I'm going to write my race report all backwards, since the DNF was what most people are curious about and have written me so many very kind comments and emails concerning.
I haven't quite fully processed the whole experience, and yes, I'm already second-guessing and wondering if there was something I could have done to go on. That's normal. But still I truly think in my heart that I should not have continued.
The race officials didn't pull me out of the race. I was still ahead of all the cutoffs on the race course.
But the last few miles (9 to 13 on the marathon course) while I was contemplating withdrawing, I was walking along with my mouth hanging open, stumbling and weaving in the pitch darkness on the course.
At the time I was quite sure I'd end up in the medical tent for an extended stay if I went on. I tried everything that I could think of for a few miles before I stopped - walking for the last 3 or 4 miles while thinking it through, drinking Gatorade, Coke, chicken broth, taking salt, eating some of every food they had at the aid stations (oranges, bananas, cookies, gel) - but nothing was helping. At the halfway point of the run I got my special needs bags, ate my baggie of M&Ms out of it, sat for a while to see if they would fix things, and they didn't.
I thought of my daughters. Could I let their mother go back out on that inky-black course with a fairly high probability of stumbling, getting injured, lying out there on the ground in the dark by herself, or ending up in one of the ambulances? Was this still healthy? The answers were all no.
I was simply exhausted. Even though there were nearly four hours remaining to the midnight finish line cutoff, my walking pace was slow enough that I would have certainly had to run some of the last half marathon lap to make it over the line in time, and I was sure I couldn't run any more and probably not even walk the 13.1-mile distance. (Later, looking at my lap times and the times of other people who walked the last lap, I think that calculation was correct).
I dragged myself up to the finish area a hundred yards away from the marathon halfway point and turned in my timing chip.
At the time I was quite sure I'd end up in the medical tent for an extended stay if I went on, and as it was I was shivering uncontrollably (even though wrapped in Mylar blankets), coughing up phlegm, and throwing up my stomach contents within 20 minutes of when I stopped. That convinced me that my decision was correct.
I don't know if I'm ever going to make another attempt. I have to say that I did not have a lot of fun out there on the course while the race was in progress, although I did enjoy all the peripheral festivities of the event. Maybe I'm not cut out for events lasting more than 6-8 hours. If I make another attempt at the Ironman distance, it won't be for at least three years (2009) until my daughters are in school and I can train without disrupting my family time with them.
Fortunately I did NOT buy any Ironman gear before the race, not a bit! I won't wear it without the title.
I'm already signed up for an Olympic distance and a half Ironman next year. I'll be concentrating on bringing down my times on my shorter distance triathlons.
All the kind comments that I have received have been incredibly helpful and very much appreciated. Thank you all so much!