Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Real Runners Do It For That Finish Line Feeling

Why do we run races? I had my answer as I watched Desi Linden's push to the finish line at this year's Boston Marathon. I saw her smile as she broke the tape. Her triumphant fists in the air. And then the tears. Not just Desi's, but mine too! I've never broken the tape, but I know all about that finish line feeling.

What struck me about this year's Boston Marathon was how the tough conditions seemed to show who were the real runners. As the elite women's pack approached mile 20 and Desi broke out on her quest for the finish line, she was alone. Where did everyone go? Did you see the DNF list?

It was about 4 minutes before the second place woman crossed the finish line. Who was she? I later learned about Sarah Sellers. A former college track standout, Sellers is a nurse anesthetist and Boston was only her second marathon ever. Oh, this was getting fun!

I watched the rest of the top 10 women come in and marveled at all the Americans that were on the list. Where were all the so-called professional runners? The cynic in me wonders: did they drop out because they weren't in contention for a paycheck? What happened to finishing the race? Isn't that what it's all about?
I've thought a lot about this year's Boston Marathon. Many years ago, I ran a 10 mile race in very similar conditions. The morning of the race, I woke up to the sound of pouring rain, but drove myself to the Chicago lakefront, where I was going to meet my physician partner, who signed up to run the race too. I sat in my car and waited for him, but he never showed up. When I called him, he said he wasn't coming. Anger coursed through me. Not only did I run that cold, miserable race, I crushed it.

Soaking wet and done.
I learned a lot about myself that day. I learned that I am a real runner. I didn't let the terrible weather stop me. I ran because I trained for that race. I ran because I was committed to run. I ran because I that's what I do. I can't even say I ran for the bling because there wasn't a medal for this race.

And if I had been at Boston this past Monday, I would have finished too.

There is no better feeling in the world than crossing the finish line of a long distance event. A runner experiences many emotions during a race. Excitement at the start. Maybe dread? The nervousness that the preparation hasn't been adequate. Maybe fear that a nagging injury is going to lead to problems. As the race progresses, fatigue. And as the finish line approaches, exhilaration and joy. 

1st place AG this past December at the Jingle Bell 5k
Bad weather, hot weather, we try to mentally prepare ourselves for the conditions. Physically, we try to mimic potential race day conditions. In the dead of winter, I've trained for several Florida spring races and crashed and burned at almost all of them. But I never dropped out. The year that I actually did heat training by running on my treadmill wearing heavy clothing, I ended up deferring that race, so I never really got to see if the heat training actually worked. Not wanting to waste all that training, I did run a local half marathon instead. The conditions were much cooler than I would have encountered in Florida and I PR'd that race.

Get Lucky half marathon, 2015. PR and 2d place AG
I signed up for that backup race because that's what we do. We run. There's no paycheck waiting for us at the finish line. Heck, that PR half marathon was an AG 2d place but I didn't get an award for it. I was ok with that because that isn't why I ran it. I ran it because I run. I ran it because I trained for a half marathon. I ran it because I like to push myself. I ran it because I love that feeling of accomplishment. 

While I love all of my finish line stories, one of my favorite ones was my 3rd Chicago Marathon, which I ran in 2015. The volunteer who placed the medal over my neck made me feel like I won the whole race, something I have never forgotten. I have run many races but I have never ever felt like that before. When I ran that speedy Shamrock Shuffle this past spring, I ran towards the finish line like it was calling me home. I surprised myself at that race and I could not stop smiling. And there was this one:

Approaching the finish line at a spur of the moment half marathon in 2015.
This was a great race run on leftover marathon fitness. I finished only seconds off my half marathon PR.
Sometimes races don't go well and the finish line is a welcoming sight, signifying relief. These are the races where we tell ourselves: "finishing is winning". The Mercedes Half Marathon, which I ran in February in Birmingham was a hot, humid death march and a personal worst for me. I had nothing left in the tank and couldn't even muster up a last 100 yard sprint, shuffling my way to the end. As crummy as I felt, knowing how badly I had done, quitting wasn't even an option. I was smiling when I crossed that finish line too! Like Shalane said at NYCM, f**k, yeah.

