Four runners, three races, one thing in common: the dreaded DNF. A DNF in race world is known as a “did not finish” but we prefer to think of them as a “did not fail”. For us, it’s not merely an indication that you didn’t cross the finish line, but an indication of big thinking, even bigger dreaming, and a display of courage and perseverance … or huge freaking balls, if you will. In this post we talk with four strong runners and explore the valuable lessons learned and how DNFs actually make us stronger.
Tim Christoni [ Kodiak 100 ]
This was my 4th attempt at a 100 miler this year. I finished a massive “suffer fest” and basically a “death march” for the last 50 miles of SD100, which I finished. I had been dealing with plantar fasciitis and had just received a cortisone shot, so this was the first race I had actually been able to “run” pain free for a long time. But the heat just broke me down. Then I attempted SB100 and the PF once again caused me to DNF at mile 70. 3 weeks later I was able to put everything together and run sub 23 hours and take 12th overall at AC100, my dream race. Coming into Kodiak, I was hopeful to simply complete a “victory lap” and get a finish. That was my only thought was to simply finish and take the points I needed to qualify for UTMB in 2017. I failed, obviously.
Going in I was about as prepared as one can be. Perhaps over prepared because fatigue and exhaustion really were the deciding factor in my dropping out of the race. My high point was the “parade lap” in Big Bear Village when we were led out by Olympian Brenda Martinez. I was joking with Guillaume Calmettes about being “out in front” and how Brenda wasn’t even breathing at all as we ran. It was light hearted fun running before the 1st climb. It was nice seeing so many great athletes that I admire so much running along with me.
My low point was on Holcomb Valley Road when I knew I was done and couldn’t run. My legs just felt like noodles. That sucked and it was at the next aid station where I decided to drop. I learned that trying to do too much might just be too much. Although I felt fine leading up to the race, I felt the fatigue of all of those miles and races leading up to Kodiak very early on. Like mile 4. Something I’ve already figured out is that we all have to run our own race. It’s ok to stop and call it if you feel that you will do damage to yourself. For me, the suffer fest at San Diego was in my head. I certainly did not want to do another 50 mile death march at Kodiak. Not on those rocks. I ran my race, I made my call and I am cool with it. I might not have the best record on Ultra Sign Up, but I always have done what I thought was best for me in every situation, certainly not what others thought was best.
Kendra Miller [ Run Rabbit Run 100 ]
I had trained most of the year for Leadville 100 but had a major wipe out & sprained my ankle 14 miles in … Thinking I could somehow manage the pain, it only got worse and had to drop at mile 28. I put my name on the wait list for RunRabbit Run 100, less than 4 weeks out! I got in! RRR has always had my heart, for some reason the race stands out to me more than anything, so getting to run the trails again was beyond exciting!
My mindset with a Hundo is always so different than any other distance … It’s not a race at all, just a long day in the mountains. You know anything can & will happen and I believe that’s what keeps me calm. My first low was feeling that first shooting pain in my ankle early on (mile 7) … Was trying not to think about it & even telling myself I don’t feel anything. The steep 6 mile technical decent down fish creek falls following absolutely destroyed them… I knew then, at about 14 miles in I could not finish this race. A high was having a good friend come up behind me just as I was about to have a breakdown. We shed some tears because she knew how much this meant to me. My year has been the toughest of my life and at that point I felt like I was being defeated again. I left 2 more aid stations with huge desire to finish but by mile 31 I couldn’t walk. The last couple miles leading up to that spot I thought so much about the race, what it means to me, the hardships in my life. I put a huge smile on my face, and everything was clear to me. My day was great, I had still got to run a solid day on these trails I love so much, I still had a blast, I’m still learning.
Was I stupid for signing up for another 100 so soon? Probably. But that doesn’t mean lots of good can’t come from it. I thought about the reasons I run, and the day exceeded all those plus many more. I love myself & what I’ve done accomplished in my life- a buckle wasn’t gonna define me. Sure I would’ve loved to finish, but I can also go back & start the thing uninjured. Seemed way too early in the race to have that pain. Huge benefit was getting to go to other aid stations & help fellow runners. Those small acts of kindness & trying to help is what made my weekend. That’s what the sport is about!
