Tag Archives: DNF

Smelly Armchair Musings: I will try

“Child, finish what you started.”

I often speak to myself in this manner when I’m in a low spot while running. For some reason, it makes me feel a little better to encourage or nudge myself as if I’m a child: the adult in me is comforting the child in me. I’m pretty sure I don’t have spilt personality, but maybe….

Three years ago I started something big. After having run a few 50K’s, I decided it was time to run a bigger ultra: I signed up for the Javelina Jundred K. At the time, this race consisted of four washing machine loops on Pemberton Trail in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. I was cocky. I’d run this trail numerous times. It is a pretty clean trail, very few rocks, very little elevation change, wide as a highway. It really is a great location for a first ultra-distance. My first 50K and 50 miler were both there (the 50 miler took place after the event being described here). So, as any runner is wont to do, I began training and I trained through the summer. My training, however, was inappropriate for what I was tackling. In my cockiness, I didn’t recognize it at the time. I did the typical back-to-back long runs on the weekends, but they weren’t long enough. My overall weekly mileage was too low. I didn’t cross train to make up for this. The trails I trained on were inappropriate for the terrain I would be covering on race day. Race morning dawned, I took fun pictures with my friends before the start and then we started. I had one good loop, two terrible loops, and I quit.

“But”, I’ve said to myself, “your IT band was in BAD shape. You were limping and walking that entire third loop. You couldn’t have done another loop!” Really? I really couldn’t do another loop? I had all night long and part of the next day still for crying out loud! “It would have been unwise to continue.” Maybe, unlikely, but maybe. Now, three years later, it’s too late and I will never know for sure.

This is the one that got away. This was my first DNF. I was blogging at the time, but I didn’t blog about this. I was ashamed. Ashamed of what? Everyone DNF’s at some point, who cares? I cared. I didn’t finish what I’d set out to do. I went into it all arrogant and presumptuous. “Oh whatever, it’s just Pemberton, no big deal.” I was ashamed of my failure. Ashamed that I’d been so cocksure and failed. Ashamed that I didn’t finish.

Well, that race taught me everything. First and foremost, never, ever, EVER quit. The runner’s adage, “If the bone ain’t showin’, keep on goin’.” is a true statement, but I didn’t realize it until I did quit. I stopped because I didn’t want to go on. It was dark, my knee hurt, my pride was hurt, I was tired, I was emotional, I quit. This failure at JJK has driven me at races and difficult runs since. Now, I will make them pull me from the course, I will not quit.

“Child, finish what you started.”

When deciding what my running goals for 2017 would be, I decided I wanted, no, NEEDED to finish what I’d started. At the beginning of the year, I had attempted 3 distances that were 50+ miles. I’d DNF’d two out of three, and that was shitty. Failure hung over me. Nobody else cared about this, but I did. Was I actually capable? Could I do this? I didn’t see the point in signing up for other, new 50 mile or 100K distances if I couldn’t even finish the ones I’d already tried. I would try to finish what I’d started.

This lead me to put my name in for Zane Grey again, when I’d already decided I wouldn’t run that again anytime soon. I got in, and by the toenails on my feet I finished it. FINISHED IT! YES! It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was ridiculously horrible (my pacer Amy told me recently that she was starting to get a little concerned towards the end when I began sort of singing quietly, all mumbly under my breath), but that’s ok, I made it! Okay, one goal down. Now on to the evil angel who haunts my dreams, Javelina Jundred K.

After a full month’s rest from Zane, I began training for JJK this week. I will be seeing a lot of Pemberton and the canal. Two places which rate fairly low (REALLY low) on my scale of desirable places to run (Where is the climbing? The technicality? I need mountains! Adventure!). The bright side though? They are not road, and they are fast. I’m hoping this translates into more time at home with my family, even though I’ll be running a ton, since I won’t need to be driving very far, and I can run a whole lot faster at either of those places than on any of my favorite trails. For instance, for my first long training run that took place this weekend, I did “Loop 2” of the race course, somewhere around 19 miles, in 3.5 hours (and it was hot, and I ran out of water, just sayin’). Nothing to write home about, but this same distance in the mountains would have taken me probably at least 5 hours, plus extra drive time. I got home in plenty of time to brag on Strava, shower, and go see Wonder Woman (I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS MOVIE! I will be watching it at least 10 more times, probably way more! Strong, beautiful women, RAR!) with my family.

