|June 23, 2016||Posted by Melinda under Ultra Running|
There is a particular magic in a DNF.
A pull can focus training and efforts in the right direction and result in success the next time.
It can create some of the biggest demons I’ve ever dealt with out on the endurance trail, that impacts events for years to come.
“To Finish is to Win” is the motto of the AERC for good reason – to get to the finish line with a horse judged fit to continue and a rider who at least survived the trail intact enough to choose to keep riding is a significant feat. The multiple welfare checks for our equine partners means that a finish is by no means a sure thing – a rock that was stepped on the wrong way, a branch that wasn’t seen, and old injury rearing its ugly head. It doesn’t matter that the pair could have slowly hobbled to the finish line, you are OUT by the judgement of the control judges. The decision has been made for you.
In running, much more responsibility rests on the individual. With rare exception (such as some big races that do have medical checks for a runner) the choice of whether to pull yourself or trudge on like a drunk one-legged sailor because of that old hamstring injury is up to you. You truly can decide to “Finish is to Win….at all costs” as a runner and pay a very high price.
The price can be so high that when I’m running I believe that a DNF, even if I could have finished, can be a very reasonable choice. Don’t deplete/injury mental and physical capacities beyond what is repairable, so that I can stay healthy and try again sooner rather than later another day.
Here’s the rub. I’m only recently realizing DNF’ing has a cost too. It’s different from a mandated pull. Whether it exceeds the cost of going on is something some times I don’t fully realize until after the event is finished.
Ultrarunning is partly about suffering. Dealing with that suffering on a mental and physical level over time and miles is part of this sport. For someone who hysterically shrieks like a 2 year old not allowed to play with the sharp kitchen noise when the threat of being stung by a winged insect arises and would probably pass out from the panic if forced into a small inescapable space with them, I’m fascinated by the type of pain and suffering that occurs at endurance events. It’s the same part of me that sorta looked forward to child-birth, and when it was all over smiled at the nurse and said “that wasn’t so bad, running a 50 and riding a 100 was much worse” and even though this is absolutely my last child for non-child birth related reasons, sorta wishes I could try my hand at it again (even as my husband looks at me in horror since apparently in his opinion signing up for voluntary pain is nothing short of crazy).
The events that I have dealt with the suffering and succeeded in spite of them were and remain very empowering (Tevis 2010, San Fransisco 50 mile ultra).
However, the events that I suffered at and elected to tap out rather than gut to the finish unfortunately are even more powerful.
I’ve come to realized that is the ongoing price of my choice to DNF. The fear that when the going gets tough and I need to dig deep in order to keep moving forward, that I won’t be able to.
The DNF demons I’m dealing with now are Tevis 2013 and Pioneer Spirit 50 2014.
Technically at Tevis 2013 I was pulled because Farley was lame, but in reality I had DNF’ed myself before that happened. The last couple miles into Fransisco’s (85 miles into the ride)I was literally, no joke, wondering if I could just step off a cliff, or at least just lay down at the side of the trail and rest my head on that pile of boulders over there and just sleep. Never mind never doing endurance again – I was absolutely sure it was going to be a cold day in hell before I even rode for pleasure. I was done with horses. Period.
Now, obviously I wasn’t done. I’ve even done another ride or two since then. However I just can’t seem to get excited about another big ride that will test my limits again and make me dig deep. I’m not excited about doing Tevis again. I had the best, freshest-feeling horse at that Tevis than at all previous attempts and I blew it. (She was lame because I had rubbed a hole in her back with the saddle because of poor riding – combination of IT bands and fatigue).
The difference between my pull in 2009 (focused me for 2010, no lasting negative effects) and my mental breakdown non-completion in 2013 somehow feels like the difference between “shit happens and sometimes it isn’t your day” and “when it gets tough I take the easy way out”.
This is despite having the example of Tevis 2010 when I gutted it out for a very tough finish. AND having learned a LOT about the mental aspect of endurance events since this, including how chronic low-level pain (IT bands) and mental work over time (leading the entire 85 miles on our own) absolutely contributes to fatigue and the inability to have the will power to go on. And it was TOTALLY understandably why what happened happened.
I don’t know when I’ll get it together enough to ride Tevis again, but I’m going to attempt to slay the other DNF demons this year – the Pioneer Spirit 50.