Julie Blanda [ Run Rabbit Run 50 ]
Way back in February 2015, I had just completed my third trail race, a 15 miler. Some friends were heading to Colorado for Run Rabbit Run 100 in September and I offered to crew them, but they badgered me to join in on the 50 mile race. 50 miles, what!? Peer pressure in the ultra running community being what it is, I finally gave in and signed up. I hired a coach and spent the next 6 months training for my first ultra. As the race approached, I found myself in the midst of some personal drama and training was not what it should have been. On race day, my head was not in the right place. I gave it my all, pushing cutoffs … I finally was DNFed at the final aid station at mile 43.6! Extenuating circumstances with aid station volunteers there led me to receive a comped entry to the 2016 RRR50. I was determined to not let anything or anyone come between me and my goal to conquer 50 miles! I still had a coach and a training plan and I moved to Colorado in July of this year, living most of the time above 9000’. I was ready. Strong, fit, mentally in a good place. I had been dealing with nagging Plantar Fasciitis since April and it had a tendency to flare up on long runs.
Race day was here, I toed the line, ready for the long day. I knew the course. Knew where to push, where to power hike … until I got to mile 12. My foot was really starting to hurt. The pounding on the rocks was beginning to take a toll. I came into the Long Lake aid station (M13.5) with severe cramping in my left hamstring and right calf caused by a weird gait I had developed along the way because of the foot pain. I was hopeful salt and ginger ale would help me out (Oh, my stomach also did not like me on this day!). I pushed through Long Lake, but almost immediately regretted continuing. My foot was just not having it. Every step was painful and my right calf was pretty much looking like a baseball and seized on every uphill. I suffered the next 4 miles, pushing onto Base Camp aid. I was secretly hoping to be attacked by a moose in the woods because DNF by moose would have been much more reasonable! I knew that I was going to ask the captain at Base Camp to cut my wrist band, I might as well enjoy my last moments on this course because I will never do this race again.
The high point of this race? The full moon on my right, the sunrise coming up behind us on the trail. The colors. The views. The group I climbed the first 6 miles with. High fives, smiles, laughter. Also, the group of guys behind me after leaving Mt. Werner aid talking about Fireball and beer at Dumont, 16 miles away. I told them I had Fireball in my back, they were poor planners! They asked me if I needed a husband, lol. The low point of my race? Realizing 12 months of having this crutch, this race in my head. It was redemption day. This trail belonged to me. And it was over. There was nothing I could do. If I continued I risked significant injury and the chance I would most definitely be chasing cutoffs again. To do what, fail by missing a cutoff and being forced to have my wristband cut. No, that would be my choice. In a way having the aid station captain come over-giving me several moments by myself-and putting scissor to paper, was the high and low. It was my first DNF by decision. My second DNF. The same fucking race. What did I learn? My friends are always my cheerleaders-finisher or not. Supporting me and showing me Love all the time, not just on race day. Lots of folks failed to cross the finish line on this weekend in September but they have not given up. The ultra running community loves you for who you are, not because of buckles or medals……and I love them!
Puerto Mauricio [ Plain 100 ]
I was not training much anymore due to lack of time with work and family. I felt good going into this one, I’ve finished it 3 previous times so the route finding isn’t an issue. My high point was just starting and getting out and doing something … even when suffering- it’s fun in a weird way. For this particular race my knee got tweeted at the first downhill and it was painful to run. I should have stopped at the first SAR checkpoint but my stubbornness made me want to continue and at least get 100k in. As soon as I got 1 mile up in a 7 mile climb, I couldn’t bend my left knee … At that point I was convinced I needed to DNF. But instead of turning around I decided to make the 5000 ft climb to the next SAR check point. It was close to an 8 hour death march to pull the plug.
I’ve DNF a good amount of races. All but 2 of them are due to being mentally weak. Reflecting on all those races I can’t recall anything physically wrong at the time. So the only legitimate DNF would be yesterday and 2 years ago at HURT 100. I hit a exposed stump with my leg and it catapulted me. I ended up in the ER on that one. As for what did I learn– I should have called it at mile 30, but I wanted to finish. It’s a battle when you travel to do these races and it’s on the top of my list.