"My First DNF - What a Great Experience" by Franklin Canning (Director for the South Carolina Leukemia Society

Recently I had my first Did Not Finish (DNF) experience in a marathon, which was my fault entirely, but it was a very impacting experience. I had entered the Grandfather Mountain Marathon in North Carolina, in hopes of training to get back in shape…I was less than diligent in my efforts to prepare, but I still went for it. I was 15 pounds overweight and soft. I didn't respect this great event or marathoning itself and paid a price. A price that I reaped some benefit from. As a runner, I have completed 20 marathons. I thought I could surprise myself, as I have done on occasion, and run well with little or no training. Grandfather Mountain is an extremely challenging marathon with several long uphill climbs before you start up the mountain. You begin the last climb from an elevation lower than the starting line elevation. I have never seen anything like this before. I knew I was in trouble after mile 2; I was covered in sweat. I started walking after mile 14, by mile 16 I refused taking water because I was feeling nauseous. I knew from experience this was the start of exhaustion, and I would not get any better. By mile 18, I knew I was done. I didn't have 8 more uphill miles in me. We were climbing the mountain on the left side of the road. With car traffic on one side and a several hundred foot drop on the other, the wobblier I became, the more my concern grew into fear. I have to give myself credit for pulling out of the race. Too often I have seen people collapse to serious injury or do bodily harm that could have been avoided if they had listened to the warning signs. With heat exhaustion, your body gives you plenty of warning. I stopped at the water stop after 18, and got into a volunteers car to be driven to the medical tent at the finish line. For me, heat exhaustion is a funny thing; I knew I was going down, but very slowly. The minute that car engine started, my race was over. As we drove the rest of the course up the mountain, I saw all of the people that I had run with, that had passed me and encouraged me on. They all looked so magnificent running slowly uphill, leaning forward, looking at their feet. I was trying not to get emotional, and not throw up in the nice volunteer's car at the same time. They all looked so beautiful, so "brilliant" as my friend from New Zealand would say. This marathon was so different from all of the others in two ways. First, everyone was so friendly. It was us against the mountain, not each other (the first place winner for the women tried to console me on my DNF, as I tried to congratulate her). Second, at times, almost everyone around you would be walking. There was no shame; it was part of the strategic plan for self-preservation. I think I was one of two runners who did not finish out of 335. I was alone in the medical tent where it took three tries to find a vein for the I.V. (ouch), and three bags of fluid to make me feel good again. Within 90 minutes I was walking around the Highland Games, where the race ends, eating a hot dog (see what I mean about poor training habits?). A very humbling experience; I am now taking stock of my view on life, running and poor training habits. But here is the key moment that brought it all in view for me: an alumni of the Leukemia Society's Team In Training program, I wore my TNT singlet. By mile 14 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I knew I was toast and pretty upset about it. An older man was passing me and looked at my singlet and said, "You ever see a leukemia patient run a marathon?…well, you have now!". He was 63 years old and had recently been diagnosed with a type of lymphoma. We walked and talked about his upcoming chemo treatments and his chances. Then he said to me, "See you later, I have to keep moving". I was holding him back! That ended my little pity party. Whatever else happened that day, anything at all, was a bonus.