Phoenix Marathon 2015–DNF

I typed that title and thought, wow, never did I think I’d ever type those three letters. Ever.

But, if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook then you already know, I did not finish the race.

When I shared with you all my final thoughts leading up to the marathon, I mentioned my goals and how I’d be super disappointed if I didn’t at least PR. The possibility of not even finishing the race didn’t even occur to me. Like, I didn’t think, “And lastly, if nothing else, my final goal is to just finish the race.” I just thought it was something that would happen, because that’s what you do. You finish.

Except I didn’t.

After I wrote Friday’s post, I headed over to the expo which was absolutely amazing and the highlight of the weekend. I’d like to recap that separately as it’s completely opposite of the events that occurred the following day.

My alarm went off Saturday morning at 2:30 and it didn’t take me long to get ready. I had everything prepared and woke up feeling pretty much the same I’d been feeling all week. Not horrible but definitely not 100%.

I picked up Runner Jenny at 3:45 and we made our way to the busses that would drop us off at the start line. I was prepared with throwaway clothes, water, and a morning snack as I knew we’d have about an hour and a half wait before the race began.

I felt okay. I was warm because of my layers, and I sipped on water as we walked to find the rest of our group.

My run club friends asked how I was doing (as they’ve known I’ve been sick for a while) and I told them the truth, okay but not 100%.

We waited.

Once the clock crept closer to gun time, we made our way to the start line and began shedding our layers. It was then that I felt how cold it really was. Now mind you, the weather was actually beautiful (no rain!), but this Arizona girl gets cold when it’s 50 degrees out. I took off my sweats and sweater but left on my ear warmers (my ears were still achy).

We all exchanged our good lucks and then it was time to start. Me and Runner Jenny had a game plan, to start slow the first initial downhill and not let it sneak us into starting too fast.

So that’s what we did. We were about a quarter of the first mile in when I coughed. And then continued coughing. And then looked and Jenny as I continued to cough. This was not looking/sounding good.

I passed it off and kept going. First mile, 9:37. Okay, a little fast, but not bad. Not bad, at all.

Half way into mile 2, Jenny asks me a question and as I opened my mouth to answer, a cough came out instead. No, this was definitely not good. She tells me, “No worries, I won’t talk. You don’t talk. We’ll be okay.”

This was mile 2.

The lone hill began at mile 4 and it was here that Jenny began to distance herself. I told her to go. We both knew I was on the struggle bus already. I saw her keep steady and felt myself began to falter and that’s when I knew that this was going to be the hardest race of my life. My left calf flared up and I kept running, hoping that running would make the cramp dissipate. I couldn’t believe this was happening at mile 4. Couldn’t. Believe. It.

How the hell was I already struggling so bad? How the hell had I already let Jenny down? At mile freaking four?

My right quad began to flare and at this point, I began to think the running gods had it in for me. I was cramping like I’d never in my entire life cramped before. All before mile 6. I took my first GU at mile 5 hoping that would help but I felt nothing of its benefits. I had picked up water at the two stations I’d already passed and still was a complete mess.

I finished that long uphill and rode the decline hoping it’d start jump me and give me some energy. I was hurting but I was running. Mile 8 came and went. And then mile 9. It was here that both of my legs, both calves, both quads, whatever the heck the muscle next to my shins are called, all were squeezed tight into massive balls of crampage. I knew I was done at mile 10. Done.

My husband was waiting for me at the mile marker and he knew. I didn’t have to say a word. He asked me if I was sure about wanting to stop and I said yes, there was no way I could keep going. My body ached from coughing and cramping and I was shivering and I still had a shitload of miles left.

I had never in my life hurt so bad.

He told me that he wanted me to be absolutely sure. To keep running and that maybe I’d get a second wind. (In my head I was like, this is mile 10. I would hope that I wouldn’t need a second wind at mile 10. Mile 18? Mile 20? Yeah, sure. But how the hell did I need a second wind at mile 10?)

I kept going. I hoped and prayed his words would work their magic and would help to dispel the negative thoughts going through my mind and the pain searing through my body.

But they didn’t. I started to walk/run, trying to stretch my legs on the curb of a sidewalk periodically, but nothing was helping. A spectator asked if they could help, but my coughing wouldn’t let me respond. I knew then I had to make my decision.

