Sometimes DNF Stands for Definitely Not Failure

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There is a well-known quotation often attributed to Michelangelo (although there is some dispute about the attribution) which goes: 

"The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark."

This seems like an excellent sentiment for endurance athletes. I often remark that the nice thing about ultras, as compared to marathons, is that you don't worry so much about time. You line up at the start line and mentally award yourself a gold model if you finish the event. A very different state of mind from having a goal time for a marathon. However, as with times in a marathon, if you always have a 'gold medal' race this likely means you aren't challenging yourself enough in your event choice. Combine this line of thought with my common advice to focus on the question 'Did I run the best race I could run today?' and you can begin to understand how it is that I can hold my head high after finishing 'only' 88km of this year's London 2 Brighton 100km Challenge. I know that some runners view taking a DNF (Did Not Finish) as a failure. I feel that they are wrong to do so.

I had a fantastic day in the country running with my friend Jason. The weather was just about perfect: comfortable temperature, dry, just overcast enough that I didn't feel baked by the sun. The course was mostly beautiful country, ranging from the River Thames from Richmond down to Kingston to the countrysides of Surrey and East Sussex, with some nice pieces of trail thrown in from time to time. The staff at the aid stations were really great, and the food choices were generally excellent. I ran a much stronger fifty miles than I had run last year, and definitely had my nutrition plan working much better. Despite having been really good about nutrition for the first 45 miles or so, I then made a couple of errors. First off around 45 or 46 miles in I found myself thinking that I should reach into a pocket, get out some food, and eat something. I failed to follow through on that thought. Big mistake. Without eating often enough, your body starts shutting down your digestive system, and at that point your race is basically over. Yes, you can slog through to the finish, but it will be tough and slow. Coming into the 80km checkpoint I was starting to lag, and then I tried to force myself to eat, but I went right for the hot food which was jacket potatoes, when I probably needed something with more rapidly available carbs. Then I added cheese, which added protein into the mix, something which my stomach was definitely not up for handling. A couple of miles later I was feeling ill, tired, and generally beaten. Just couldn't keep running. I did manage to walk to the 88km checkpoint (and Jason scored major points by sticking with me even though I tried to send him on his way), but I was beaten.

At this point I had a choice: stick with what I had accomplished, start recovering, and call it a day; or push on, have hours of tough slogging to the finish, risk injury, dehydration (I wasn't keeping food down so this was an actual risk), etc. If I hadn't finished this very race last year I might have felt I had something to prove, but that wasn't an issue. I'd already learned a great deal, and knew where I had gone wrong. I didn't seem likely to learn anything more by pushing on. So I called it a day. Spoke to the excellent medical staff. Had a little Coca-Cola to settle my stomach and spike my blood sugar. Ate some fruit. Spoke with staff and other runners. Took a shuttle to the finish line so I could be there to greet Jason when he came in. The result of this is that I felt fine the next day. A little sore, very tired. Hungry! Ready to start recovering and turn my attention to my next race.  It's a lot like setting out to run a sub-3:30 marathon and 'only' running a sub-4:00. Did you miss your goal? Sure. Do you still feel a sense of accomplishment? You should. Did you just do something most people can't even imagine? You betcha. Did Not Finish, true, but Definitely Not a Failure.

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This page contains a single entry by Daniel Maskit published on May 27, 2015 8:22 PM.

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