RADJournals: HyeWon Roh's perseverance story of virtual marathon to DNF to BQ
My relationship with running started in late fall of 2019 when I felt this nudge to simply just go out and run. Being a full-time stay-at-home mom to two wonderful kids kept me busy, which in turn, made me feel somewhat trapped and lost from time to time. Running sounded so freeing that I decided to deliberately make time for myself. Whether that time be 5:00AM or 9:00PM, I laced up my shoes and started to cover one mile at a time.
To motivate myself, I signed up for some races, but as most did in 2020, my first two official races were virtual or I was given an option to defer. My first half marathon was done virtually, but for the full marathon in Baltimore, I decided to defer that one so that I could experience the full race in person in 2021. I still challenged myself to run the distance on my own in December that year, completing my first marathon. Unsupported, but with a hydration vest and some gummy bears in my pocket, I finished my very first 26.2miles in 3:57.
After experiencing what my body was capable of doing, I started to take running more seriously. I signed up for more races and just kept going without fully understanding the importance of recovery. Months leading up to the Baltimore marathon, my body had given me all the warning signs: extreme fatigue, random lymph nodes swelling, sudden high blood pressure and an overall drained feeling. Ignoring the symptoms, I just told myself, "No PRs or nothing remarkable for this race." It was my first "official" marathon anyway and I was ready to cross the finish line as my goal.
From the start until mile 13 or so was surprisingly pleasant and smooth. I felt great and comfortable (I was hovering around 8:15-30/mi). Suddenly though, I felt a little "gush" flow out of my body. I thought it was just a random discharge and dismissed it until I got stopped by a female runner. "You are bleeding" she said. My paces started to drop but I just kept going without knowing the severity of the bleeding. Mile after mile, more female runners stopped me, asking "are you ok?" or merely gave me a look of "you should stop now". It was around mile 18 or so that a lady offered me some tissues and that's when I first looked at my legs... down to my socks and light gray colored Brooks Ghost 14s were all stained in blood. It was freaky. It was not normal. It was unexpected, and I knew that I had to stop. There it was, two years of working toward my first marathon came to an end by earning my first DNF at mile 19 (at 8:45). Instead of a cool looking crab-shaped finisher's medal, I was escorted to the ER, got some hospital wristbands and lots of medical exams.
I don't feel the need to share how much moping I did after that experience, but just know it was tremendously upsetting and discouraging. I took some time to recover (more mentally than physically) until I had the courage to get back on the road running again. Once all my medical isues were cleared, I snapped out of my despondency and set an aggressive goal: to qualify for the Boston Marathon in March 2022. It sounded crazy but I also had this gut feeling that I had it in me, and that I COULD do it. All of my marathon distances that I have done (which by then was 3 virtual marathons) were all sub 4s and I never ever felt like I was racing or pushing, so I figured if I did more efficient and targeted training, the BQ dream was perhaps achievable.
Long story short, I worked extremely hard from late November of 2021 leading up to the Shamrock Marathon on March 20, 2022. Following a tailored plan, deliberately resting, fueling my body with nutrient dense foods, prioritizing recovery, listening to my body, etc..the list can go on for a bit, but all I know is that with the lowest "peak" mileage week that I have done for a marathon training block (49 miles, 18 miles being the longest run -proving that high mileage is not always the best!), I achieved my goal, running 20 minutes faster than my previous PR and a BQ with 3:27:51.
My husband calls it a "redemption story" and I laugh at that, because there is no "redemption" here. I prefer to think of it as a “perseverance story”. All I did was to simply not give up and keep going. Was that DNF going to hinder my passion for running? Did that one race define who I am as a person or a runner? I had to ask these questions when I was quite gloomy about the Baltimore race. My answer to both questions is a definite "NO". I learned that unexpected and uncontrollable things happen during training and races, and they are, sometimes, inevitable parts of a running journey. Learning to embrace these ups and downs has helped me to become a stronger runner and ultimately fueled me to achieve my goal.