Stages of Grief for a Race Not Run

This past week I have faced a difficult decision. After quite a lot of thought and conversations with my nearest and dearest, I have come to the conclusion not to line up for the race I was supposed to take part in next weekend. When I found out The Twilight Run was taking place on my actual birthday this year I got so excited. I saw a wonderful way to declare to myself that the changes I have made to my life, this identity I have created and hold so close, is really a part of me – permanently.

You'll find me here if you really need me...

You’ll find me here if you really need me…

Over the past few weeks though, I have been struggling with my running. I have been fatigued (iron depletion and a funky thyroid will do that to a girl), generally worn out, and my breathing has been giving me difficulty. I became conscious of the ever-approaching time to line up at the starting line on the 24th of March, and the expectation from myself that of course I would be racing, no matter what. Upon reflection I can see that I had already accepted that I wouldn’t be running, and I was in fact going through some variation of the Five Stages of Grief – Runner Style.

First Stage: Denial. I thought that if I just kept plodding along, limping through my runs, taking breaks to catch my breath again, and then napping whenever I could, that I would break through the fatigue barrier and come out feeling stronger and better than before.

Second Stage: Anger. After moving through the denial of my problem I became angry. Angry at my body for letting me down when I take generally good care of it. Angry at the fact that only two months ago I completed a half marathon and now I was struggling through a 4 mile slow run. Angry at myself for having so broadly advertised that I was going to take part in the race on my birthday, and now I had to back out.

Third Stage: Bargaining. I bargained with myself. Maybe if I just ran slowly. Maybe if I decreased my training a little I would feel like I would be able to complete the race more. If I just sucked it up and got on with it I wouldn’t have a problem.

Fourth Stage: Depression. I must admit that this one was more about my expectation that the people around me would be disappointed that I wasn’t running. That I had made this big claim that I was going to race on my birthday, and now I was backing out. What a silly girl. My family and friends support my running, but it is not central to their love for me. They would love me either way.

Fifth Stage: Acceptance. Now I realise that I have made the right decision for my body. I have realised that I need to heal myself first. Take a pause. Nourish my body to give it the best chance of recovering to 100%. Take a deep breath and focus on my university work, my family, and my wonderful boyfriend. Go for long walks. Take my training for the Gold Coast Half Marathon in July very slowly so that my body doesn’t get worn out.



So, instead of lining up next Sunday I am going to spend a few days at the Sunshine Coast with my darling Chris, see a movie and have dinner with my family, and then perhaps take a sojourn down the coast on Sunday the 24th. When I stand on the beach with the waves lapping at my feet I will take a deep breath, and promise myself that 26 means listening to my body more, and re-affirming the practices of living a thoroughly nourished life.

I also have to thank Kate for her brave post  last week about taking a break from running. It definitely gave me cause to think over my decision.

(P.S. I didn’t write this to play the sympathy card, I promise, more to verbalise the thoughts I had internalised over the past week).

Dear Readers, have you ever had to make the decision to pull out of something you had already signed up for? Any grief to walk away from something that was supposed to be fun?

8 thoughts on “Stages of Grief for a Race Not Run

  1. i am SO proud of you. i’m proud of you not just in skipping the race, but more for what doing so represents. it often takes more mental strength as a runner to learn and LISTEN to their body when they need to back off. BIG HUGS because i also know it’s one of the HARDEST things to do as a runner. just like i was so proud of Kate, know that u’re doing the right thing! also know that u DESERVE every single one of those steps….that anger is a warranted emotion…but it takes triple more effort to move OUT of the anger phase so that you can get into a positive/proactive/and sane line of reasoning.
    get all those annoying health buggers squared away and know that running will ALWAYS be there for u. enjoy that bday, cuz u’ve got PLENTY to celebrate even without a twilight race. 🙂 XOXO

  2. Opting not to race is a very hard decision. Last year I had to do this as well – on the morning of a race. I had entered my first 1/2 Ironman (I thankfully had done a full previously though). On the Thursda before the race I got flu – badly. I tried dosing up, I went for vitamin injections and I lived in hope that it would be gone on the Sunday. I even went to the race briefing and checked my bike in.
    On the morning I got changed, put on sunscreen and sat down to eat breakfast and evaluate. I decided then that there was no way – I would probably kill myself. So I got changed again and went to support my brother and sister who were both racing. It was a very hard thing to do and yes, there was grief, but I knew it was the right decision.
    I came back and did it this year!

    • What a tough last minute decision to make! Thank you for sharing though, it always helps to know how other people have reacted in similar situations. Your brother and sister would have been grateful for the cheer squad too 🙂 I know that by relaxing now, and focusing on getting healthy again, I will be stronger for the other races I am hoping to do this year. Just like you did 🙂

  3. I think you need to listen to your body (and mind). We all make the decisions at the time with what we have. And a big race like that’s no small thing! Anyway, what you’ve decided to do sounds just as much fun.

    I remember years ago, a b/f and I driving a couple of hours to a music festival that I wasn’t that sure about (purchased tickets, packed camping stuff, bought stuff). It was pouring rain, some people were going to be there I wasn’t that keen on seeing (not awful or anything, just .. awkward) and right before we drove in, we just decided to turn around and head back. I felt alternately stupid, sad and regretful initially, but then got over it. Some things aren’t meant to be.

    Those photos look so lovely to me right now, I’m in so much need of a holiday!

    • Thanks Emma 🙂 I’m feeling good about my decision now, and it will be nice to get away – I’ll have a little holiday for the both of us and hopefully you can get away soon too!

  4. It sounds as though this was exactly the right choice to make. It’s right there in the title. You are nourishing you. And you know what? This post has really helped me today too 🙂

    I’m glad I could help in my own little way!

  5. Amazing post and something I think we all have had to face at sometime. I think you just articulate the million things that go on in our heads much better than most of us do!!!

    I have had to change distances a couple of times… got sick, training been affected and I have decided that it is not worth pushing my body when it is already down. Tough at the time but I can honestly say I hadn’t given those races a second thought until reading this. Before you know it you will be running strong, feeling great and setting your sight on the next race. With thousands of amazing races in Australia every year I don’t think any one race is THAT important that we need to push our bodies when they are physically and mentally struggling.

    So proud of you for making the tough call and respecting your body and training to do the right thing. RESTRAINT is one of the hardest things to do as a runner and you just demonstrated it beautifully. Now its about being PATIENT with your body.

    I think you are going to have an amazing birthday. You have had such an exciting start to the year and have so much to celebrate. I don’t doubt there will be many more races in your future and I hope one day we will run one of those together! In the meantime enjoy looking after yourself so you can RUN STRONG for 50 years to come :=)

    • Thank you Jenelle. It can be so hard to make the sacrifice in the short term even when you know what the long term benefits will be. I will have to remind myself that I am planning to RUN STRONG until my legs finally give out – if I have my way that won’t be until I run the Boston Marathon in my 80s. I have ladies like you to inspire me to be a better, smarter runner. Thank you Runner Mama 🙂

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