Not even in my worst nightmares, did I ever consider a DNF (did not finish). Death before DNF, right? This was to be my fourth full marathon (fifth if you count the ultra). I knew what it was like - the nerves at the beginning, the yucky later miles, that elation of seeing the finish, the sheer relief of being done. During the taper, issues with my right calf muscle were causing me all kinds of consternation - I was having visions of it blowing up on mile 18. But I had done everything I could to prevent further injury, including very little running the week of the race. Two rather painful chiropractic appointments, sleeping in compression socks nightly, and applying heat and ice three times a day for a week - I was on it. I planned to wear my leg compression sleeves during the race to hold that muscle together as best I could.
And then, on Friday night, the night before the marathon, I commented to a friend jokingly, "It's never the big things that get you in the end. It's always the little ones, like stepping off a curb funny."
I didn't step off any curbs incorrectly. I just underestimated how much a little thing can mess with my life.
Friday night went perfectly, the exact opposite of Cedar City. I was jammied up and in bed by 8pm, happily reading my book. Lights out at 9pm. I didn't feel nervous - okay, well, a little but I was just so excited to get this done. I've been thinking about this for SO LONG and I couldn't believe it was actually here. I was ready to do this - and then return to (more) normal aspects of my life. I wanted to spend the rest of the year focused on my business, Scotty's baseball, a kind wife, and just being a happy, cake-eating person. One that doesn't rise before 4am and who isn't a slave to Long Run Saturday.
Saturday morning pre-race was easy too. Buses loaded quickly, the fires at the start were cool (and hot!). Port-a-potty lines were mostly short. I lined up to go right before the race started, and miraculously, I burst out of the bathroom about 30 seconds before my wave left. I cozied up to the 3:35 pace leader immediately and turned on my watch. Perfect, perfect. Everything was falling exactly into place.
We had attended a lecture the day before that strongly cautioned us about going out too fast. The first four miles were rolling, then it went down for three. Then, mile 7 to 8 - Mount Veyo, this giant volcano thing. It was straight up for almost a mile. Miles 9-14 gradually went uphill, with a hill then it would even out, then another hill. After mile 14 - you were home free. Mostly down including a giant drop right around mile 22. I kept telling myself, "Just get to mile 14; you'll be fine. Focus on 14."
First few miles we just eased into the run. I think my 5K split time was around 25? Exactly where it should be.My first three were 8:08, 8:11, 8:19. Perfect. I needed to stay under a 8:22/mile pace to qualify, though 8:15 would be better. The 3:35 guy and his balloon stick were only a few feet in front of me. Mile 4 was 7:57, then 8: 11, a 7:43 and a 7:56. My split at the 10K was 8:04/mile. I was well under time but feeling really good. Legs felt amazing - that right calf didn't utter a single peep.
But my Garmin did. Right as we began that monster climb, my watched beeped. "Lost Satellite Reception." I had prepared for this - it was happening more and more often with this watch. Even with clock timers per mile, I calmly switched over to real time. The race started at 6:45am; I had to be at the halfway point between 8:30 and 8:35 to still be a contender. Finishing by 10:20 that morning was my magic number.
Even without knowing my pace per mile, Mount Veyo was fine. Kind of a cross between Far Hills and that first 2 mile climb on the Red Rock loop. I got to the top as the sun hit the horizon and was temporarily blinded. That's when I noticed a stitch in my side.
It wasn't in the usual place. When I get side stitches, it's almost always on the right side, directly below my ribs. I've dealt with more of those than I can count (mainly from that ramp at Willows Park). This stitch was different. It was in my lower abdomen, right next to my hip bone. It felt like a menstrual cramp; a bad one. I immediately assumed I was overcompensating with my hip to keep pressure off my calf and thought maybe I had strained a hip flexor.
As I continued to climb, the pain worsened. Again, I naively thought it was because of the climb but in reality, the hills weren't that bad. They were shitty and ugly, yes, and not what you want to deal with in a marathon, but it wasn't any worse than running out to Bonnie Springs on Charleston Blvd. There was no reason I should be this short of breath. The cramp worsened. Hunching over was the only way for the pain to lessen, which is a terrible way to run.
By the time I hit the halfway point, I was around 1:52. Off pace by almost 7 minutes, but I had also just completed the worst part of the course. I just needed to get to mile 14 and everything would literally be downhill. The cramp would go away on the downhill as they usually do. I just couldn't catch my breath, which was coming in short, shallow gasps. I felt hot, too hot, but then cold, too. Chilled. Sweat was pouring off of me, which made no sense. It was barely 60 degrees. I was holding my side with my right arm, not able to get into good runner form.
Looking back, I realize now I was ignoring all the signs of what was going on. I assumed it was nerves and hills and adrenaline. I'd never felt so badly so early on in a marathon. But I'd also never gone this fast with such a big goal.
