That Time I Didn’t Run a Marathon

It seems like there have been several times in the last year that I could’ve written a post with this title.

After all, since January, I’ve signed up for—and not run—3 marathons. Yep, 3. First, it was my demon back injury that sidelined me from the Carmel Marathon last spring. Then, Hurricane Sandy stunned everyone, and in the most random, unexpected way, caused the NYC Marathon to be cancelled.

And finally, on Saturday, I attempted the Richmond Marathon. I have to say attempted because, unfortunately, I didn’t quite make it to the finish.

I could detail it for you mile by mile, but that seems unnecessarily harsh, mostly for me, because I’m not all that interested in reliving it. But here’s the less excruciating Reader’s Digest version:

I started the race feeling good. I stuck right with the 3:30 pace group for the first 6 miles. I felt loose, relaxed, and comfortable. Around the 10K mark, I felt a little twinge in my left knee. I tried to ignore it and just kept plugging away. When the twinge turned into a pang, and then my right knee joined the party around mile 7, I knew I needed to slow my pace if I was going to make it to the finish. I eased up a bit to around an 8:30 pace, but it wasn’t enough. No matter how I tried to talk myself out of it, my knees were in serious pain. I stopped at mile 8 to stretch, hoping that would help, then continued, slowing way down to around a 10 minute pace.

For the next 12 miles, I struggled, running a little, walking a lot, hoping that the pain would ease up, telling myself I would make it to mile 13, then 16, then 18. At each milestone, I figured I could regroup and make a decision as to whether or not I could keep going. By mile 18, I was walking more than I was running. Actually, walking is inaccurate; I was hobbling, unable to bend my right leg without pain. Still, I kept going—walking a lot, running a little, and hoping hoping hoping that somehow I would make it to the finish. But just before mile 20, I realized I was being really stupid. What was the point of trying to finish just for the sake of finishing? I didn’t want a 6 hour finish time just to say that I “ran” a marathon. That’s not what I trained for. It wasn’t the race I wanted to run.

And so I stopped. Yes, there were tears, as much as for the pain in my knees (that was now radiating up my quads and into my hips and back) as for the disappointment of training off and on for almost a year only to have to drop out because of an injury that literally hasn’t bothered me in 2 years. That’s right—the knee thing? This is an old injury. Ten years ago, I was told that I had worn all of the cartilage out of my knees and wouldn’t be able to run again. So I suppose the fact that I made it this far is a victory in and of itself. But I was surprised that my knees were the thing to get in the way of this race. I had nearly forgotten that they were even an issue until they came screaming at me on Saturday morning. It was kind of a shock, to tell you the truth.

Surprisingly, though, I feel ok. I’m not destroyed by this. I’m not even disappointed in myself. I know I gave it my very best shot, and there was nothing I could’ve done differently that would’ve prevented my knees from hurting on this particular day. Sometimes these things just happen.

I think the bigger lesson here is that I realize I’ve developed resilience. If this had happened a year ago, I would’ve been devastated—especially after the double whammy of NY being canceled and then having to drop out of this race. But, no. I actually feel at peace with the whole situation. For whatever reason, this just isn’t my year to run a marathon.

So now, I’ll take a break, rest up my body, and then decide what my next move is. If a marathon isn’t meant for me, then it isn’t. Honestly, I don’t believe that—in fact, I know that if NY had gone on as scheduled, I would have finished that race. But right now? I don’t feel anxious to get out there and try again.

I am a runner. I will always be a runner. And part of being a runner is that sometimes you have a bad race. Sometimes you’re injured. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense.

And sometimes it makes so much sense that you can’t fathom how anyone could not understand it.

I had a bad race, but it doesn’t mean I’m weak or that I didn’t work hard or that I didn’t deserve to make it. It simply means that I had a bad race. But as someone very wise once told me, you have to have the bad races because they make the good races so much more rewarding. And I know that there are more rewarding races in my future.


