What I Learned During My First DNF

So Headlands Hundred didn’t go as planned. After an ankle injury that took me away from running from mid June to mid July, I thought that I could squeeze in enough training for a hundred in mid September.

Here’s what I learnedHH elev

1.     Running 60 miles a week on a flat bike path with a double stroller at a decent pace is hard…but just because it’s hard doesn’t make it good training for a hilly hundred miler. I was woefully unprepared.

2.     It was surprising easy to come to the decision. At around mile 20 (the race was four 25 mile loops) I started to think that maybe this was my day for a DNF.  I’ve had thoughts like that in the past and shake the negativity out of my head but this was much more convincing.  As I was walking down a hill towards the aid station, I decided it’d be my last (and only) loop, and that was that.

3.     I made a totally rational decision while my mind was still strong.  Could I have hiked 75 miles and beat the cutoffs? Sure, but what fun would that be? I run to enjoy myself and be competitive and that would not have been either.

4.     Not having a pacer nor a crew was not an issue.  I couldn’t have had a pacer until mile 50 anyways, and there’s nothing a crew could have done to help. If they’d somehow convinced me to keep running, I would have resented them for forcing me to do something I didn’t want to be doing.

5.     Related to that, the only person who’s disappointed with my decision is me.  I hadn’t asked anyone to invest their time or energy to help me with my run and no one lost anything because I quit.

6.     DNFing was not the life changing experience I’d heard so much about.  Yeah, there was a guy sobbing after he quit, and sure, I’m bummed I didn’t complete what I said I was going to, but today’s a new day, I’m hanging out with my kids, trying some new beer, and went on a nice run with my wife this morning. Life goes on.

7.     I was, once again, shocked, humbled, and happy to find out how many runners listen to our show and what a positive impact our guests have had on the ultrarunning community.  I really enjoy meeting and talking to people who listen to the show and share my passion for this ridiculous sport.

8.     Everyone’s got something to say about a DNF. “Now that you’ve bailed once, it’ll be easier to quit in the future” and “I couldn’t finish a hundred for 2 years after my first DNF” and “It certainly won’t be your last.”  Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. What I do know is running–specifically the distances that we do–is an activity where axioms such as these don’t make any sense to me.

9.  Jean Pommier and Bev Abbs, the male and female winner, are absolute badasses. Never mind the fact that they’re both Masters runners, but that was a tough course and they each broke their respective course records. Congratulations.

10.  I learned that there are different types of DNFs.  I’m sure the list isn’t complete, but…

  • Getting pulled for medical reasons.
  • Missing cutoffs.
  • Pulling yourself due to medical reasons (stomach, twisted ankle, etc).
  • Refusal to go on. (Nothing major, just don’t wanna run.)

I was the fourth type.

11.  Just because it’s the same elevation change as another hundred doesn’t mean it’s similar. Bryce Canyon 100 had about the same vert (~21k), and though Headlands was at sea level and should have been easier, the unrelenting hills destroyed me and felt far more difficult.

12.  I’ll definitely stay at the Marin Hostel again. $28 for a bed (in a shared room with 8 guys) and 1/2 mile from the starting line. Score!

13.  This prompted a very real look at my running and what I should expect from the situation presented to me:  I simply don’t have the ability to train in the mountains enough.  Between kids and a not-so-supportive wife, local (flat) trails and bike paths are what I’ve got and I need to tailor my racing towards those. I’m very comfortable with finally realizing and recognizing that and know that I’ll be happier competing rather than suffering.

So, it wasn’t a total disasater.  I had a lovely day, saw some incredible scenery (running above the Golden Gate Bridge, then below it, then seeing the America’s Cup boats racing on the way back), got a nice 25 mile run in and felt good about it. Only in a sport as bizarre as ours is a 25 mile run considered “short”, but that’s what I love about it.

Now go out and run.

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