I hit mile 14 with a downhill grade at almost an 8% grade. Let's open up and do this. Instead of relief, the moment my right leg struck the ground, pain shot up my right side almost unbearably. The movement of going uphill, because my stride was shorter, had blocked this. Now that I was moving down and my stride opened, it felt like someone jabbed a poker directly in my front hip. The pain was so great I actually doubled over. That was the only way for the pain to stop. I slowed to a walk for a few minutes, convinced it would go away with less movement.
I was wrong.
The moment I stopped, it moved into my entire lower abdomen. I tried to stay off my knees, to not collapse. Somehow, I managed moved to the side of the road to get out of the way of other runners. To say I was panicking would be an understatement. This was the downhill! My legs were fine! They felt great! I was tired, sure, but OMG what the hell is wrong with my right side. I got through the worst; I had to make up some time but a BQ was still within reach. But first I had to stand up. I just straighten up.
A shuttle pulled up behind me. I was doubled over, and swearing. The driver asked if I needed help; there was a nurse on board. I said no, I just have a cramp but the nurse still hopped out. He pushed on my side and I screamed in pain. The driver informed me that if I climbed into the bus, my race would be over. I told him I wasn't getting on the bus. My mind was seriously racing -- WTF was going on? The nurse pushed on my side again, I screamed again, grabbing my side with both arms. I was crying now, frantically willing this situation to go away. He told me it might be my appendix. I shook my head no, this is not happening. Then the nurse said - and I quote - "This is appendicitis. Get on the bus NOW."
Because I couldn't stand up, let alone run, I got on the bus.
And just like that, my race was over.
I probably would have been more emotional about climbing into that shuttle, except that's when the nausea hit. They handed me a puke bag and I crawled into the back, willing myself not to throw up. There was already some guy in the van, looking sad and defeated. As soon as I sat down, I realized how dizzy I was. I was burning up but freezing cold. Everyone in the van, including the runner, were now watching me closely. I had been pressing so hard on my right side with both arms that my left arm got caught under my bib. The only position that felt comfortable was the fetal position, holding my side.
I heard the driver radio something about a "medical emergency" and the next thing I knew, we were flying past runners. We stopped right next to Snow Canyon, the fastest part of the course to meet up with the ambulance. Still doubled over in pain, I stared at the carpet on the floor in the shuttle. The shock that my race was over was starting to hit - I could feel the fear rising up in my chest. OMG what have I done? I'm fine! It was just a cramp! Why did I get in the van?
And that's when I started sobbing. What I have done?
The ambulance took forever to get there. The nurse rattled on about appendicitis and why it was such a big deal. He told me if the pain started to go away, I should tell him immediately since that would indicate the appendix had ruptured.
About ten minutes later, still no ambulance in sight, the acute pain began to abate. I could sit up without extreme discomfort. When I told the nurse the pain was going away, he looked at me like I was going to burst into flames that very second. Thankfully, the paramedics were walking up right at that moment which probably prevented his cardiac arrest over his alleged septic patient.
The paramedics looked at me, did a quick exam, and stated they would take me to the next ambulance to be taken to the hospital. They said point-blank they not believe it was appendicitis. At that point, because the pain lessened, I did not think it was appendix-related either. Maybe it had burst, but my gut told me it wasn't. Something was wrong but it wasn't an exploding appendix. Not knowing what it was, I began second guessing my decision. Why did I get on the bus? Could I have walked a bit and it would have gone away? Throwing up is part of running. Why was I not stronger, tougher, better able to handle this?
I'm not quite sure how to describe the next ten minutes, but there was a lot of confusion about where and how to take me. The ambulance couldn't leave it's position the course. The shuttle wasn't comfortable taking a "medical emergency." I did not think I needed to go by ambulance at this point (um, hello, they are expensive. If you get anything from reading this blog, it's always drive yourself to the hospital if you can!) Then, the race director showed up. He listened to both sides and then inexplicably pointed a finger at me and shouted, "Is SHE being non-compliant?!" I lost it. Here I was, race over, still in pain, and stuck on this stupid course because everyone is arguing. I came up with the only solution I could - take me to the finish line where there is a medic tent with a doctor AND close proximity to my bag and my phone. No ambulances, I'll hold my own.
So that's what we did.
It was surreal to be at the finish line having not actually finished the race. I had to go through the medal area, the bananas, the photographers. I started crying again. What had happened? Could I have toughed it out? Oh my gosh, if it was just a side cramp, I was never going to get over it. All that training, all that work...this wasn't happening.
The very nice doctor at the finish line, also named Kim, gently pushed on my abs. My pain was at a 4-5 right now; I could walk without assistance. He confirmed what the paramedics had said - it probably wasn't appendicitis, but it could be a ruptured ovarian cyst. I needed to get to the hospital for an ultrasound to confirm and make sure it wasn't hemorrhaging.
