DNF Before Death
Ultrarunning is a curious case of psychology. We run a lot, we train hard, we suffer from an arrogant case of invincibility. Then, there are those rude awakening moments. A tough fall on the trail, a sidelining injury, life interventions, that proves one's ultimate mortality in the midst of such “greatness.”
How do you deal when ultrarunning reminds you of your weaknesses when you thought you were so thoroughly dialed in? The training plan was on point: long runs every weekend, even in the depths of summer. Nutrition? Got it covered. Gear? Never had so much. Advice? Listened to all of it, absorbed and adhered to some of it. Thoroughly set up for ultrarunning success.
I’ve run. A lot. And I’ve raced a lot. When I was a bit younger, I ran 9 100 milers in 2 ½ years, racking up a win and placing in another, along with several more ultra distance races and the occasional dreaded road marathon. I loved every minute of it. I was good at it, however mediocre in Ultrasignup rankings, but I didn’t care. And I loved the community. I made some lifelong friends during this time that I would have never met without those experiences.
And as it tends to do, life intervened.
I moved to Arkansas, where training in the summer is nothing short of psychological trial. I started grad school. Work got busy. Priorities had to shift. And before I knew it, four years had gone by.
Last Horse Runners was formed in 2017 by four of us who connected over a shared love of the Arkansas Traveller 100. With 2 AT100 finishes under my belt, I knew I wanted to get back out there. When? Not sure yet. But yes, let’s do it.
Signed up - the fun part, right? Now we have to train.
When I last ran Traveller in 2014, I was coming off a year’s worth of training for Western States. Mountain runs, combined with back to back long runs, heat training, you name it. I was ready. I ran my best Traveller that year. Signing up for Traveller in 2018 without ready access to the Canyons, I knew I had my work cut out for me. Believe me when I say that I put the work in. But also believe me when I say that I wondered, both privately and annoyingly in the LHR group text, whether it would be enough.
I’ll spare you the gruesome details. But suffice to say this:
Shit happens. The DNF is something that you have to accept as a possibility when you toe the line. And if your ego doesn’t allow for that possibility, you need to reconsider why you’re out there.
I don’t say this offering any type of excuses. Running is hard and ultrarunning is an incredibly painful and hard sport. Quitting is not okay, but accepting when it’s not your day, when you’re injured, when you’ve been bested, and moving on from it, is part of the job.
As someone who has experienced both incredible highs and the lowest of lows in the sport, believe me when I say that moving on is a learned skill. We, as runners, get so wrapped up in the identity of being a damn good runner, that any threat to that identity is a tough pill to swallow.
I personally suffer from this ailment greatly. What does this say about where I am right now? I was so good at this for awhile, and now I’ve been beaten by the very trails I essentially grew up on.
Here is what I learned:
Take a step back. Reassess. I’ve done this before, I can do it again. One bad day, one setback, one race, it’s just that: one.
How can I learn from this?
How can I apply this information to become better?
What ultimately did me in so that I can avoid mistakes in the future?
Discouragement is inevitable. But we do this because it’s fun right?
If you’re not having fun, why are you out there?
Learn to love the journey. Focus on the fun, the friends, the laughs shared and the miles under your feet. We’re better for the lessons we’ve learned.