I will still be hopping up to the mountains. They hold my heart. I cannot stay away. But a significant portion of my time, and likely any blogs I get around to writing, will center around my “adventures” at Pemberton, or on the canal. It’s not the location that makes the adventure, it’s the person!

“Child, finish what you started.”

I will try: October 28, 2017

 

 

 

Smelly Armchair Musings: On My Zane Grey 50 and DNF’ing

How do you write about a failure? How do you share it in a way that reflects your true feelings, but that is also palatable to those around you? I don’t know. So I’ll just do like I tell my children and “word vomit”, letting the words fall where they may.

I went into the Zane Grey race with trepidation. I’d injured my calf and I had taken time off to try to let it heal. I had no idea how Zane would go.

The night before I scoped out the start line so I’d know where I was going in the morning. The smell of pines in the air was fresh and wonderful. I walked the first few feet of the trail barefoot and enjoyed the dirt underfoot.

Race morning came and the start was electric. Everyone was excited and talking and there were so many friends there! That was wonderful, but I was very in my head, making it difficult to engage very much.

The race began in the dark, so headlamps bobbed and flashlights weaved. We were tight together on the trail, rubbing elbows, watching out for pine cones. We were an ebbing and flowing stream, slowing and accelerating as one.

My injured calf felt okay until, while still within that first mile I stumbled and caught myself on it. It had felt a little tight but at this point it cramped up and felt rotten, ripped. I tried to keep running and couldn’t, so I moved to the side and started walking. I contemplated going back to the start line. If I couldn’t run, what the hell was I going to do? I tried stretching it. Eventually the raw feeling calmed down and I was able to maintain a light jog.

I recognized the voices of friends up ahead of me on the trail as the quiet grey light of early dawn began to give shape to the forest around us. It was peaceful, incredible, fulfilling, but what was wrong with my body? Calf aside, my body felt sluggish, bonky, and at the slightest incline my heart was racing. In a race filled with uphills, that wasn’t a good sign. What to do? Go back to the start? It was close. Or keep going?

A little back story on DNF’ing. Two years ago I made my first attempt at a 100K at the Javelina Jundred in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. It consisted of four loops on the Pemberton Trail, a trail I know well. My first two loops were fine, but my third loop was not. Excruciating IT Band pain hobbled me and I walked the entire third loop. I started out power hiking, but by the end of this loop I’d cried a legion of tears and was unable to bend my knee. 45 miles in and I called it. I didn’t have another loop in me. I DNF’d. But was that my best? Was that everything I had to give? It was evening at the end of that third loop which bolstered the feeling of hopelessness. What if I had slept for a few hours and tried for that last loop? My knee still would have hurt, but could I have made it? I don’t know, and I’ll never know now. That DNF taught me something so cliché, but something I think we each must learn on our own and in our own way; never give up. I was ashamed of this race, ashamed I didn’t finish it, ashamed of the unknown, and so I never really talked about it, and certainly never blogged about it, until now.

And so, as awful as I felt so early in my benchmark race, I would not give up. I resolved to make them pull me off the course. If I was ahead of the cut-offs for each aid station then I would keep going.

I made it into the first aid station at 8 miles doing okay. I think I was thirty minutes ahead of the cut off, so I was doing fine. Plus, a number of my friends were here volunteering. It is such a boost to see familiar faces along the race- I love it!

At some point, Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” began making its rounds through my head.

The whole race ran along the base of the Mogollon Rim. It was incredible and I knew I was desperately, head over heels, in love with this trail. I snapped photos with my phone, moving as quickly as I could. At the second aid station I was greeted by more friends. I was still ahead of the cut-off, though not as far.

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Dang it Meghan Trainor. How many times can one line of a song go through one person’s head?