I highly doubted the last part since I was mobile, but the pain was distinctly familiar. I had ruptured an ovarian cyst in 2008, a year before Scotty was born. It happened on a weekend when Brian was out of town for a friend's wedding. The pain was exactly the same; why hadn't I thought of it before? Of course, the first time it hit me in the morning, when I was lying in bed, not running a marathon. My ability to feel pain has changed drastically in the last few years. Had I ignored signs of this and brushed it off as race pain? I remember when they gave me my tetanus shot for the fence injury; they told me to brace myself, it was going to hurt. By the time I steeled myself for the needle, they informed me it was already done. I hadn't felt a thing.
Did I really just run 14 miles at marathon pace while a cyst was rupturing? Yeesh.
So I did the only thing I could think to do: I walked to my hotel, Google'd the nearest hospital, and drove myself there. Three hours, a liter of fluid with 8mg of Zofran to get rid of that awful nausea, and one ultrasound later confirmed the race doctor's initial theory: ruptured cyst on the right ovary.
I'm convinced my reproductive system hates me. As a friend said, "I think your eggs are pissed because you decided to have only one child." Is that the case? Do I have a bunch of little suicidal bombers in there, threatening to blow the place up if they are not fertilized? Really?
The ER doctor, also very kind, couldn't help but notice my calf compression selves poking out of my hospital gown. He told me having a cyst rupture during a marathon is a "one in a million chance." Well, get in line, buddy. I'm getting tired of hearing that. Sharing a due date with your only sister is a one in a million chance. Giving birth to the babies on the same day - also one in a million. Storm Troopers crashing your wedding - one in a million. Your husband developing a kidney stone on the night of your ultra marathon. Cutting your arms on a fence with little to no real injury. I must have been born under a very unusual star because I seem to hear "one in a million" rather frequently. One in a million, unless you're Kim, then it's more like once every six months. Maybe I should start playing the lottery.
But again - like everything listed above - this was totally unexpected but in many ways, it's the best case scenario. Brian and Scotty had just landed in San Fran when this all played out and were ready to jump the next plane home as soon as they got word what had happened. Because I didn't require any additional care other than pain management, I told them to enjoy their weekend. Yes, my marathon was over, but I could feasibly be running by Monday. Any kind of surgery would have put me in recovery for six or more weeks. This was nothing but a very, very, very ill-timed speed bump.
Letting friends know I had DNF'd was hard. Alex immediately responded with info about upcoming marathons I could jump into (and sent a bunch of funny memes too. The ER just wasn't the same without Kat and Alex there). Courtney decided I shouldn't be alone Saturday night, so she jumped in her car. The other Lululemon runners, having all finished, offered to come to the ER but I was in the process of being discharged. We met up later in my room and I got to hear about the last 12 miles of the course I didn't get to run ("Rolling hills, Kim," Ann assured me with a hint of disdain. "Nothing about it was easy downhill." Ann makes me laugh). Court arrived around dinner time. A gorgeous view of St. George, some sugar cookies, and a grueling match of darts at the closest dive bar helped to take my mind off of the day's events. Did I really DNF? Did that really happen?
I did. My marathon, the one I had referred to as "my golden ticket," was over.
The good news: just as predicted, the sun still rose on Sunday. Physically I'm tired, but that will pass. Much harder was seeing the posts on Facebook. As much as I appreciate the support, each time I logged in, I saw more happy finisher photos. I just can't look at that yet. I'm so happy for all of my friends who finished, especially since many of them have new, shiny PRs. Right now, though, it's too raw. I spent Sunday night talking (read: crying) to Brian after he got home. It needed to come out.
If there is one thing that running has taught me is that we are all stronger than we think. I just spent the last five months of my life committed to training. My numbers were good - really good. Do I give that up? Do I jump into another race? Can I endure another 7-9 weeks of training? More importantly, can my family endure that? I'm going to have to fold the training into a seasonal business, coaching and little league playoffs, then holidays. It means more Saturday mornings spent up and down Charleston. Early bedtimes. No cake. But -- while I struggled greatly with the long runs, now I have the option to bust out a few more 20-milers and really polish it up. I could get stronger. Now I have the gift of additional time.
No one said this journey was going to be easy or without its share of potholes (or prairie dog holes, if you read my last entry). I just never expected this turn of events. Technically, in the most stoic of all running minds, I should Saturday nothing more than your usual 14-miler, albeit with great aid stations and no cyclist traffic...
This morning, the rain matches my mood though I feel much better. I know what my heart says. My decision to continue involves others and it really depended what my legs and husband can handle. Because he's a great guy and knows what this means to me, Brian said without hesitation, "Go for it. We will make this work."
My legs are overjoyed. "Run, run, run!" they say.
I'm headed out for an easy three miler and then, back to the grind.