The Emotions of a DNF Six Months Later

Emotions froma DNF 6 months later. | happyfitmama.com

“You can come back next year.”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“You’ll come back stronger.”

Those are just a handful of the words of advice I’ve heard over the past 6 months. Well meaning statements. Definitely statements that were meant to make me feel better. I’m not faulting anyone for saying them. I’d probably say the exact same thing. People are just trying to help. But really, it doesn’t. I’ve been carrying around an anger and sadness inside of me ever since I walked off the course in Boston and got my first DNF.

You’d think after 6 months, I’d be OK with everything. I am better than I was 5 months ago, 4 months ago, 2 months ago and even a month ago. Maybe it’s because I’ve had to retell the story quite a lot over the past few weeks, that it’s fresh in my mind right now. So consider this my Thinking Out Loud on Wednesday rather than Thursday. It’s not easy for me to share my feelings, so bear with me on this one.

A DNF is tough to take. Hopefully, it’s my one and only one and I’ll never have to go through this again. It’s hard to say to friends, family and strangers that my best just wasn’t enough. It’s hard to swallow the bitter pill after spending months training and talking nonstop about your goals for that one moment in time. It amplifies when it’s Boston and you have a running blog that’s attached to every social media outlet possible. Everyone knows that this was supposed to be THE race for me.

Boston Marathon Finish LIne | happyfitmama.com

When the plan doesn’t go the way you had envisioned, well, you get angry.

My emotions range from anger to sadness. Feeling like a quitter. Feeling like a failure. Feeling lost. Feeling so not like myself. I know it’s just running, but c’mon – this was big. It’s not like I had a bad race and didn’t make my time goal. I didn’t even have a race. I walked off the course at mile freakin’ 8!

If that wasn’t horrible enough, I had to endure the horrible bus ride of shame to the finish line and then aimlessly wander the streets of Boston all while being congratulated for my great race, while I searched for my family. I didn’t want to talk about it. I was embarrassed and really didn’t want anyone to know what happened. Because of social media, it’s hard to not have everyone know exactly what you’re doing and what your goals are. It felt like others were expecting something from me, but the reality is, that the only person’s expectations I disappointed were my own. I still carry that around with me.

Maybe I would have gotten over it sooner if I had been able to get back to running rather than being on the sidelines. If I could have found another race of any distance, to erase the heartbreak I felt miles before Heartbreak Hill. But I couldn’t and I haven’t. Yet. I’m trying to use those memories from that shitty day to fuel my comeback. I’ve been told to just forget about that day. Move on. I’m trying but it’s hard. It’s a memory that will always be etched in my mind. I want to say my DNF does not define me but right now, I feel like it does. It’s part of my running history. It can hold me back or it can be another chapter in my book of running. The choice is mine but where do I go from here?

Sunrise | happyfitmama.com

I know we aren’t meant to succeed all the time. Sometimes good is not good enough. Sometimes things just happen for no good explanation. Maybe I’ll know the reason one day. Until then, I’ll be waiting and trying my hardest to never have to go through a DNF again.

43 comments on “The Emotions of a DNF Six Months Later

  1. Angela- there are no words. I have never been through a DNF, however I did have to pull out of that same race a week before. I try to put myself in your position and it hurts. There is no way around what you went through. You may never feel at peace with it– sometimes things cut so deep that they leave a scar. Scars fad over time, but some never disappear. I’m wrapping my arms around you.
    Lisa @ RunWiki recently posted..5 Minute Cherry Tomato Cashew PestoMy Profile

    1. I know you felt a similar sting. I guess it wasn’t our race as much as we wanted it to be. I’m hoping one day we will have a race together. And then we can laugh and cry and laugh some more over stupid tie dye things. 🙂