Third aid station- I was definitely slipping but still ahead of the cut off, so I ate quickly and got out of there.

Zane Grey

At Zane Grey 50 Mile Race

The next aid station was where my husband and children would be waiting for me and was at mile 33.5, just 9.5 miles from the third aid station. But I was so slow. So slow. My body was done. My quads were shot. I wanted to quit. I wanted to just sit down and be done, right there on the side of the trail. But how would I get to my family? I had to keep moving: no sitting, no stopping, no quitting, one foot in front of the other. But I was so slow. Nothing was working correctly. I trudged along, thoughts of Javelina flitting through my head, and Meghan Trainor of course. I cried, feeling sorry for myself, starting to give up, then, “No Amber! No quitting! No slowing down on purpose! Keep going!” Then I cried again, listened to the Meghan Trainor song in my head again, thought about Javelina again, the cycle continued. I refused to look at my watch because I didn’t want to know how slowly I was moving. I was POSITIVE I was behind cut off and would be done at Fish Hatchery.

I came upon a section of trail that looked odd- I was pretty sure I was on track, but I was getting all messed up in my head and hadn’t seen any ribbons. Just behind me were two men who said we were good and on trail still. Then one of them said we were still fine, still ahead of cut-off. What??!?!?!? How??!?!?! I was disappointed because I wanted to be done so badly, but I still had a chance and I really did want to finish. We ran into the aid station. And I burst into tears, there was my family and more friends. Everyone had been worried about me- I was hours behind when I normally would have made it to this point. I had to make a decision- keep going or be done? I only had ten minutes to get out of that aid station if I was going to keep going. Everything hurt, I didn’t want to go anymore, and the next section was supposed to be the hardest of the entire trail. I was a hot mess, but I would not repeat Javelina. I grabbed food and water and got out of there. I asked my husband to meet me at the next aid station, See Canyon, because I didn’t know if I’d make it there in time and because if I did, I needed to see him.

I walked out of the aid station, eating as I went. Meghan Trainor kept up her noisy vigil in my head. I crossed streams, I got passed by other runners. I reflected on the fact that for the first time in my life I was running in the back of the pack, it was a new experience for me. I wasn’t trying to beat anyone, I certainly wasn’t being competitive, I was just trying to finish.

 

More people passed me. Then, the dreaded event happened- the sweeps caught me. They were very kind. They made sure I was okay and then they hung back and gave me my space. I appreciated that because then I cried a bunch. I’d already climbed the big hills, the rest was relatively easy-ish into See Canyon so damn it but I was going to cover it running. Ha-ha, running! It was a running motion, but it was as fast as I could go.

Meghan Trainor ran with me. Then she walked with me when I couldn’t hold that motion anymore- but I did power hike like a crazy white suburbanite mom in the park on a Tuesday morning. The soothing grey of evening began filtering in through the trees, slowly blurring the edges and making the forest soft again. The breeze brushed against my skin. I could hear the people at the aid station, and then I was there. Again, the rushing torrent of tears erupted out of my face as I hugged my husband with my nasty self. About 46 miles in and just 6.8 miles left of the race, I’d missed the cut off by about 15 minutes. I was pulled.

Sitting in the dirt, I cried in disappointment and relief. So close. However, Meghan Trainor was finally gone, thank goodness.

I’d failed. I DNF’d my race. I was angry. Sad. Disappointed. Frustrated. And yet oddly, I was incredibly proud of myself. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I’d left every last piece of me out there on that trail. I gave everything that I had and on this day it wasn’t enough. There was peace in that. I’d found a new strength in that which wasn’t there when I began the race that morning. I’d heard many people say that the majority of ultra-running is mental and I’d thought I understood that- I hadn’t. Whenever I get to attempting my first hundred I’m sure I’ll revisit my understanding of the mental capacity required in ultra-running, but for this day I had a new found knowledge.  

So, now you hold my word vomit in your hands, filled, apparently, with a ridiculous amount of tears (what can I say, I’m an emotional person). What will you do with it?

😉

Run on.