And sometimes, we need a friend to help us across that finish line as we struggle. At one of those tough hot, humid Florida races I ran a few years ago, I kept playing cat and mouse with the same woman. I stopped at mile 11 to walk and she came up to me. She said that since we had been "running together" for most of the race, she wasn't going to let me stop! We ran the last couple of miles and crossed the finish line together. And then there was this:

At the Big Sur Marathon 2015 with Kristina, who ran the entire race with me.
I was running on sub-optimal training, having had to take time off to let plantar fasciitis calm down. 
Those women who crossed the Boston Marathon finish line this year were me. Ok, maybe a faster version of me, but you get my drift. They had one goal in mind and that was to cross the finish line. No matter what the conditions. Maybe it's better to be an amateur, hobby runner. Because real runners don't quit.

What is your favorite finish line story? Have you ever DNF'd a race because you knew you weren't going to meet your goal? What does it take to keep yout going in a tough race?

I'm linking up with Marcia, Erika, and Patti for Tuesdays on the Run and Running Coaches' Corner with Rachel, Lora, and Debbie.









59 comments :

  1. Real runners don’t quit! An empowering tribute to so many awesome runners, including you Wendy!!

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  2. I think elite running is a whole different ballgame. It's fairly customary to quit if they know they're not going to place. They save themselves for another race. Yes, not "real running" by our standards but that's often how the game is played. Personally, for an elite who can run Boston anytime they want? I think I'd have gone the route of Jordan Hasay and not started Boston this year. I give props to those who had their one shot at Boston this year and had to gut it out.

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    1. I'm glad we aren't elites! For them, running races is just a job--and what fun is that?

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  3. Love your stories, especially the one about the woman in Florida who ran with you to the end of the race! I’ve thought about DNFing many times but haven’t actually done it. I think the exception to this would be if someone had an injury - then,DNF is just smart.

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    1. I DNF'd once, last summer. It was a terrible feeling but it had to be done. I never want to do that again!

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  4. I don't think I've ever DNS'd over the weather, but I've debated it. Sometimes I can gear myself up to embrace the suck, sometimes the misery isn't worth it. If I've got friends running, it can even be fun.

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    1. I've never DNS'd over the weather either! I run outside all winter, so to skip a race because of weather just isn't in my wheelhouse.

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  5. I had not thought of it that way...I could see why the elites didn't finish or why some didn't even start. Kudos to everyone out there that day. It looked brutal. You would have kicked Boston's a$$ this year!

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    1. I like to think that! I wouldn't have quit because I would have wanted to cross that of all finish lines!!!

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  6. I have run in super hot weather, super cold, wet and with injuries. Never Quit is my motto.

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  7. We were in Tennessee with family last week so I didn't follow the Boston marathon as closely as I would have liked. I thought there was a mistake when I first saw the top 10 - I couldn't believe how many elites had dropped out. I ran the 2014 Honolulu Marathon in pouring rain - it was miserable but I never thought about dropping out. I've DNS'd but never DNF'd. If I can cross the start line, I'm determined the cross the finish line.

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    1. I guess I'd hate to be that kind of runner who would drop out, knowing I wasn't going to win. I don't have that kind of mindset. It's weird to think about it!

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  8. I walked a whole half marathon when my ITBS was at its worst. I signed up for it, and I was going to start AND finish it. DNF-ing never crossed my mind... so that's my stubbornness talking. I'm so proud of that medal.

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  9. I am def addicted to that finish line feeling! My current favorite story right now is Boston (obv) but I’ve had a few finishes where I’ve gutted it out when maybe I shouldn’t of.

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    1. I do love that feeling of being done, whether its because I'm happy or relieved.

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  10. I am positive that I finished races that I probably should have never started or at the very least, I should have dropped out due to injury. But like you say, we do it for that finish line feeling! Once we get there, for a few minutes we forget about the pain ;)

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    1. I've done that very same thing! I DNF'd a race last summer--my one and only--and it was just the worst feeling.

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  11. this was a fantastic post! I don't race often but the times that I have gone for long runs or the few races I have done, I have not DNFed. For me I personally get to a point that its break or make, and sometimes I find that motivation to push past that point and keep going.

