As soon as I woke up on race morning, I knew I was in trouble.
My right leg was pretty much completely numb, with the exception of a few pins and needles. Wtf. Helloooooo, back? I have a marathon to run. Stop ruining my life! Perhaps first some background. I went and got an updated MRI and met with a spine specialist last week. I have had back problems for 10 years, but the last time I went to see a specialist was 7 years ago, when they told me “the only thing left to do is surgery, and there’s a 50% chance it will make it better and 50% chance it will make it worse.” Since I was 19, that wasn’t a risk I was willing to take. I had hoped that in 7 years, perhaps some advances had been made.
So my doctor gave me the news, some of which I already knew. I have two herniated discs – the very last two at the bottom of my spine. My discs are cutting off the ability of my nerves to communicate with each other, which is why I constantly have a pins and needles feeling in both my legs and why they sometimes go numb. There’s one procedure they might be able to try that could fix the pain, but my spine might not have the right “type” of signal loss for it to be effective. If that doesn’t work, the option is to fuse my vertebrae together with the bones of dead people. Seriously.
I weighed my options in the morning and figured I had a 1.5 mile walk from our hotel to the starting line. Surely my back would loosen up by then and my leg would regain feeling, right? Right. So I kissed the sleeping beauty goodbye and headed out for a nice walk at 5:30 am over to the start line. The hotel had been nice enough to put out a great breakfast area for runners, which was key since I completely forgot that I needed to bring breakfast since normally my Pea handles that sort of thing. Kristen, you were missed!
The walk over to the starting line was only 1.5 miles, but it honestly felt like it took forever. My leg felt weird and I was worried about how hot it was supposed to be. The best part was there were already spectators out, at 5:40 am, sitting in chairs with mimosas and breakfast food waiting for the race to start at 6:30. That is INTENSE. Funnily enough, I would have made the Maniacs picture if I had known where it was. Imagine me getting to a picture on time. Ha!
Between the projected heat (a high of 86) and the fact that I couldn’t really feel my leg, I figured I would just play it safe and start with the 5 hour pace group since it clearly wasn’t going to be a PR kind of day. I met “Pacer Nicole” and “Streaker Jim,” the awesome 5 hour pacers, and figured it would be a good time. For the record, “Streaker Jim” is called such because he has run all 14 Flying Pig Marathons, not because he runs naked. Just so we’re clear.
The race started and we were off. I can’t say I was running comfortably, because that would be a lie. I was sure I would loosen up in a few miles. I kept thinking “this was a realllllllllyyyyyyyyyyy bad idea.” We crossed the river into Kentucky, where I knew AJ would be waiting. Nicole and I chatted about different races I had coming up, and she will be in Missoula too, which was cool. It turns out her husband had the same type of issue as me, so she told me about the procedure he got, which was of course never mentioned to me by my doctor – nice. Around mile 3, we saw AJ. It helps that he’s a giant, because I could see him long before he saw me. I tried to yell to him but apparently he didn’t hear me. Too bad since it was important information.
Me: “It’s going ok! Except I can’t feel my right leg! I might do the half!”
And with that we were gone.
The crowds along the course were awesome, especially downtown. It is amazing how many people woke up ridiculously early to come support the race, since it started at 6:30. The spectators had tons of signs, were giving out high fives, and cheering like crazy! It was definitely a great boost.
There was a long climb from miles 6 – 8 or so, but I didn’t struggle anymore than normal. We were running at a pace that was comfortable for my heart, so I was fine, minus the whole numb leg thing. The whole time, I kept thinking that running was a horrible idea. Nonetheless, I was enjoying my run with the pace group and the weather wasn’t even too bad yet. We saw a singing Elvis, a guy dressed like toothpaste carrying a giant toothbrush, and the world’s most adorable choir of old men.
The half marathoners were set to split at mile 8.5, so it was decision time. Do I keep running and do the full, or do I split and do the half for my first ever marathon DNF? I was in so much pain. I was doing the math in my head and realized I had almost 18 more miles to go. But I COULDN’T come all the way to Ohio and DNF a marathon that I’ve been wanting to do forever, right? So I split with the full marathoners and kept going.
And then, around mile 9, I lost control of my right leg. The closest I can come to describing it is to have you watch the video below. About 16 seconds in is pretty much what happened, except I didn’t fall.
The signal loss in my back had become so bad that my nerves couldn’t even tell my right leg to move anymore. I would tell it to run, and it would collapse under me or drag behind me. Run 17 more miles like that? Obviously not. I notified the pace group and limped back to the half marathon split, half a mile away, about five miles from the finish of the half. I was so ashamed that I couldn’t even look at all of the marathoners who were coming towards me.
