Have you ever DNF’d a race? That’s the acronym for Did Not Finish. It’s that moment during your race when something inside your head says, nope, not today. Do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars. I’m done. The legs are either completely wasted from grinding out miles of trail or you suddenly realize how little sleep you’ve had for the days leading up to the race and all you can think about is your head hitting the pillow. Or it might be those alarms going off in your head saying, “I bit off more than I can chew with this distance.” Maybe you didn’t plan for enough fuel or liquid, and you ran out of steam. Whatever the cause, it’s that moment when you can’t go any further and you decide to drop. Well, that happened to me last year at Ultra Race Of Champions 100k in Auburn, CA. It was my second UROC event and I was going back to see if I could place one spot better than the 4th overall I had taken the year previous. I had completed Leadville 100 with a time of 26:31 just 4 weeks earlier, and I was convinced that with the sheer force of my athletic-female-warrior-iron will I could make it happen! Well.
As it turns out, I couldn’t recover fast enough. UROC started, and I felt great for the first 50km. But things began to unravel after mile 35 and the next thing I knew I was overheating and cramping up, and by mile 55 was ready to call it a day. I remember running thru the Cool Fire Station Aid and saying to my crew, “I will run this loop and see how it goes.” Roughly 3 miles into that next section, I nearly stepped on two large coiled rattlesnakes lying in the middle of the trail side by side. It was as if they were having a chat just waiting for some exhausted and mentally fried soul like me to sink their venomous fangs into. I saw them just before they ate me, and as I leapt off the trail they sprang up, rattles shaking wildly, to warn me they were on high alert. “No worries, my friends,” I thought, “this trail is all yours, I am done. This race is over for me.” And just like that, it was as if someone pushed my OFF button. I walked carefully back to the aid station and officially removed myself from the race. I admit that I was disappointed in myself for running all that way and then quitting. Why did I think it was a good idea to run a race so soon after running Leadville? Well that’s the problem, I really didn’t think it through. I didn’t think about why I would sign up for the race to begin with. I suppose I was feeling a little cocky when I decided to do this, and now I felt defeated. DNF does not feel fun.
Herb Elliott one of the best middle distance runners who broke 4 minutes for the mile a whopping 17 times said, “Motivation should not be based on money, fame, or glory. If that’s an athletes motivation to compete they will be sadly disappointed when they fall short.” He believed the purist form of motivation should be driven out of a desire to SELF IMPROVE! When it came to his own competitions he said, “ I am going to do this as hard as I possibly can because it will make me a better person.” So it really goes beyond motivation, to the deeper question.
Athletes will talk about the need to push themselves before and during competition because they think that is what competing is about and that is what makes a winner. But, does the need to hurt have to be the measure used to feel good about your training or your race? I think Herb had it right. If we can evaluate where our motivation comes from and base it more on an opportunity to engage in the experience and use what we learn to refine our character, then we can prepare for the best possible outcome. No matter what the end result may be.
And so, I did not finish the race. But I learned something about myself: my body is kind of amazing–it took me 100 miles! I should probably thank it with a few more weeks of well-deserved rest before attempting to ask it to do some more amazing stuff. I need to recover. I need to be proud of my accomplishment, and look to my next goal, but be intelligent enough to know when that time is right. And so now I know. Lesson learned. Not giving up the fight over here—just learning a little more about my body, and how I can improve upon my own performance, but above all improve my character.
Did Not Finish? Okay. Lesson learned. Let’s just keep running, okay?