The 2014 Pioneer Spirit race (link was embedded earlier) is another example of “I know what went wrong and it was TOTALLY understandable why I didn’t finish”. In fact, as it was happening, I knew what was happening and made the decision to not let the race turn into another “Tevis 2013” and suck all the motivation out of ultra training for years to come.
And yet. The cost of a DNF still had to be paid.
I really really REALLY do not want to run Pioneer again because I’m not sure I can can get to the finish line. Even with the issues that kept me from getting there last time fixed.
Why not just avoid it?
Because…. whenever I think of running a 100, there is a nagging doubt in my mind that I can really get to that finish line. Because I quit on that 50.
So, I’m running Pioneer again. And it will be even harder this time because instead of *October it’s in AUGUST. And I’m scared.
*although it was unseasonably warm that year and in the 90’s. But in August it’s like a guarantee.
But it turns out that’s useful too.
Literal panic keeps me going out the door getting my runs in every single day. I don’t have the benefit of several ultras earlier this season to build my confidence and there’s simply not enough time to run the number of miles that I need to make myself feel *confident. So when I’m tempted to skip a work out, I just ask myself what I think is going to keep me going to the 50k point and beyond this time?
*and then probably overtrain and injure myself, so really this is a good thing
Probably not my incredible amount of mileage up to this race. BUT maybe a stronger core will make the difference. Or an extra 50 lunges. Or getting this run in today AND tomorrow instead of only tomorrow.
I also went ahead and put that 100 miler in November back on my schedule.
Hard to panic about a 50 in 2 months when there’s a 100 on the same trails 2 1/2 months after that. Puts it all in perspective.
I’ve always read a lot of race reports – especially 100’s – but since my DNF’s I notice different things. Yes, the runners and riders that are prepared, experienced, and maybe have a little luck on their side are the ones that reach the finish line, but almost everyone goes through a low point. At both my DNF Demons I was convinced I was done and making the right decision because of the amount of crying and puking that went on. I figure if I’m that far gone, there’s no hope for me. Hopefully on August 20th 2016 through the puke and tears I can remember that almost every 100 mile report I’ve read contains something similar to this (taken from a blog that I’ve now lost the link to :(. He went on to complete the 100):
“It was along this point where I hit the lowest point of my race- the urge to drop was so damn strong here. I just started to cry, mentally just completely lost it, so not having fun anymore, a total meltdown. I wanted to call Allyson and tell her I was okay but not really and could she maybe come pick me up?
A full 24 hours into this race and all I wanted to do was lay down on the side of the trail and just go the fuck to sleep. I prayed that a mountain lion was stalking me and this was his chance to end it for me. That’s how bad it was, hoping I’d be some apex predator’s brunch”.
I could have written the first paragraph in my Pioneer 2014 report (and in fact I think I did. Except I DID call Matt and he DID come pick me up), and the second paragraph could have come straight from my Tevis 2013 report.
I am tougher than I think. I am capable of doing this.
PS – anyone know of a wordpress widget that can automatically pull posts from this date, 1,2 3, etc. years ago and link them? It’s getting time-consuming to do that for 7 years worth of posts!
Oh, man. DNF demons R Us, on both running and riding. Haven’t done a race since my DNF at the Crown King 50k last year, because it just totally deflated me and now I’m caught in the mental loop of “won’t ever be an ultrarunner because I can’t hold up to it without injury.” It’s like I not only broke myself physically, but mentally…I was disappointed in getting injured, disappointed in not “finishing at all costs” even when the logical part of my brain said “save it for another time…”, so naturally the critical part of my brain equated that with “oh, you wimped out, you’re not actually physically or mentally tough.”
And endurance…three ride pulls in a row, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got a whole chorus line of DNF demons that have taken up residence, assuring me that yes, as a matter of fact, I am a terrible endurance rider, and what am I even thinking with having Tevis as a goal when I can’t even get through an LD anymore?
If there’s a way to shut those demons up, please let me know…
Tevis and Wild West were pulls for me and my last two rides. Both my horse looked great. Both times I made mistakes that injuried my horse. I think the only way I’m going to find the magic again is to keep going to rides so that’s what I’m trying to do this season but it’s hard. I deleted whole paragraphs in this post about why 2013 tevis was so awful and joy sucking but deleted because really the specifics don’t matter. Sometimes I think I should just give in and quit the whole endurance (and horse?). It’s too hard, too frusterating, and too dissapointing when time after time it doesn’t go my way.