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    1. Oh thank you! I've sure had those moments about dropping out of a race, but I know how bad I'd feel if I did!

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  12. I have to agree with Marcia on that one. Elites often earn their living by running races (at least partially), so it makes sense that they're going to carefully pick & choose.

    And sometimes that's the problem with taking something you love and turning it into a job. Sort of been there, done that -- obviously not with running, though!

    I've been very lucky. No DNFs or DNSs yes -- so many times I've come close! I've run races in some miserable conditions, but there is only one race I wish I'd DNS'd -- I was injured & it exacerbated the injury a lot. I just didn't know any better.

    But I've had lots of races where the conditions weren't favorable. You do learn a lot by that!

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    1. Last year I had quite a few DNS due to my illness. I hated that. This year I'm training like I'm going to race but not signing up until a couple weeks before, to make sure I can do it!

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  13. It was sad to see the professionals drop out, but that's their job and they have to make the best decision for their career. It's like taking or not taking an assignment.

    DNF is a difficult subject. Those that haven't DNF really can't understand what it is like to DNF and what goes through the individual runners mind as the reality you cannot and should not finish this race hits you. Maybe you took on too much, maybe you weren't trained properly, maybe the course just got so bad it was dangerous, maybe the thing was a whole ball of suck and not worth the effort you have bigger fish to fry and this wasn't the means to an end?

    Did Nothing Fatal, I've done it three times. Will I do it again? I don't know. If that makes me a fake runner, so be it, I'll be a biker. Bikers have better legs anyhow!

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    1. I think a DNF for an amateur runner is a whole different thing than when the elites drop out--I hope you didn't miss my point with this! There is such a big difference between us and the elites, and they do it for the paycheck. We do it for the finish lines.

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  14. That finish line feeling of accomplishment is SO great! Love that Christmas 5k shot of you finishing! So much joy... ;)

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  15. Love this! I have never had a DNF (luckily) and I think it would be a hard decision to make. One of my favorite finish lines is the Philly marathon...the first time I was thrilled because I just finished my first marathon, and the second time I had finally broken 4 hours after years of trying. However, worst conditions for a race was probably the Houston Marathon. That finish line was pretty awesome too after running through the cold, wind and rain for 26.2 miles!

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    1. Sometimes those tough finish lines are the best!

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  16. It's those tougher races that really make me feel like I am a real runner. Races that not everyone shows up for. My first 10 miler about 10 years ago it was pouring buckets. I had no idea about waterproof anything. I ran that race got blisters everywhere and knew at that moment that I was a real runner.

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    1. That sounds like the rainy 10 miler I did--I had no clue what to wear but I powered through and shivered all the way home!

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  17. There were a few races were I knew I wasn't going to reach my goal but it never occurred to me to just drop out of the race. I understand now why elites do it but I don't think it sets a good example.
    I liked reading about your finish line stories Wendy.

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    1. I totally get why elites do it but they aren't us, right?

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  18. I’ve nevet DNF’d a race, but DNS’d plenty! Getting a personal record this year at Shamrock Marathon will go down as one of my favorite finish line memories. I smashed my first marathon time by 38 minutes and the best part was I was not injured! Plus my husband was waiting for me. I cried and cried on his shoulder. You are right, we don’t get paid for this, we do it because we LOVE it! All of us on different journeys in our lives but find a common ground through running. I’m thankful I started 5 years ago!

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    1. Running has made us all better, right?

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  19. I think for elites they have the luxury of knowing they can always return to Boston - for so many others that Monday was their one shot. I applaud them for gutting it out. I've never had a DNF and I've raced in snow, torrential downpour, crazy heat and while nursing an injury. Crossing that finish line even when it hasn't been my best run is always a good feeling, a sense of accomplishment.

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    1. We all say "we can do tough things" but it's those hard earned finish lines that makes us tough!

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  20. YESSSS!!!! I joke about doing it for the bling, but it really is about that feeling you get when you finish. It's pure joy that's shinier than any medal. :-) You are a total real runner!

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  21. Great article. I love it. It's so true. I tell my friends I chase finish lines. I just love the feeling. Thanks for sharing!

