Cold Feet: My Akron Marathon Race Report

To wear the jacket or not?
Akron is a great marathon! It’s so great you get a really nice Brooks jacket, even when you DNF.

I have a confession to make. When I told you all that I was training by feel, enjoying it, and not worrying about the time I would run at my fall marathon, well, one of those things was a lie.

Oh, I loved training by feel. And that is not going to change.

I run to feel better, not worse.

I run because I have a long history of struggling with anxiety; sometimes it can be crippling.

At 18.5 miles of the Akron Marathon, this anxiety became crippling.

But when I run for me, for pure enjoyment and satisfaction of forward movement, my anxiety goes away.

People-pleasers like myself tend to have anxiety. But underneath that trait, I’m quite stubborn. Bull-headed. A know-it-all. It’s surprising to some, maybe, but my mom and my sister know firsthand. Maybe I can blame it on being the first born, or maybe there is nothing to blame it on, but whatever the cause, it’s a coping mechanism I try to hide, because who wants to be around a know-it-all? After this marathon, I learned that the more I try to hide it, the harder it fights and comes out in the ugliest of ways.

I trained for this marathon by feel, running for fun, but I showed up to the start line with an expectation to run a certain time. As much as I thought I had overcome my speedism, I still expected to at least break 4 hours. And if things were going really well, I could get all bad ass and run a Boston qualifying time on unconventional training… because I know it all, right?

So the bull-headed me went out slow. Really slow. Too slow. When you are dressed to run 3 hour pace and go out in 4.5 hour pace, your body never quite warms up.

I was cold for the entire first half, even though the sun was shining and the weather was, well, perfect. I went out in 10:00 pace, letting everyone pass me at the start. In my head, I laughed. I’m gonna show these people how to really run a marathon. The real race starts at 13.1, said the veteran of one marathon. It was so hard to hold back. I kept telling myself to relax, but my feet just wanted to go.  I’m too anxious to run fast. And too anxious to run slow. 

Other than being cold, I felt alright for the first half and did get slightly faster at each split. At mile 13, a man beside me yelled to his father, “It feels effortless!” And it did. Because it was.

Sticking to my plan, I picked things up like whoa on the towpath section (a path of crushed limestone) of the course. At mile 16 I had already passed the 4:00 group and was aiming for the 3:55 group. But I was, you guessed it, still cold. My hands were ice cubes.

And then at mile 17, the anxiety set in. Holy crap! I’ve never officially run this far that I know of! Who’s to say that the three hour long run I did was only 16 miles? Can I do this? I’m all over the place. My legs are breaking down. I might be dying.

I stopped at mile 18.5 to use the bathroom, thinking that it would help to take a little break. As soon as I sat on the pot, I felt dizzy.

Don’t go there! My mind tried to tell me. You’re fine. You can just jog the rest in, whatever pace. 

Then I was pooping a not-so-pretty color. Later Connie Gardner would sum it up perfectly, “You’re pooping blood running 10 minute pace? Girl, you’re stressed!”  I left the port-o-pot dizzy, now freezing and shivering my way over to first aid. As soon as I sat down, they asked me what was going on.

“I’m cooooold. And, and….”  Tears started forming in my eyes. “I think I’m about to have a panic attack.”

At that point, I wasn’t sure if my legs were shaking from being cold or being nervous. They gave me a blanket and took my blood pressure. It wasn’t the greatest at 138/80, signaling signs of a full-on attack if I didn’t get things under control. On top of that, my lips were turning blue.

I can’t DNF! I thought. How bad is that going to look online?!

But the voice of reason fought back. I’ve already done a marathon to do a marathon. I didn’t need to keep going to prove anything to anyone. But I did need to prove to myself that I could surrender to the stubborn little girl inside me; weak, fragile, insecure.

And as a result, become stronger.

I’m still a weak person. I’m definitely not perfect, nor will I ever be.

I did not finish. Because I’m not finished becoming me.

I DNF’d a marathon and all I got was this ugly blister.

After this race, I gained that much more appreciation for my fellow Salty runners who take the time, dedication, and pain to train for these things. (CONGRATS, CORIANDER!) If you want to run for fun, run by feel. Go out slow, but dress warm. There is nothing wrong with running for fun.

But maybe a way to positively battle my inner demon is to compete with them. Now I see the importance of committing to a goal, hitting a pace a few times a week, and racking up a sufficient amount of mileage. I am left hungry.

And that just might be enough to make a commitment, to take a risk and change.

I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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  1. It takes incredible courage to own up to your own weaknesses. It’s frightening to realize that yes, you are human and have flaws. Although it sucks to DNF, it’s definitely a learning experience and will make you a stronger runner in the long run!

  2. Jinger, I am really really proud of you! As tough as it is to hang on until the finish, I think it might be an even bigger challenge to stand up (sit down?) and face it when you know it’s not working.

    And if you’re still hungry for a marathon, great news – it’s still early in the season! You could potentially find a November race and have no trouble training a little more if that’s what you want. If now’s not the time, that’s okay too, of course!

    Whatever your next move is this racing a marathon thing is in the bag; you’ve already got what it takes, now it’s just a matter of timing…and trusting yourself!

    1. Thanks Cinnamon! It’s a thought to do another one later this year. I need to find my inner peace/inner grey in black and white that Mint mentions below to make a sound decision!

  3. I am so sorry your race ended as it did. I think you definitely made the right decision to pull the plug. Sounds like a very rough day.