  2. Like Lisa said, there are simply no words for this. I so appreciate your honesty, your raw emotions. As hard as this post is and this experience is, one of the reasons that this is making a difference is because I know four people who had to experience what you did this month and I have shared your words with them. Finally, they will hear something meaningful, and not another comment from me and others trying to console them like you mentioned. Kudos for sharing so openly about this. The truth is, this wasn’t your race. There is a better one. I don’t know what it is yet or when it will be, but there is a better one. And you are a better person, runner and coach for having had to go through this difficult experience. Your experience and sharing it is helping others cope with theirs. Pretty powerful, even though I know it doesn’t lessen the “suck.” Thinking of you and sending you a hug. xo
    Jesica @rUnladylike recently posted..Runner’s Report Card: Putting New Running Gear to the TestMy Profile

    1. Thanks Jes! I was very hesitant to put this out there. I don’t like to complain. But it’s been weighing on my mind for quite some time. I’m glad I did put it out there. The heaviness has lessened. Thanks for sharing. In the past 6 months I haven’t met too many other DNF-ers but I know they are out there. It helps to know you aren’t alone.

  3. Thank you for your honesty about all the emotions. I (Malinda) have been struggling for nearly 2 weeks with an unrelenting chest cold. So, I have a feeling I may experience my first DNF at the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday. I’ve already been agonizing about it and have no idea how I will feel if I don’t finish (or start). 🙁
    @TwinsRun recently posted..2015 Chicago Marathon Race RecapMy Profile

  4. I would feel exactly the same way. I know you don’t want any advice but I would let myself feel ALL the feelings without judgement. What happened to you really really really sucked big time. It may take a very long time to get over it and you may never really get over it. I think that’s ok. You’re absolutely right when you say it was a big deal. I like that you’re acknowledging it and writing about it honestly because I’m sure there are a lot of runners who are finding some solace through your words.
    Allie recently posted..RW Half & Festival – Altra and My Virgin Trail RaceMy Profile

  5. Sometimes there really never is a good reason… it just went horribly wrong. I can identify with all the well-meaning words not helping, that’s how it felt when we were trying to get pregnant. Although I was probably also telling you that you’ll come back stronger… it’s so hard for others to know what to say! I really appreciate you putting it all out here. It is normal to feel the emotions you’re feeling and I think it helps to vent and let others in on how tough it can be!
    Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted..Runner’s World 5k and 10k RecapMy Profile

    1. It is one of those situations where you don’t know what to say. You want to make the person feel better and try to make them think positively. I know – I’ve done it a million times to others!

  6. It is so hard when your expectations for something are so high and then you are not even able to complete your goal. As a perfectionist I know how tough this can be because we are constantly striving for success. Even if others don’t see it as a failure it continues to feel like some sort of failure within and it can be so hard to let go of that. The pressure of being on social media too through this experience definitely amplifies the pressure felt and the feelings of failure. It is hard when there is an “audience” because you sometimes don’t feel as if you are doing this for yourself anymore. I hope you can find your path back to positivity through this and rediscover your own true love of running with emotional and physical healing. Wrapping around you with love and thoughts of quick healing.
    Sandra Laflamme recently posted..Rowing for RunnersMy Profile

    1. And you just made me cry! Thank you so much for your kind words. Just writing this post, has already made me feel like the weight has been lifted a little.

  7. I’m sorry you are still feeling so many strong emotions about it. All I can offer is long-term perspective, both as a runner and a person, and say that there truly will come a day where it won’t sting and where it won’t hold such a big piece of your life. Put all your energies into returning to running and doing it without big race goals in the short term. Because in the end, I’m guessing it’s the daily running that you miss more than anything, right?
    misszippy1 recently posted..My podcast is live!My Profile

    1. You know, since I’ve been able to run just a teeny tiny bit, the sting has lessened. I think that’s what I need to really begin to see the bigger picture of my running story. It’s just a blip. A major blip at the time, but one day, it won’t be. Thanks for you wonderful input as usual Amanda!

