Marine Corps Marathon 2017: My First DNF

Sunday, 5 November 2017  |  Bullish Insights, Race Reports

Photo: @marinecorpsmarathon

Marine Corps Marathon is held in Arlington, Virginia and Washington, DC and is ranked as one of the largest marathons in the US. It is called the “Marathon of the Monuments” as its course passes through historical landmarks and ends at the Marine Corps War Memorial. It has also gained the reputation as the best marathon for beginners with thousands of runners using the run-walk method throughout the race. Organized by the men and women of the United States Marine Corps, it celebrates the honor, courage and commitment of all finishers.

Event: 42nd Marine Corps Marathon
Date: October 22, 2017
Race start: Route 110 between the Pentagon and Arlington Memorial Drive
Race finish: Marine Corps War Memorial
Cut off time: 7 hours
Number of participants: 30,000 runners
Registration: Lottery in March

This won’t be your typical race report where I share and review the details of the course, stations, and race organization. As many of you know through social media, I was forced to stop at around Km 18 of this race due to injury. In other words, it was my first ever DNF at a marathon. With that DNF, I don’t think I’m qualified to give a review of the race I didn’t run until the end. What I can share is my experience of Marine Corps Marathon 2017. Here goes…

After years of turbulence in my life, I felt that this year was the first time I had a stronghold over my emotions. Gone were the days when I would shed tears over disappointment from people and events, I learned now that one simply should have no expectations whatsoever. I discovered that, in being alone, I found my solitude, authenticity, and freedom and, ironically, it was in being with others, that I often found myself most lonely. I learned that I could only find my own strength when I was tested to the point of breaking and, when I survived that, I knew nothing – and no one – could ever pull me down.

I planned on travelling alone to my fave city in the world, New York then Washington D.C. to celebrate how far I’ve come on my own. I joined Marine Corps Marathon eager to test my newfound mental strength. I confessed to a friend during training, soon after I endured the 41-degree suffering in the run portion of Ironman Cebu 70.3, that never in my life did I feel this tough mentally. In a masochistic kind of way, I looked forward to the suffering at the last 10k of the marathon to see how this new me could endure such pain. While in the past I would slow in defeat thinking “This is too painful. Why am I rushing to the finish line anyway?” I was now almost challenging the pain “You think you can beat me? Let’s see who gives up first.”

As I stood on the treadmill for my last run in Manila before leaving for the US, I knew something was wrong. It just didn’t feel right. I shut out my instincts and ran anyway. By the end of that 14k, my quads and glutes were tight and there was some discomfort in my left foot. It was the same discomfort I felt last April, where I found myself unable to walk properly for a full month. I knew this would be a problem on race day but I set it aside.

My last run at Fitness First before leaving for NY the following day

I spent the next week in New York like a soldier preparing for battle making last minute changes to the war plan. I wore my compression socks almost everyday leading up to the race. I bought kinesio tape and learned how to tape my injured foot in the middle of the night (thanks jetlag!) I bought balms and foot massagers hoping to lessen the foot discomfort. I ate nutritiously and hydrated more hoping it would help reduce the chances for injury.

A few days before race day, I spotted this sign in New York just as I was questioning if I should even run the race

Deep inside, although I wanted to be optimistic about the race, I also had to be realistic. I knew there was a high probability that I was going to lose this battle because I had dealt with this enemy in the past. He fought harder when I pushed him, meaning the more I tried to run, the worse it got. But, I just couldn’t accept a DNS. I wanted to see how far I could get without risking my health.  I took a train to DC and prepared myself for a painful race.


I stood at the starting line of Marine Corps Marathon in disbelief that I was there. Once we got close to the iconic red arches I used to just see in photos, I got goosebumps. While I usually feel a sense of excitement at this point of the race, I felt anxious over the foot too. It wasn’t a question of the injury rearing its ugly head, I already knew it eventually would. The questions in my mind were: How far would I be able to go? And, worse, how painful was this going to be?

Race start

When the gun went off, I bid good luck to my dearest friend, Bea, who was the one who encouraged me to sign up for this race instead of Amsterdam Marathon. I put on my yurbuds and started to run.

At the Runner’s Village before race start with Bea and just some of the many marines in the race!