51 thoughts on “That Time I Didn’t Run a Marathon

  1. aw girl my heart goes out to you! I saw your tweet and was waiting for a post to see what happened. I think your attitude is amazing, you gave it more than anything and you are a true runner for the fact that you understood what your body needed in the moment. I am so proud of you and know that whatever you choose to do now will be what your body needs.

    • Thanks, darlin! I think I’ve had a better understanding in general of what my body needs in the last few months. I guess this was just a continuation of that! 


  2. I really love this post and I can relate. Last year I had to drop out of the NYC Marathon at Mile 18. I know how heartbreaking it is to get so far and have to admit to yourself that continuing just isn’t worth it. You sound a lot better adjusted to your situation than I was, and I’m really impressed by your attitude. It’s crazy how these old injuries can just come back at any time – the same thing happened to be in in Richmond on Saturday actually. I ran the half marathon and about halfway through a very old knee injury (from long before I ever started running) came back out of nowhere! It didn’t prevent me from finishing the race but it was frustrating and it hurt a lot. I’m looking forward to your next marathon because I know it will go better for you!

    • Thank you so much, Dori! I remember when you had to drop out of NY last year, and how you surprised everyone by running Richmond–such a great story! I’m so sorry to hear you had knee trouble this weekend, too. Injuries are so frustrating! 


  3. Oh man, I’m so sorry. You’re attitude is amazing though and reminds me very much of my husband. I’m not a runner (although I’m trying in baby steps) but he is. Last year, he was running for redemption (for himself only) at the Disney marathon. The year before, he’d hit a wall halfway through and briefly quit the race (and hung out at a McD’s along the course until he decided to eventually finish). Last year, two days before the race, he injured his knee BOWLING. He struggled through the whole race. He did finish but it was nowhere near the time he’d been training for. I thought he’d be devastated but he sounded a lot like you — some races just aren’t your races. He’s back to running again and planning on doing Disney again in January. My long, rambling point is that a race doesn’t make you a runner. Take all the time you need. The road will still be there waiting for you.

    Hope your knee feels better!

  4. There are definitely more rewarding races for you in your future! I love this attitude. I’m sure there will be different levels of grief over the next few weeks – but bottom line you were smart. It’s not worth it to push yourself just to say you’ve finished – that would just leave you with a different kind of bitterness. Just know I’m thinking of you. Who knows maybe you’ll be up for marathoning again when I am ready? Chicago 2014 is already calling my name…

  5. I want to tell you that I’m sorry that this race didn’t happen the way you wanted – in fact, I AM sorry that this race didn’t go as planned – but I think you’ve shown such character in how you’ve handled EVERYTHING that has been thrown at you that I know you’re just stronger because of it. I love you and I have complete faith that if you run a marathon, it will be at the right time for YOU. You’re attitude and outlook is phenomenal. You’re a true inspiration.

    • Awe, thank you, friend. I can’t tell you how many times during the race I thought of you and how happy you looked in your post-marathon pics last year. But then I also thought of your stuggles and realized that maybe it wasn’t worth seriously injuring myself just for the sake of finishing. You inspire me, too! XOXO


  6. Megan @ Fiterature says:

    Your attitude is awesome – and your feelings about this whole last year makes TOTAL sense to me. The setbacks or hurdles you’ve had to face this year will only make that marathon SO much sweeter in the end. One foot in front of the other, right?!

  7. Hmm. That DOES sound like a wise person said that. Trying to figure out who that is… 🙂
    These things happen. I had that knee injury (that I never had previously) during my first marathon. Crap happens, ya know? Only, it seems to only happen to us so that’s why we have each other to hold. And kiss. What?
    I don’t care if you finished or not, I say you did a great job with this race because you made the RIGHT decision to DNF. Just think how worse your knees could be if you didn’t. So you did the smart thing. You definitely want your first finished marathon to be one you look back on fondly. LYLAS!

