to lie down. I had to do it now.

I walked off the course.

I took off my bib right away. Despite the pain, I was actually worried that marathon workers would reprimand me for leaving the course or accuse me of trying to cheat. What I did not do was stop my watch. That’s how you know things were bad — I never forget to stop my Garmin.

Which explains those last splits:

My friends were so supportive and understanding. I was clearly a wreck at the time I quit the NYC Marathon. I quit because I could run any more, and though I felt relief, it was still very difficult.

[Missy, Lim and Andy. Missy made her sign on the subway.]

I don’t remember much from that moment, but later I received this email from Lim (my former roommate):

I saw two amazing things today: I saw you make it to the 18th mile and then I saw a caring boyfriend take care of you in a time of need.  I am so proud of your accomplishment Dori.

I am incredibly lucky to have friends like Lim and Missy, friends like Rachel and Emily who came over after, all my Twitter friends (people I rarely speak to came out of the woodwork to send me messages of comfort) and Facebook friends who have been more supportive than I could have imagined (has anyone ever gotten so much praise for running 18 miles?), my coworkers who took me out to lunch to cheer me up and of course, my sweet Andy.

[Holding up my bib since I removed it]

We split away from them when we got to Andy’s building and finally, finally I got to lie down.

I have never been so relieved to be in a bed.

But I was also a a mess. I just quit the NYC Marathon. Andy was hilariously live tweeting from my account all morning (and it was very funny as I suspected) and getting updates on my status from friends who were tracking me. I had to send an update of my own. I felt like such a failure. Yes, I quit the race because of this terrible pain, but what if people didn’t believe me? What if they thought this was my excuse because I just couldn’t cut it? What if they thought I was just saying I had pain because the marathon was too hard?

I felt accountable because I made such a big deal out of this race on Facebook and Twitter. And now I had to admit defeat.

Needless to say, I cried. A lot. But a little later, my best friends since first grade came over. I was so happy to see Rachel and Emily, who both were on their way to watch me run when I left the race. Spending the day on the couch chatting with them took my mind off the day and was also good quality time with them that I didn’t get to have while I was training.

I was still in pain by the way. It didn’t go away, even hours after stopping my run. Every now and then Andy would look over and see me grimace in pain. Not that I need further confirmation that I did the right thing, but yeah, there it is.

[This is how I discarded my stuff. Looks sad.]

Like I said, I made such a big deal about this marathon on Facebook and Twitter.  It was hard for me to read all the comments and replies to my quitting news. I really loved and appreciated the support, everyone was understanding and amazing, but I felt embarrassed and didn’t want to deal with any of it. What has been comforting is hearing how many other people have had to drop out of marathons too, even though I don’t wish it on anyone. I was dreading going into work the next day. The CEO of my company sent me a  really nice good luck email during the race, and I would have to admit to him that I  failed. I knew everyone at the office would ask me about the race or congratulate me, and I would have to repeat the story each time.  For the record, that did happen, and I cried every time.

[These arrived on Sunday evening from my mom]

I thought I would wake up Monday feeling better, but I didn’t. I avoided blogs and Twitter, so I had no idea how other people did. I’m feeling a lot better today and a lot less bitter. It is hard to be happy for everyone who finished when you feel so bitter, but now that another day passed I can say I do feel a lot better. I think the tears are over. It is just so hard to give everything you have into this one day. I spent an entire year (and lots of money) running races and qualifying for November 6, 2011. I spent four months training. I ran 20 miles twice. I gave up most of my social life.  My name was on an ad in a subway station! I spent money at the Expo on NYC Marathon branded gear for myself and as gifts. I worked so hard and tirelessly for this one race. This one race I did not complete.



If I did everything right before this pain started, not finishing the marathon would sting just a little less. But I can’t stop blaming myself. Thinking I caused this, I made this happen, by not walking through the water station. I worked so hard for today and then I sabotaged it. Did I really waste the four months of my life training for something I could have controlled?

I know that walking through that water station is probably not the reason my pain started. It is a fluke thing; it’s not like this is a pain I’d had many times before. It was just one of those things that happens that you can’t control. I am trying not to be too hard on myself. Looking back, I can’t believe I ran 9 miles with that pain. Those last nine are all a blur.

A few people commented “You’ll kill the NYC Marathon next year!” That is quite the presumption and all I can say is that I have absolutely no plans to do any such thing. I didn’t do 9+1 program to gain automatic entry and even more than that, I don’t plan on ever training for a marathon again.

Marathon training is not for me. I prefer classes like Refine Method  and  Core Fusion . I don’t want to give up my weekends again and I miss being (somewhat) social. I don’t want to donate another four months of my life to a marathon.

Of course I don’t know what will happen next year and maybe I’ll change my mind; at the same time I don’t know what will happen next year and maybe I won’t be able to run NYC for some other reason. I can’t count on next year.

I can only count on right now.

To be continued . . .

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