  8. Dang, it does suck. Sucks that it happened, and sucks that you still feel this way about it. Wish it was easier, but sometimes it’s just not. 🙁
    At my race recently I had my Boston jacket on and someone walking past asked if I was going back next year. My shortened response was “No, because I got cut! But thanks for reminding me.”, which was short for “well, I worked my @ss off and tried my hardest again, but they rejected me. I’m going to go cry in the corner again…”
    Hopefully next year will bring a new perspective on your DNF, because you’ll be running strong again!
    Lisa @ TechChick Adventures recently posted..Columbus half marathon recap 2015My Profile

  9. Thank you for sharing your feelings and what you are dealing with – I am not a runner but I can believe the struggle and the disappointment you are feeling. I know it won’t help but everything happens for a reason and this is just a little bump in the road and you will be back and stronger then ever sooner then you know!
    Torry @ A World Without Wheat recently posted..WIAW #1My Profile

  10. I can’t tell you how to feel, or to simply just move on because it isn’t realistic. It’s emotional for you because it mattered to you. Sure moving on is what you want, but obviously it is just going to take time- but I don’t think forgetting about it will make it happen any faster. Personally, I struggle with forgetting but I use it to control what I can going forward. What did you learn from it? What GOOD came from it? When training for next race (whenever that may be), what part of your experience will you use to fuel those early mornings, those hard workouts, and those days it’s truly a grind? It’s real, it happened, and it’s okay to feel things about it- but it’s not okay to let it define you because it hasn’t and it never will. You are so much stronger, and better than that- and I can’t wait to see this epic comeback. Also, cannot wait to hopefully hang out again 🙂
    Laura recently posted..Chicago & Saucony 26 StrongMy Profile

    1. Oh Laura. You just made me cry! Thank you so much. I’ve been trying to see the good. I’ve been trying to find what I learned from it. So far, I’ve got nothing. But I’m going to keep looking. There HAS to be something, right? And yes, we will hang out again.

  11. I remember reading your post many months ago and feeling so heartbroken for you. I tell people all the time, no one can tell you how to feel. Your feelings are just that, yours. It’s like any loss in life, grief knows no time limit. You’ll know when it no longer defines you but I’m sure in the meantime you have lots of people around you who support and love you – hold on to that!
    Mar @ Mar on the Run recently posted..10 Tips for Running Your First RagnarMy Profile

  12. I really do understand what you’re feeling. I have two DNFs, both in the SD Rock and Roll Marathon, both because my asthma got so bad I could barely breathe. It took me a long time to get over that feeling of failure. I was fortunate. I could get right back running again. I didn’t have to blog about it. And it wasn’t Boston. All things that make it even more difficult for you. I’m happy that you’re able to run a little again because that will be the first step in moving on.

    (As a side note, if you want to talk about shaming moments, in one of those DNFs, I had to take the shuttle bus to the finish. The driver actually came in through the finish area somehow and drove right across the finish line! Obviously not the same security as today. Well, because I was wearing a chip, it somehow registered, so I got a (fairly decent) finishing time. As the few of us who were in the shuttle were walking to pick up our gear, the volunteers were trying to hand us finishing medals!. Even though we waved them away, it somehow brought it home even more that we had failed to finish!
    Debbie @ Coach Debbie Runs recently posted..Can a Virtual Assistant Make You a Better Blogger?My Profile

    1. What?!?! That’s crazy that you got a finishing time. And I know the sting of the finisher medal mess – I ended up with one even though I told the volunteer I didn’t finish. She insisted I keep it because I started the race. Well that just made me feel even more horrible!

      Thanks for you insight Debbie! It helps knowing that I’m not alone with horror stories!