I felt that I could somehow muster up whatever pride I had left to finish and drag myself across the finish line. It would be ugly, but it seemed feasible. Maybe. I knew that it would wreak havoc on my body though and that I would be pushing my body to limits unknown. I’d get my medal and maybe pneumonia too.

My two kids, my two rambunctious toddlers came to mind and I knew I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be selfish and finish a race for pride, pushing my body to where I don’t know how it’d end up. I had to go home to them in one piece.

So at mile 12 I stopped.

It was a little past mile 12; I could see the half marathon flags and I could see two of my run club friends cheering on the sidewalk. I walked up to them and they instantly put their cameras away. They could see I wasn’t doing well and that I wasn’t a sight worth taking a picture of. I asked for their phone and where we were, and I called my husband. I was officially not going to continue.

I stopped my Garmin and waited for him in their car to try and get warm. I was coughing and coughing and the coughing was making me dry heave. I kept opening the car door just in case anything came out.

My husband found me not too long later and I climbed into his car. And it was here that I began to cry. We drove away in silence and after a few minutes, he told me that I had done the right thing.

In between crying and coughing, I told him how much pain I was in. How bad the cramping was and that I just couldn’t understand why this was happening.

It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault, he kept repeating.

But I just kept on crying. And coughing.

He asked me if I wanted to go home and I said no. I wanted to see Runner Jenny finish. I wanted to see my friends finish.

I had discarded my sweats at the start line so we stopped at a nearby store to pick up some warm clothes. I was shivering (my husband was not) and knew I couldn’t/wouldn’t last with just my shorts and running shirt.

And then we went back to the race. I walked towards the finish line and waited. While we were waiting, my husband’s phone rang. It was my friend Nadia asking where I was in the race so she could find me. He passed me the phone and I began to sob, telling her that she could find me at the finish line, except I didn’t finish.

My friends began approaching the finish line and one by one I cheered them on. I saw several snag PRs and I saw a few struggling as they crossed, but they finished.

And then after a while, there she was. My partner. Still running with a huge smile. She saw me and waved and I yelled as loud as I could for her as she crossed the finish line of her first marathon. I wasn’t there to do it with her, but I was there to cheer her on.

All the emotions on my face

Soon after the race, I went to Urgent Care where I was diagnosed with bronchitis and an upper respiratory infection. The doctor told me I was silly to think I could run that day.

I don’t know. I don’t know if that even makes me feel better. But, there it is. There’s what happened. I’m still collecting my thoughts on it and still trying to absorb this thing of not finishing something I trained and worked so hard for. I know ultimately I made the right decision; it’s just difficult to think about this race and say out loud, I didn’t finish it.

Thank you guys so much for your kind words of support on facebook, instagram, and on my blog. I know you guys know how important running is to me–because it is to you–and I know you guys understand in a way a lot of other people can’t. I’m so thankful to have all of you in my life.

❤ , helly




87 responses

  1. This breaks my heart and I’m crying over here. But you did the ABSOLUTE right thing. Bronchitis??? Holy moly woman. You killed this training cycle and there is something to be said for that. Take care of yourself, get well soon and know you are loved!! There will be other races but only one mommy and one Helly ❤

  2. Helly, this just breaks my heart. I’m tearing up reading it. But I want you to know something: you still accomplished 12 miles. And in the worst possible conditions. That is still remarkable. Did you not get the other miles that the day “called” for? No, but you took care of yourself. it just sucks that it happened to be “that day” when you “needed” to do the others.
    I am proud of you for having the courage to make the right decision. Yes–that took as much guts and fortitude as it does to finish a marathon. So many of us are scared to fail–but you didn’t fail. You accomplished 12 grueling, tooth and nail miles and fought for every single one of them, and then you had the good sense not to make it any worse. You have a family and a life beyond running–thank goodness you didn’t risk that. This will sting for a bit, but there is always going to be “that” race–and now at least it is over and done with!
    So much love, so many hugs.

    • Thank you Suz ❤ I'm so incredibly happy for you!!! I somehow missed you crossing the finish line–you were probably going too fast! 😀 Congrats and I hope to see you in Chicago since I missed you in Phoenix.