To be honest, I never thought it would happen to me. I guess that’s naive, stupid, or conceited to think, but I just never thought I would DNF a race. After making it through Bataan and Knoxville, I thought there was no race I couldn’t finish. I learned, though, that there is a difference between feeling bad and not wanting to finish a race and feeling bad and being unable to finish a race. And that is a very humbling feeling.
I had called AJ from a volunteer’s phone to let him know that I was coming back, so I slowly walked, ran, and limped the rest of the way. There were some great spectators along the way – an entire high school football team at mile 10 that gave the most enthusiastic and encouraging high fives, two girls with the best race sign I’ve ever seen, and tons of people outside enjoying the day. But I was not enjoying the day.
I know this blog is supposed to be funny, but there was nothing funny about this race. I was not only sad, I was terrified. I was mad. I was frustrated. I hated Ohio (babe, I totally get it now). Most of the rest of the half marathon course was downhill, which is great when you want to run fast and the worst thing ever when you have a bad back. On a positive note, I did come across this old church with doors that I totally want to “reclaim.” Or steal. Whichever.
So I just kept limping along, mile after mile. Sometimes I would try to run just to get it over with faster. These attempts usually failed. Looking at my race photos, it is pretty easy to see how much pain I was in. It made me sad to see them.
The bright spot of this depressing march to the end was this guy in front of me. I couldn’t help but laugh. And then hate myself.
About a tenth of a mile from the finish, someone handed me a cup with beer. In a marathon, I would vomit just at the smell of such a thing. But I was already walking, so I figured why not. And it was delicious.
As I inched closer to the finish line, people kept yelling words of encouragement to me because I looked THAT pathetic. I haven’t cried at a finish line since my first marathon. I cried at this one, and it wasn’t the same kind of crying. I have never been that sad. To add insult to injury (literally), they tried to give me a marathon medal because I was wearing the marathon bib. Nope, I’ll just take the half medal, please. By the way, half marathon medals are not nearly as nice as full marathon medals.
I hobbled sllooowwwwllllyyy through the finisher’s chute, desperately looking for AJ. I couldn’t find him anywhere and I was hot, upset, and in a ton of pain. I made three different people give me their phones to call him because someone didn’t answer. I knew he was probably way at the end of the finisher’s area, since the public wasn’t allowed in, but I couldn’t walk that far, so I eventually got him on the phone and made him come to me. There was a security guard attending the fence who sassed me when I asked him to open the fence to let me out. WRONG DAY FOR THAT, SIR.
I finally found AJ and we began the longgg walk to the car. I limped along very, very slowly. The benefit about only doing the half was that we got back to our hotel room really early and left Cincinnati much earlier than expected. I took my Thai muscle relaxers and AJ googled and found an extremely sketchy place for us to eat lunch. Our first clue that it was a less than reputable establishment should have been the 15 cars parked in the parking lot from the night before. The second clue should have been the 15 year old pregnant hostess who greeted us. We ended up making it home around 9 pm, which was nice. Except my back screaming in agony. But the part where we were home was nice.
Of course on Monday morning I made an appointment with a new doctor, since the one in Charleston is a) too far away and b) didn’t give me all the information he should have. I contacted the office for a referral. They first me to the wrong type of doctor. Then they referred me to an actual neurosurgeon. Then I googled him and found out he received only 2 of 5 stars in his reviews. Really? Not acceptable. After repeatedly calling a new place and speaking with 8 different people, I finally got an appointment with a doctor that people actually like for this Wednesday. It was then promptly rescheduled to Thursday. Cue sneaky hate spiral.
So basically, I have no idea what the outcome will be. I am going to discuss all the different treatment options with my doctor. I have had this problem for many years, and conservative treatments have not worked. That said, I would like to keep dead people’s bones out of my spine if at all possible. The reality is that some days my back feels ok and I run with an amount of pain that is not unmanageable. And apparently, some days I lose control of my leg. For the time being, I am going to do the races that I can. I am going to see what my new cool doctor says.
But T-Rex Runner will press on. AJ and I are still going to Delaware this weekend. Whether I run or not depends on how I feel when I wake up on Sunday. We’ll just see what happens, but I’m going to think positively. And Fawn, please contact Thailand because I’m almost out of medicine for when I feel suffer.
So, have you ever DNFed a race before? Leave me a comment and help stop my hate/depression spiral.