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  22. Although they suck (quite horribly) at the time, I kind of embrace the struggle bus races. It usually takes me awhile to come full circle on all that, but there's always something to learn from the struggle(s), and I always feel stronger for the fight (again, usually in hindsight). I once was at mile 10 of such a race, and a couple other fellow "struggle bus riders" were commiserating with with me. A guy told me about a friend who DNF'd a marathon, because by mile 20, he knew he wasn't gonna make his goal time...and didn't want this "bad" time published. Crazy!

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    1. I don't get people who DNF for reasons other than injury/illness. I just don't.

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  23. LOVE this post. You are a true inspiration. I'll remember this the next time the weather looks iffy and I want to call it instead of getting my rear in gear.

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    1. I truly think those tough runs and pushing through them make us able to bring it to the finish at any distance!

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  24. I've only ever run two races, but I went into the last one with the mentality that my friend and I would finish even if we had to crawl to the finish line super slowly, ahaha. Finishing in itself is an awesome accomplishment!

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    1. Crossing those tough finish lines prepares us for unpleasant tasks in life too!

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  25. I've done my fair share of bailing when the weather's sucked. But I love a good finish when it seems like a struggle to complete! What a great picture of you two INBers. :)

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    1. Kristina was the gateway drug dealer for the INB! Now's she got me wanting to hike mountains. Which of course, we have none of!

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  26. I ran the LA Marathon in 2000 in similar weather to Boston. It was in the 40s, pouring rain (I was soaking wet, shoes and all, before we even started. I ran with my girlfriend the whole way, while my husband and another friend cut out at mile 10. My asthma was kicking up because of the humidity, so I was finally just holding my inhaler in my hand as I ran. We finished that thing, in our garbage bags because it was too wet to take them off, in 3:33! I couldn't have done it without my friend. Yes, I had hypothermia afterwards, but I finished that darn thing!

    Interesting side note: Natalie, from Nat Runs Far, was also in that race (obviously long before I knew her) and she finished just two places and a couple seconds ahead of us! Small world, is it not?

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    1. I just love these finish line stories. I bet you've got more good ones!!

      Very cool that that Natalie was there too.

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  27. I'm too stubborn to DNF. Only an injury where I just couldn't keep running would cause me to pull out of a race I'd already started. My marathon PR was in the pouring rain the entire 26.2 miles. Luckily we didn't have the heavy winds, though.

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    1. The only DNF for me was last summer. I never ever want to repeat that again.

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  28. This was such a great post! It reminds me of Chicago last year. My thighs started cramping at mile 15, I knew I was in trouble so you can imagine what those last few miles were like. Pure hell! But, it never even dawned on me to quit??? Just didn't even enter my mind....Yep, real runners don't quit.....love it!

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    1. My first Chicago was terrible. I hit the wall at mile 18 and I actually called my husband to come and get me. But he refused, I dug deep and wogged to the finish line. I was so glad I didn't DNF!

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  29. I love this! I would have kept on going, too. In fact, when I had to pull out of my last marathon because of illness I went and did a DIY marathon anyway to use up my training!

    My favourite finish line stories are from two firsts.

    My first half mara, I'd trained with my friend Jen but suddenly during the race she felt unwell. A mile of arguing - I'll stay with you - no, go on, then I did go on (a soldier made me, he said he'd look after Jen) and a mile of crying. Fell in with a load of people dressed as doctors, they cheered and chivvied me. I got ahead of them and encouraged a very warm Sikh guy (beard, turban, not fully trained) to keep running at the end. Husband waiting on the line has to contend with me being swept into the hugs of a v sweaty Sikh guy and a load of doctors!

    First mara - I'm in Iceland, doing Reykjavik, so no one can see me (yeah, they tracked me anyway). Sushma from running club is there, doing the half. I'm going to miss the cut-off because it's boiling hot and I've walked and run the second half. But I'm not going to lose my medal because Shush is on the finish line, ON the finish line, I can hear her right down the road, and my husband is to the side but Shush is there. And I see my new Norwegian friend Bente, who did make the cut-off, having a lie-down.

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    1. Wow, Iceland? What a great memory!

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    2. If you're interested there are some pics and a race report here https://librofulltime.wordpress.com/2016/08/23/race-report-reykjavik-marathon-2016/

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