    I think part of your running anxiety stems from the fact that you seem convinced that you need to either be a hard core, elitist/speedist numbers girl or a totally free-spirited, I don’t-give-a-damn about training or times girl. It doesn’t have to be so black or white! There is nothing wrong with setting a time goal, training well, and having fun while you are doing it too. I think when you find the right balance for you, you’ll have a lot less anxiety about your running. I know, easier said than done, but I encourage you to think about it.

    Recover well and don’t be too hard on yourself.

    1. Great insight, Mint! I think that’s a great point and something all of us amateurs could take to heart a little more. It’s so easy to see running as all or nothing, when really it’s best when it’s somewhere in the middle.

    2. Very much appreciate the insight. Even after re-reading this post, I was making things a bit black and white. I’ll be sure to reflect on your suggestions. Thanks again for your support throughout training and the race!

  4. Ginger – You and I need to meet, because I think we would be BFF’s. I relate to this post in so many ways. I am a first born, people-pleaser, with hidden anxiety that I squelch so well. By nature (I am a Taurus) I am stubborn and bull headed and at times, think I know at all too. I agree whole-heartedly with what Mint said. I am sure part of my running anxiety, stems as well, from the thinking that I need to be either hard-core, or have the “I don’t give a damn” mentality. It truly doesn’t have to be so black and white, but I struggle with this all the time. I am dealing with this mystery injury right now, so I did not run Akron. I signed up for the race last year with the intent to run the full. I am also signed up to run the Columbus full, so my hope is that whatever ailment I am dealing with right now (could be possible stress fracture or pinched nerve) I am still able to run the full. I have no time goal, other than to finish. I think you did the right thing in listening to your body. I did not last year at Akron and that wrong choice landed me in the ER for hours on end that afternoon. I hit a very hard wall at mile 18-19. I made a few poor choices in the days leading up to the marathon and the morning of that led me to the point of absolute struggle. I knew I should have stopped right then and there. If I did, it would have saved me a couple thousand dollars in medical bills. But, the bull headed Michelle came out and I pushed myself to a point of severe dehydration and an ambulance ride to the hospital, coded as life threatening. I learned a lot that day about myself and making better choices. I, too, went into that race pretty cocky. I thought “hey I just ran a 3:36 in the Cleveland full in May, I am bad-ass, I will own the 3:30 goal I had”. I was SO wrong. I ran Boston this past April and had the best race of my life. I prepared well, hydrated well, made the best choices. I never hit a wall. I had a smile on my face every single mile. I raced hard, but comfortably. Take a step back from this race, learn from it. You will know what to do next time. Anxiety can be crippling, as you know. Don’t be afraid to seek out help. After talking to a therapist about my own anxiety, I know I have a lot of work to do, still, with myself. It is hard for me to just “let things go”. I live a crazy life, and the feeling at the forefront of my mind is always “I have to stay in control”. Hang in there….I know you are disappointed. But, you will come back from this….STRONGER!!

    1. Wow, Michelle. Thank you for sharing your insight, experiences, and encouragement. I do hope to meet someday…Salty or maybe Facebook needs to set this up! Ha. I will try to find you again on there as I saw you posted on the page on Saturday.

      Want to know something funny? I have been in therapy before (before I became a therapist myself!) and they warned us not to be afraid to seek out help even when you are licensed. In fact, it’s often needed after some of the heavy cases handled. But sure enough, bull headed me sometimes thinks I’m just fine. This experience has made me rethink some things. I’ve been getting a lot of help from my spiritual community but I will also explore some other resources. Thank you for the suggestion.

      Hope that your pain doesn’t get any worse. Sounds like a good plan to just take things easy and run it for the experience. Glad to hear Boston went so well, too!

      Thanks again!

  5. Ginger- You’re an inspiration. I completely understand the “bull-headed” mentality and people-pleasing tendencies…but this showed true courage in strength — you listened to your body and did the right thing.

  6. No weakness there! I really respect people who know when to pull the plug if they have to do so. Please don’t beat yourself up. There will be a next time and you’ll kick anxiety to the curb!

  7. I firmly believe that sometimes a DNF is the right choice. Some people believe you finish or die trying, but I am definitely not one of those people. I had my only DNF in Akron a mile before yours. I felt like a boob, even though it really was the right choice for me. I internalized it and assumed, even in the face of the evidence that it was the right choice, that it was some character flaw, mental failure or mega wussitude on my part that caused the bad race. I carried that with me for YEARS! Only recently, like within the last few weeks!, have I come to realize that things like my race anxiety or mental weaknesses just are and aren’t necessarily a problem, just something I need to work with/around. I think running has both been a great forum for me to learn about myself and life, but also to take out my self-hate and get down on who I am and how I work. I think once we accept ourselves, as you noted here, and really know who we are, then that’s when we can really tap into our potential both in running and the rest of life. I hope that makes sense! Love you!

    1. I agree with everything you just wrote, and not because I am being a people pleaser (I always type people pleasure first, every time!). Thank you for this and the talk on Saturday. It really did help. I am planning on meeting up with you tomorrow if that is still the plan with James.

  8. Sorry to hear about your experience. It was a tough decision, but definitely the right one. There are tons and tons of marathons and other races, but only one Jinger. Rest up and take it easy.

  9. Ginger, I am so sorry that you had to DNF and go through such a scary experience! Ugh!

    I think it’s awesome that you learned from the experience and figured out some takeaways, instead of letting it get you down in the dumps and chalking it up to being “not your day”. I have only DNF’ed in one race and I let it get to me way more than it should have – lots of crying and, in retrospect, ruining what should have been an awesome friends’ getaway weekend by just thinking about it all too much and pouting. So all that is to say, good on you for seeing the forest for the trees!

    Don’t be too hard on yourself and I hope you are enjoying a well-deserved rest!