But then I stop riding for a couple of months or even weeks and I’m so grumpy and unhappy.
I don’t know what the answer is. But I don’t think it’s to stop riding or stop riding on the trail.
I’ve been running long-distance for longer and so I feel like I have a better perspective when it comes to running. When I did road marathons in the first five years of running, I had to really significant injuries that made me think I would never do any significant running again. I was also incredibly burned out from a really tough marathon I did right after getting Farley. Now of course I’m running faster and longer and better than I did back then. When I try and think about how I conquered that round of demons, it was time, never completely giving up, and doing the same activity in a new way so that it didn’t feel like the same old thing.
Applying that to my endurance Right now, perhaps to defeat my endurance demons I will end up doing a fifty on Farley every year (bc I would kick myself if I didn’t give decade team a chance) and waiting to do hundreds and tough rides until MerryLegs is ready. New horse new experience? And it would give me some time.
I also wanted to say that to this day I do not second guess my decision to DNF pioneer in ’14. It was absolutely the right decision. I’m just suprised that the DNF still had such a heavy cost.
DNF demons are real. But don’t give up endurance. You have to remember that IN ADDITION to the DNF demons, there are the “post big ride blahs” to deal with as well.
I have one DNF on my ride record, at a 100 miler. The 2014 Quilty. My ultimate target ride. Took me a while to get over it, even knowing that there was nothing I could have done or changed that would have altered the outcome. In the end, the only way I found to get over it was to have another crack, so we’re driving 1800 miles this year to do exactly that.
All that said, I don’t run 100s! Cut yourself some slack woman! Doing what you do with a baby in tow is superhuman and insane. Maybe you just have burnout, not DNF demons. Maybe you would feel the same even if you had completed those 2 rides/runs,because, you know, you have a hell of a lot going on. (Graduation, baby, new job, house purchase and refurbishment: that lot would be enough for most people without adding 2 endurance sports!)
Go ahead and run Pioneer. DON’T THINK about Tevis. Shoot for Decade Team on Farley, and leave riding 100s for ML.
The wait until MerryLegs thing is the conclusion I sorta came to when answering Ashley’s post too.
The post big goal blahs!!!!!! OMG so real. Finally did tevis. Got my bronze level 100 mile award. Did ride and tie championships. And now? Decade team just isn’t real enough. Or burnout is a definite possibility. Just got to wait until the mojo comes back. It has in running time after time so i trust it will in horses too.
Love this! And you WILL get to the finish line at Pioneer even if I have to push/drag/bribe you there, none of which I think you’ll need! I predetermine running races on what I’m prepared to DNF for. I would have slogged through at SD, but not Sonoma, even though that was a very emotionally driven race for me. I’m so pissed that it wasn’t my day – I was the most prepared I’ve ever been. Endurance sports are fickle like that. I am fortunate (/inexperienced) enough to not yet have a pull in AERC. It makes me more nervous each ride.
I was pulled every ride in my first season lol!!!!! Didnt seem to scar me at all ;). None of the pulls were that traumatic though.
I hear you on deciding what races are worth it. In 2014 I can remembering deciding that a pull or a finish at pioneer didn’t really matter because I was far enough out from a 100. The first time I could take a crack at a 100 was end of 2016 because of planning on getting pregnant. So that may have played a big role. Hoping this time with the pressure of the 100 there it will make a difference.
I kinda just want to get it over with and out of the way lol. Like when you haven’t fallen off in a while you know a big one is coming… I also seem to be unable to ride mid-pack lol, front or back for me. Is Rio maybe back on the table?
Maybe :). There’s a lot riding on how pioneer goes…..
I have nothing useful to offer, but I know these feelings well and appreciate you giving them voice.
Just coming off a DNF, I’m in an endurance funk. You hit all the points of why NOT to do this…and why we keep continuing on too. We can’t just stop and give up. Sitting in the middle of the trail will not GET us where we need to be. Maybe this time, maybe next, or after that…
Let me know if you need any help in August. I’ll be around. Or I could just pace you by letting the horse chase you… he really likes doing that!
So…..VERY EXCITING NEWS. I got asked over the weekend to hang glow sticks on the CA loop/river crossing at tevis. About a 25 mi loop. As you can imagine I did NOT say no :). Major will have to chase me some other time (which actually sounds fun).