  3. omg.. :/ I don’t follow you on any other social media, so I totally didn’t know 😦

    I was looking forward to your recap..and I am incredibly sad that that happened. Don’t feel bad.!! How many people can do 12 miles while having bronchitis and an upper respiratory infection.!? that in itself is pretty amazing.

    Take care girl.!!

  4. Hugs hugs hugs Helly 💗 I experienced a DNF at the San Diego Rock n Roll full marathon in 2012. I pulled out of the race at mile 23. The decision haunted me for a good year, so I absolutely know how you feel. In the end, you listened to your body which is without a doubt the right thing. Nothing left to do but move forward and heal. Hug your adorable babies and simply be grateful for new days. 💗

  5. I don’t know what it’s like to DNF, but I do know what it’s like to commit to (and pay for) a race, only to get injured halfway through your training. It’s so incredibly frustrating, but I think it reminds us that we are human, not machines. Our bodies actually need to rest sometimes. It’s so hard to take time off as a runner, because with each race you want to do more; go farther, go faster, etc. But if you push yourself too hard when you shouldn’t, you’ll just be out of the game that much longer. That’s how I see it, anyway 🙂

    It’s amazing that you stayed to cheer your friends on at the finish. I’m sure they really appreciated that. Instead of running my race this weekend, I paced my friend in the second half of her first full. I found almost as much joy in that as finishing it myself. And I think that’s what makes running so great; not just the personal achievements but the support we give each other.

    I’m sure you’ll be back in the game in no time 🙂

  6. Bronchitis! I’m so glad you stopped. There’s always another race, but there’s no other Helly. I’m so glad you took care of you. XO

  7. I love you. I’m in awe that you made it 12 miles as sick as you were. I know this was one of the most difficult decisions to make, but you made the smart one. Phoenix is waiting for you next year. Maybe I should come out for the next one. ❤

  8. Oh, Helly. I, too, think you made the right call and I think it took a lot of courage to make the tough call. I cannot even imagine the emotions you are battling. I have never been in your shoes – meaning, I have never even accomplished what you have accomplished. You have worked so hard and done so many amazing things. I are one of my biggest inspirations and I hope that I am able to do even half of the awesome things you have! ❤

  9. This post made me want to smile and cry at the same time. Although I have yet to experience a DNF, I know that it is looming out there somewhere. We runners tend to think we are invincible at times and can power through just anything. The marathon is a serious beast that cannot be controlled and despite our best efforts in training and on the course, we cannot change what is in store. It sounds like you were very wise. Congrats on a great training cycle and for making the best decision for you.

    • Yes, this was a good lesson on respecting the distance. I don’t know what I was thinking thinking I could run 26.2 miles the way I was feeling. I didn’t take the marathon seriously and I didn’t take how sick I was seriously. Definitely a good learning experience.

  10. Big hugs to you. You made a brave decision. Your body got the DNF, not your heart. You had a great training cycle and were totally prepared. All you can do now is rest and get better. ❤

  11. I know this must have been such a hard decision to make. You are SO strong and made the right decision. I know you’re disappointed but I hope you don’t feel ashamed or like you let yourself down because you made the right choice and the HARDER choice.

    I have bad leg cramps when I’m sick because the medicines I’m on cause them. It might have been a factor.

  12. Girl you have me in tears (seriously)! What a hard decision to make and hoping that you are feeling better soon. Your health is way more important then any finish line. I know it’s hard to think about all that training you put into it but think about it. All that training you put in; made you health, strong, confident, positive role model for your two kids, you focused on a goal….YOU accomplished A LOT before you even started the “last” race.
    Hold your head up high, get some meds and take are of yourself.
    Your friend from afar.

