Bizz Johnson Marathon–My First DNF

It’s been a few days since attempting my BQ (Boston Qualifier) at Bizz Johnson so I’ve had some time to reflect and recover from the physical and mental agony of a DNF (Did Not Finish).  I can deal with not qualifying, but a DNF messes with the mind like nothing else.  It wasn’t until the day after the race that I was convinced about what went wrong.

After my best year of running in over 30 years, I had only one big goal left.  I had put in 100-mile training weeks to complete the Transrockies Run, knocked out two solid 50Ks in two weeks, and set PRs at the 10-mile, half marathon and marathon distances.  I had run 3:35 at Napa in March in pouring rain, and I wasn’t even trying to qualify.  I know I’m faster than the average runner but I don’t think of myself as fast at all.  Yet, all that was left to accomplish this year was a BQ, and somehow I’ve always thought you need to be pretty fast to qualify for Boston.  I was probably in the best shape of my life and my marathon training had gone reasonably well.  My Yasso training predicted a 3:23 marathon and I needed a 3:30 to qualify.  I tapered well, ate well and slept well.  I felt good about my prospects even though I knew I would still need to have a very good day to qualify.

The first eight miles of Bizz is a very gradual climb starting at nearly 5300-ft.  Marathon pace was 8:04 but I was willing to go 8:15 for the first 6 miles and make it up on the downhill.  The trouble started early when I realized in fhe first two miles I was putting out a fairly significant effort just to hold an 8:15 pace.  Eight miles into the marathon I was done.  At mile nine I was walking.  I was stunned.  What the hell just happened?  Seconds were ticking by, quickly turning into minutes, and just like that, my BQ was gone.  Anger quickly turned to confusion.  Was it the altitude?  Could I really not handle running at 5,000-ft. after running at 8,000 – 13,000-ft. for six days in the Rockies just six weeks earlier?  Come on, it should not be this hard.  I should be cruising through the first half comfortably at 8-min. pace.  So I started running again.  Wow, now I was having trouble just keeping a 9-min. pace.  I slowed to a crawl.  I was angry again.  Like really pissed off.

I reached the halfway point in just under two hours and realized if I finished, it would probably be in the 4:30 range.  I started thinking it’s not even worth running 26.2 miles to go that slow.  I didn’t know if I was mentally checking out or if there was really something wrong.  But what could be wrong?  I felt fine.  I just couldn’t run.  At the aid station at mile 14 I started asking if I could get a ride to the finish.  Everyone thought I was kidding at first.  But there was no way off the mountain.  The entire course is a dirt road with few access points.  It was the aid station at mile 20 before I found someone who could give me a ride to the finish.  3 hours 10 mins. and I was done.  I was completely spent, nothing left in the tank.

It was when I arrived at the finish that it occurred to me.  I’ve been taking red yeast rice to control my cholesterol.  I’ve been taking it for years so it never occurred to me that switching brands a week before Bizz could result in such dire side effects.  I was more sore the day after Bizz than the day after I did AR50 and I only ran about 16 miles at Bizz.  In fact, I was very sore for two full days.  That can’t be the result of altitude, training, stress, diet, sleep, or dehydration.  It must be medical.  I switched brands for red yeast rice when I learned the stuff I had been taking was no longer effective.  It had been re-formulated after the FDA cracked down on yet another manufacturer.  I started taking the new pills just six days before Bizz, completely forgetting that the two most common side effects of statins are muscle pain and muscle weakness. 

It has taken me a few days to put a DNF in perspective.  early on, I was angry for several reasons.  First, this was my BQ and I had trained for it.  My coach and running partners were confident I could qualify, and I knew I could, too.  I even thought I had a chance of running the best marathon I would ever run.  Everything was in my favor.  Second, I could have prevented it if I would have considered the side effects of statins.  It didn’t ever occur to me.  Third, I drove 650 miles round trip on a weekend to run a marathon for which I had no chance of running well.

So here’s the perspective, for what it’s worth.  My youngest sister nearly slipped into a coma this week after suffering from another MS exacerbation with other complications.  That right there sort of makes my DNF rather inconsequential and makes me an idiot for getting upset about a foot race.  I’ve set nine PRs this year in the swim, run and triathlon.  There’s a good chance I’ll never be able to say that again.  A DNF sort of puts a nice stamp on the year, don’t you think?  Amid all the PRs, I also had a DNF.  I’m also not the only one who suffered out there at Bizz.  Charles and Kim, two friends from my running club, also failed to qualify.  They have run over 100 marathons between the two of them.  They finished, but they were far off their BQ.  Turns out I ran about seven miles with Kim and she said it really helped her get through it.  I’m glad to have been able to help her even in my condition.

Someone asked me if I wish I would have finished and not taken myself out of the race.  Yes, I wish I would not have DNF’d.  But I think it was the right thing to do.  I’ve done the IV at the finish line with a severe bonk at the Way Too Cool 50K and been carted off to the hospital.  I hope I have learned to listen to my body and not do something stupid.  Of course no amount of perspective will change the fact that I did not qualify for Boston.  And so it sits out there as the one that got away, and a goal for next year.  I probably need a redemption run just to get it out of my system, but as I have come to my senses, I’m eternally grateful just to have the chance to run another day.


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