The rolling hills were quite unexpected, but it was most welcome. I loved it! The course was beautiful! I also loved how warm and welcoming the runners were. There were a lot of runners using the run-walk method and, if you know how we run TBR Dream Marathon, then I felt very much at home. With my injury, in fact, I was running at 9:1 so that I could go for as long as possible.

Lots of ascents… but, what comes up must come down… so lots of downhills too

Unfortunately, by Km 3, I could already feel the pain increasing. In my head, I forbade the injury to bother me. I spoke to the injury over and over in my head: “You are nothing. You are nothing.” And, for a long time, it worked. I was able to enjoy the sights and sounds of this wonderful race. I could increase my pace every now and then and climbed the ascents with power as I had trained.

As the kilometers wore on, however, I couldn’t deny to myself that the foot was getting worse. It felt tighter and the pain was increasing. By kilometer 10, I seriously considered quitting before I caused more injury. I fought against it and battled on.

By Km 18, I had slowed to a walk cringing in pain with every step. I saw Bea who, being the great friend that she is, slowed to a walk with me and said she’d stay with me. After a few minutes, I thanked her and told her to run her race because I was going to DNF.  Mind over pain could only take me so far.

Being treated by one of staff at the Medical Tent at the race.  Thank you so much to the doctors and PT’s who helped!  You guys were the best!

How does one even prepare for a first DNF in a marathon? How does one explain it to friends or on social media? Was I supposed to feel shame, guilt, anger or all of the above? I have been running for a decade now and it never occurred to me that this could happen to me. Yet, at the same time, I feel like 10 years of running, going through the little highs and lows of so many runs, prepared me for this day.

How did I feel at the exact moment I decided to DNF? Surprisingly, I was calm. As I rode on the straggler bus alongside all the other runners who DNF’d for their own reasons and as I limped my way from the finish line with no medal on my neck back up to my hotel room, I was still at peace.  This race was an experience on humility, acceptance, tolerance, and submission.  Everything that this Bull Runner would have fought so hard against in the past.  When I entered my hotel room, I just felt thankful to have run 18 kms of that awesome race.  No bull. That’s truly how I felt.

The Marine Corps Marathon, even if I ran less than half of it, taught me more lessons than the past 16 marathons I’ve run. I learned that:

1) There’s a fine line between sipag vs. stupidity – I added mileage to my program thinking all this hard work would do me good without realizing that it wasn’t good for my feet. I did more 32k runs for this marathon than any other marathon I’ve trained for. It was an experiment and my body couldn’t take it. Whooops… now I know.

2) DNF does not always mean Defeat – While I don’t encourage quitting on anything that you’ve started (and I teach the same to my kids), I also believe there’s a point in time when, after you’ve tried your darndest best, you must accept when it’s time to stop trying because it’s not good for you anymore. (This could apply to a race, a relationship, or even a job.)  I believe I didn’t feel bad about quitting because I came into the race wanting to test my mental strength and, man oh man, did I test it just by running 18 kms with that shooting pain from my foot!

3) Sometimes, it’s okay to be “walang hiya.” – What I mean is: When you’ve given your best, even if you failed, have no shame! After all, there is nothing to be embarrassed about!  In this day and age of everyone looking flawless and perfect on IG, it’s difficult to admit any kind of weakness or failure.  Our ego often gets in the way.  I would have to say that I’m sure glad I’m at an age where I don’t really give a f@*ck what people think anymore. I want to be authentic. I want people to learn from my mistakes. I want people to know that it’s completely okay to fail (news flash: almost everyone has failed at one point in their life!) because that’s how you get stronger.

4) Life is good. – I’ve seen marathon shirts with the words “To hell and back” written on it because that’s essentially how you feel after running one. I’ve been through the kind of hell the past years that makes a marathon look like a walk in the park… yet I survived and, while there was anger and bitterness in the past, that has all gone away too.  For me, a DNF wasn’t something to cry over.  I left that race thinking I still had the rest of the trip to enjoy and my wonderful children to come home too.  Plus, I didn’t have a stress fracture even if I put my feet through all that.  Plus, I was exposed to so many good people because of the injury: the medic who offered a hug when I limped my way into the tent, the doctor who sat with me and looked for solutions to the root cause of the injury, the marines who entered the straggler bus telling us that they were proud of us.  How could one even complain about a measly foot? I’ve been through hell and back, guys, and all I can say is, even when everything looks crappy, there’s always goodness to be seen all around.