  13. Oh Helly. I’m in tears. I know how big of a decision that was to make. I can feel your anguish. You made the right decision. I am proud of you Helly. Don’t let it haunt you. Maybe next year I’ll join you in Phoenix. Xoxo

  14. Oh Helly, I am so sorry. I know how hard that must have been for you, but you ABSOLUTELY made the right decision. I had bronchitis and an upper respiratory infection over the holidays and that will take everything out of you. You were a trooper for even toeing the start line, but don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s just ONE race, there will be tons more. Your body was telling you something, it was totally out of your hands. Hugs friend…xoxox

  15. My sweet friend, I read this with tears streaming down my face because I know how hard this must have been for you. You trained hard and you deserved to race, but you are right, you absolutely did the right thing! I know going through all these emotions are tough and its still very raw, but I think you are going to come out of this training cycle a stronger runner and I still think if you can find another marathon fairly close in the next few weeks, that could be a great option! You are a tropper Helly and the fact that you made it through the 1/2 marathon with bronchitis and an upper respiratory infection shows just hard hard you were fighting! Hugs! ❤

    • Thank you so much Sara. It’s crossed my mind to find something else but it gets really hot here in Phoenix these months. That was kinda the last big race around here. I’m hoping to redeem myself this fall in Chicago–we shall see 🙂

  16. Hello from a little blog lurker 🙂 I don’t comment on things very often. Congrats on showing up, starting, and getting as far as you did. I have started many a race sick, injured, whatever. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes…. not so much. I have racked up a couple of DNF’s from it and well – they suck for sure. But you put in a great effort and be proud of that. This race will always be floating around in the back of your mind, but it fades away pretty fast. Focus on your new challenges and have fun! Oh…. and get well soon. This respiratory garbage is no fun. ~ Carly

    • Thank you for your words ❤ Like you said, I keep telling myself this will soon be a distant memory and it won't be that big of a deal as it is now. I'm hoping to only take away the positive 🙂

  17. Aw, Helly I’m so sorry that things didn’t go the way you wanted them to. But bronchitis AND an upper respiratory infection? I’m amazed you even made it 12 miles. It took an extraordinary amount of will and determination to get that far, and an equally extraordinary show of wisdom and courage to stop when you did. Like I said last week, there will be other races and other PRs. Focus on getting better, and then get back out there and kick the crap out of your next training cycle!

  18. sorry to read this, but as you know, you did the right thing. i was in your same place almost a year ago with shamrock. i had norovirus but didn’t know it and thought i just had food poisoning. i threw up (and more) 36 hours before the race and could barely eat anything that whole weekend. i had no business trying to run that race and it was a blessing when i got woozy at mile 17, there was a course volunteer. sitting on the injury bus back to the start was one of the most terrible moments of my running life. but it was the right decision. honestly, i probably would’ve passed out had i kept going and who definitely would’ve come away REALLY REALLY sick had you kept going. we runners are stubborn and strong and tough. but sometimes the toughest thing to do is the right thing. i hate that you have experienced this because it really, really sucks but know that this too shall pass. now i’m able to look back and wonder what the HECK was i thinking?! and appreciate just how determined i was to even make it 17 miles in my state. be proud of yourself and remember that it’s just ONE race. i’ve run three more marathons since my DNF in march of 2014. rest up. be kind to yourself. you are such a hard worker and a great runner and i just know that this is just a tiny blip. xx

    • Oh man, thank you for sharing your story Courtney ❤ We runners are really a stubborn bunch. And you're right, I know that it'll pass and even now, only a few days later, I tell myself that I knew better–what the hell was I thinking?
      I'm so thankful for your friendship xoxo

  19. I’m so sorry you were not able to finish. You did what was best for you. Running 12 miles! Coughing and all and to find out your condition at Urgent Care, I say you kicked butt. It’s ok not to finish. It happens. It’s tough. Just remember there are more races and you are still a runner. Many thoughts to you and I hope you get better real soon! Your PR is coming!

  20. Aw Helly, I’m so sorry you had to experience this. Some things really aren’t fair sometimes. I’m sure you made the right decision as difficult as it was. Finishing was definitely not worth making yourself even sicker :/ Take this time to recover fully now and then get back out there with a brand new fire!
    Also, I admire you going back to cheer for your friends. They’re lucky to have you ❤

  21. Oh no! What a tough day! You never know with races, do you? You can do all that training, then get sick, or get crappy weather, or get hurt, etc. But we keep trying anyways, hoping that next time will be an awesome race. You are definitely owed one after this race! Go Helly Go!

  22. DNFs happen to everybody. The best you can do is learn from it. Your body was obviously trying to tell you to back off. You should be proud of yourself for listening. Hugs!