  13. Sometimes DNF”s don’t always apply to races. We all have been through seasons of life that have us not meeting our expectations and the shame of knowing that everyone knows what happened. It’s difficult to face all the questions that we haven’t quite met the goal of all the hype. Life has it’s own set of quirks no matter how hard we train for it (running or schooling, etc.) and it really is how we bounce back and overcome that is the true story. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Hi Angela, I’m one of the four runners that Jesica mentioned in her comment about. She shared your link with me today and I’m really glad she did. I had my first DNF in Chicago earlier this month. I can relate to every single emotion you described in this post so perfectly. I remember sitting at the aid station in shock at what I had done, feeling demoralized and like a total loser. The ride back to the starting line was very shameful, especially because the woman I sat next to freely admitted she just had not trained well for the race. I felt like everyone assumed I must be the same way and that just felt so wrong and soul crushing. The bus dropped me off in the finisher’s shoot which is just about the last place I wanted to be and I’m sure I stood out like a sore thumb with all of the 3:30 finishers around me. Hearing people say nice and consoling things is just annoying, particularly for non-runners. At first it actually made me angry and then I was just embarrassed. The only thing that has made me feel better is hearing from other runners who have told me their redemption stories. I love hearing when a runner DNF’d and then went back the next year to own the race and even get a PR. Every time I feel ashamed or angry I remember that most other runner’s understand and plenty have been in my shoes before.

    I am really sorry you had to deal with a DNF earlier this year. I am sorry for everyone who has had to DNF due to injury or illness. It’s heartbreaking, soul crushing and demoralizing, but we will come back and have our day. I’m not just saying that, I know it. I just do!
    Kristina recently posted..I Went for a Run!My Profile

    1. Thank you so much for commenting Kristina! In all honesty, you are maybe the second person who has told me they had a DNF. When I was dropped off at the finisher’s area at Boston, a volunteer that had no idea where anything in the city was directed me to a VIP finisher’s tent. There was a woman handing out medals. She tried giving me one but I kept giving it back saying I didn’t finish. She wouldn’t take no for an answer so now I have a Boston finisher’s medal. Talk about a dagger in my heart!! It’s nice to know I’m not alone but it still hurts. I hope you and I both find some peace with our DNF’s. We have a long running career ahead of us!

  15. Ugh, I totally get it. I can picture feeling every single one of those feelings, and no, it’s not JUST running – it’s a big thing. Like any big loss it takes a long time, all the stages, and going back and forth between feelings. But yes, it’s a part of your history at this point and there is so much amazing stuff ahead. Glad you shared this 🙂
    Michele @ paleorunningmomma recently posted..WIAW Weekend: Long Run, Blogger Meetup & FoodMy Profile

  16. Like many others have said, I really appreciate your honesty in your post! I feel like this is something no one ever talks about, and I imagine that it can’t have been easy even to write, so major props to you for sharing your story and your experience! I think your story will help a lot of other runners who’ve gone through the same thing. <3 Sending you lots of hugs!
    Farrah recently posted..To The Guy I Walked Away From #BehindTheBloggerMy Profile

  17. I’m a long-time lurker of your blog, but I wanted to finally post and say that you are such an inspiration. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to have to pull out of a race like Boston, but if there’s anything that running has taught me, it’s that we’re all WAY stronger than we think we are…and that no matter what happens on a race course, you WILL bounce back! That experience will always be a part of your story, but you have so many incredible running accomplishments ahead of you. Give it time; I know you’ll have your comeback!
    Jennifer @ The Final Forty recently posted..Race Recap: Halloween Half MarathonMy Profile

    1. First off – thanks for coming out of the lurker shadows Jennifer! 🙂 Second – Thank you for your kind comments. I’m slowly beginning to believe that I will bounce back. The hardest part is not knowing the when. Now that I’m finally able to do a little bit of running, the when seems to be in my grasp.

  18. I really appreciate your honesty, Angela, and don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re not allowed to feel all those emotions. You’re allowed to feel any way without feeling guilty for it. The race was a big deal for you, so having to swallow a DNF obviously won’t be easy. But just remember that SO many of the most inspirational runners have been hit with huge obstacles that they’ve had to overcome — it’s all about how you bounce back from it 🙂
    Amanda @ .running with spoons. recently posted... thinking out loud #153 .My Profile

  19. Hi Angela,

    Like Kristina, I am one of the 4 that Jesica mentioned – and I am so glad that she forwarded your post to me! I had to pull out of Hartford at mile 14 a couple of weeks ago. My calf strain from earlier on hadn’t healed up 100% and that was an issue, but it was actually the pain in my hip and knee on my *opposite* leg that came out of nowhere that made me stop.