  8. This post is written with so much honesty, truth, and perspective. I am over here just SO IMPRESSED with you. Not only with how smart you were about making the right decision, but also how much you gave the past year to get there. You trained with all of your heart. You gave MORE than 100%. To me, that’s where success lies. I knew in my heart that you would rock at the marathon. And yeah, maybe you did not cross the finish line, but you still ROCKED! You gave it everything that you had. You left nothing out on the course. To me, that is what a runner is. I am always completely inspired by you and I hope to have a little Melissa heart in my running.

    Oh, and you did run a marathon. Maybe it was not an official course, but HELLO! 26 mile training run….yeah. You did it! 🙂

    Heal up, enjoy your rest, and know that you are very much loved and supported.

    • Amanda, you are amazing and wonderful as always. I’m glad we can inspire one another–it’s pretty amazing to be able to watch each other grow, isn’t it? Feeling blessed to have you in my life! XOXO


  9. I’m so glad you’re not being hard on yourself because you just fell victim to the nature of the marathon. Some races are great but for some reason, our bodies want to challenge us in some marathons and it’s a struggle. Marathons always hurt no matter how much we train–like whoa does the cramping at the end hurt–but that’s the beauty of it to. Just sometimes it’s too much for us to overcome and it happens! Happened to me at the MCM a few weeks back, my stomach just wanted to cramp up for no particular reason at mile 10. Don’t even know how I finished that one honestly. It sucks it happened on your first marathon, but you put in all the training so your body is definitely capable of it! I’m just so impressed that you started with the 3:30 pace group for your first marathon!!!!!! Damn girl that’s fast! If you ever want to attempt another marathon soon and want to just run it slowly with me, let me know 😉 I can’t keep up with your pace but if we just ran it slowly and had fun?????

  10. Girl, you are so right! One race you couldn’t finish doesn’t mean that you’re weak, a bad runner, or anything like that! I love to see the resiliency that you’ve built up in so many ways! Not reaching our goals is also a valuable learning experience, if we allow it to be. I’m so sorry about your knee though, and wish for you that it hadn’t happened. I love the perspective you have, and I think it’s a great reminder for other runners as well!

    • You are so right. I really think the reason I’m not broken up about it is that there’s a much bigger lesson. I feel stronger, not weaker, and that, for me, is huge. XOXO


  11. I LOVED meeting you on Friday night. One of the highlights of my weekend. We need to be real life friends STAT. I mean it.

    This was so well written, for a second there I thought I was there when your knees decided not to cooperate. You are an incredible writer. And an incredible runner as well– and you’re right, this experience is the perfect fuel for your next race. Read to hear about Brittany’s marathon too!

    • TOTALLY AGREE!!! I will be in Richmond again next week for Thanksgiving. Let’s get together!

      Thank you for the sweet note 🙂

      I did read Brittany’s post! She did an amazing job, especially considering how much she was in her head–that makes the run so much more difficult!

    • I’m so glad, Angie. It was a disappointment, to be sure, but I also realize that it’s not the end of the world. I’ll do another marathon again some day. Or not. And I feel ok about that. The reward for me is in the attempt!

  12. I’m SO sorry your knees came back to haunt you. You are to be commended for your strength in facing up to and dealing with it as best you could- sometimes the sensible option is the hardest. (by the way, 3.30 for marathon time is like some sort of unimaginable, superwoman time to me! Seriously if I managed that I’d retire and be smug for the rest of my life!)

    There are some absolutely brilliant races waiting out there for you- and you’ll smash them xxx

  13. Stefanie says:

    Paula @ Eat Watch Run sent me over here. She said you may be kind of inspiring. 🙂 So sorry that this race didn’t go the way you had wanted. Its a hard decision to make, but you have to do what is best for YOU in the long run, and it sounds like you absolutely made the best choice!

    • Ha, that Paula’s pretty great 🙂

      Thanks for the support! It didn’t feel like I had much of a choice by the time I dropped out, but it absolutely was the right thing to do!

  14. MJ I’m so sorry that happened!! But good for you for listening to your body (and not your head) and stopping when you did. it could have been worse. And even better that you aren’t beating yourself up about it!! You are a strong person!

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