  23. Aww Helly ❤ You did do the right thing. I knew something wasn't right when I kept seeing the pace groups pass and no Helly :(. The track team's practice I coach was cancelled because of so many road closures, so I knew I wanted to go out and see if I could spot you! You're amazing for pushing it even that far with being so sick like that. I know some people probably wouldn't even line up, but that just shows how much of a fighter you are. And you'll fight through this too and the most important thing is that you'll be able to run another marathon because of your smart decision on that particular day. It just wasn't worth the risk at all, especially since the wind picked up that day it probably would have made your cough even worse. If it makes you feel better, I had a DNF in college one. And not because I was sick, my coach pulled me out because I was doing so bad haha so there ya go. It happens ;).

  24. Oh Helly – reading this gave me goosebumps & I nearly cried myself. I think this recap exemplifies a runner’s heart like no other- we do not want to give up no matter how much our body tells us otherwise, & we’re heartbroken when it gives out.
    You’re such a good person & to think of your kids, & what they need from you as a mother was an amazing way to help you make the right decision.
    ❤ sending well wishes your way so you can get back on your feet soon

  25. I know how terribly hard it can be to stop. The pride in us wants to make us keep going, but when it comes to health, or injury, we need to listen to our bodies (even when we don’t want to). You made the right decision, as much as it sucks, it was the right decision. I’m sorry your day didn’t go as planned, but there are other races and other adventures.

    I’m glad that we got to met and I LOVE the picture of us together. Hoping that you feel better soon and look forward to wishing you luck at another expo or start line in the future.

  26. Oh god Helly 😦 I was tearing up just reading this! I am so sorry for you. I know there are no words that can make this better. But you are an incredible runner – you are so fast, so dedicated, and so strong that you were willing to DNF because it was the right thing for your body. I can’t imagine how you must feel, but you made the right choice and you’re handling it like a pro. I would have gone home and wallowed in self pity for days – you went to the finish line to cheer on your friends! Also, you should totally find a marathon to do as soon as you feel better since you’re super trained over there! I think Courtney from Eat Pray Run DC did that? Or Mar? Anyways, I know you’ll nail the next one!

    • I’ve definitely thought about but it’s get really hot here in these months and that was kinda like the last big race here in Phoenix. I’m cut off from traveling until Chicago Marathon (where I hope to redeem myself 🙂 )

  27. Pingback: Positive Phoenix Marathon Memories | hellyontherun

  28. Hugs xxxx That can’t have been an easy call to make but it was definitely the right one. That’s the fickle nature of marathons – you can have a perfect training period and then on the day sh*t just happens! And kudos to you for even getting to 12 miles. I ran once with undiagnosed bronchitis and thought I was going to die after 3 miles!

  29. My heart is breaking for you, I can only imagine what it would be like to not finish but you really did the right thing. You are clearly a very mentally strong person, your body just wasn’t wanting to listen. I hope you’re feeling better and get some rest! You will kick butt next time for sure!

  30. Helly this just breaks my heart for you. I’m so sorry.! I hope you’re feeling better now. You did the right thing but I still can’t imagine how frustrating the choice must have truly been. Every marathoner knows thatna race and race day might possibly be a disaster, but when it actually happens it’s just terrible:( I’m so sad for you! Hugs!!

  31. Oh my gosh, you worked so hard! That truly sucks. At least you gave it a go, and you stopped when you realized you realized your body wasn’t doing well. I hope you’re feeling better about the whole thing.

    • Thank you! Yeah, that was the toughest part–knowing how much work I put in to training and then not being able to finish 😦 But, I know I did the right thing. Barely now, two weeks later, I’m *starting* to feel better. This has been the longest sickness ever

  32. Pingback: Mid-Week Musings II | hellyontherun

  33. Pingback: Chicago Marathon Training Preseason Week 1 | hellyontherun

  34. Pingback: Happy Hump Day/Month!!! | hellyontherun

  35. Pingback: To The Windy City I Shall Go… | hellyontherun

  36. Pingback: Here We Go Again!!! Phoenix Marathon Training Recap Week 1– Will Third Time Be The Charm? | hellyontherun

  37. Pingback: Hello. It’s Me. | hellyontherun

  38. Pingback: Phoenix Marathon Ambassador and an Instagram GIVEAWAY!!! | hellyontherun