    I felt like my body had somehow betrayed me and am still upset by the whole experience. Like you, I was told that if I hadn’t stopped I would have made all of the injuries way worse, but it still blows.

    To add to your crazy bus stories, here’s mine: I stopped at mile 14, which also happened to be a marathon relay pick up point. I was driven to where the bus was waiting, hobbled over to it and got on the bus (trying to hide that I was sobbing). It was FULL of people who were SUPER EXCITED to have finished their leg of the relay. So I am sitting there, trying to cry quietly, surrounded by people who are just psyched to “feel so good!”. The bus was supposed to be dropping us off at the expo center, which is where my husband was meeting me, but because of road closures the bus couldn’t get through, so a bunch of passengers said “We’ll just walk – it’s only a few blocks”. So I had to limp a quarter mile to the park – which was also the route for the last quarter mile of the race – so I had to watch people finishing the race, and leaving the park with their medals and finishers bags. Add on that I was cold, crying, hurt, and it was obvious because of the different colored bibs that I was not where I was supposed to be, and the whole thing just sucked.

    For me, the hardest part is thinking about all the time I put in training, and all the things I missed out on because of it – and not having that finish to make it ‘worth it’. I know that better races are ahead of me, but I think it just takes time to get over. I’m really sorry that you also had to DNF, but you are definitely not alone.

    Last thing: when I was in the medical tent a physician came over to me, took my hand and said: “My husband has attempted to hike the Appalachian Trail 4 times. The first time he had to stop at 4 hours because of a broken ankle. The second time after 4 days because of the flu. The third time after 2 weeks because he and his cousin had such a blowout that no one wanted to keep going. The fourth time he made it a little farther, but not all the way. These things are a work in progress – you still went 14 miles on a beautiful day. Don’t let one moment of today take away from all you accomplished to get here.” I’ve tried to remember that when I get bogged down.

    Thanks for sharing – it really helps knowing that others have felt the same way. We have lots of great racing/running days ahead of us! (Mostly because we stopped and didn’t let our egos take over!)

    All the best,

    Mary

    1. Thank you Mary for sharing your experience! It is nice to hear stories of others who have had similar experiences, as sucky as it was. I loved that the volunteer shared with you. It really does put it into perspective. Not every goal that we set out to achieve is going to be accomplished on the first try. It’s a journey, not a destination, right? I see many racing/running days ahead of you too!

  20. Oh Angela, thanks for sharing. I have never had a DNF, but I can totally understand and respect the feelings you are having because I would probably feel the same exact way. We tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves. I know I have put a TON of pressure on myself for Marine Corp on Sunday and I fear not following through because EVERYONE is watching and waiting to hear how it goes. Social media can be a double edged sword, can’t it? You are not alone, and this is part of your running journey now, but you have to believe and TRUST that something bigger AND better will come from this!! (Easy for me to say, I know, but I do believe it.)

  21. There are no words and you don’t want to hear any comforting words, regardless of how well meaning they are. I totally get that and it sucks and it’s frustrating. And it’s so hard when we’ve built up so many expectations around something, especially something as meaningful as Boston. As a perfectionist myself, it sucks when you feel like you’ve let everyone down but you’re right in that so many of those expectations come directly from inside ourselves. But I hope that it helps to write about it and sharing your honesty, even just from the comments here, has helped others. Sending lots of love to you!
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Curious About the PiYo Workout? Here’s What You Need to Know.My Profile

  22. My heart is breaking for you all over again reading this. I know I was one of many, many of your readers, friends and loved ones who were following along with you on the Boston journey and felt HORRIBLE when I found out what happened to you. Every time I see a post or a picture of you running now, it makes me so happy. It sucks now, 6 months later, but I hope one day soon you have that comeback race, where everything goes right, you kill it, you feel amazing and you can yell your accomplishment from the rooftops (or at least the virtual rooftops of social media).
    Carly @ Fine Fit Day recently posted..6 Awesome Benefits of Strength TrainingMy Profile

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