DNF / SOB

Betsy in sun

DNF.

If you have entered races to run, ride, Tri — you are probably cringing (in sympathy) right about now.  You know what those little letters mean…

DNF.

Did Not Finish.

The SOB (Siskiyou Out and Back) was this past weekend. My first attempt at running the 50 mile distance. I made it 41 miles and missed a course time cutoff.  My race was over after 10 hours and 17 minutes.

Not by my choice.

8 miles short of the finish line.

I have been working for this distance since the day I met Josh and Wendie Gum three(ish) years ago and Josh uttered the word that would begin to radically change my ideas of running…

‘Ultrarunning’

Ultrarunning is any running distance over a marathon (26.2 miles).  I’ve done several 50K’s (31 miles) and I’m now working on the 50 mile distance.  I have friends working to crush the 100 mile distance this September. Combinations and distances in ultrarunning are endless. Mind-blowing.

I am utterly enthralled and in love with this sport, the people, the community.


I’m trying to get my mind around what a DNF means.

This is my first.  And it won’t likely be my last.

What did I learn?  How do I apply the lessons to my training and my next race?

I’m also trying to soak in the absurdly obvious fact that I have a handful of patient and loving friends who were giving me space and yet keeping me close all at the same time.  Letting me figure this out on my own.

One of the top lessons came from a conversation with a seasoned ultrarunner who was volunteering at the station where I DNF’d.  He sat with me for quite a while.  He said he knew I wouldn’t understand what he was saying immediately – but it would sink in at some point…

Here’s the essence of what he told me:

You trained hard.

Logged countless miles and hours. Learned and practiced. Fell more in love with the sport and your body’s ability to work hard. Saw new trails.  Met new people. Pushed boundaries. Gained strength.

You showed up and toed the line when others were too scared to sign up or show up.

You ran 41 miles.

NO MATTER how today went no one can take any of that away from you.  It’s yours. You earned it.

Today is just one more day in that process.


Here’s what I have learned so far…

Positives?

  • I finished a solid 41 miles.
  • I’m safe, healthy. Not even a blister or lost toenail.
  • I could see two years of work with trying to fix fueling (calories on the run) and gut issues play out perfectly. FINALLY!
  • Descending (running down hills) and my confidence with descending was much improved over my work at Western States Training Camp in May.
  • My mental strength was solid and my strategies for conquering my scared/negative/self-defeating thoughts WORKED.

41 miles of good stuff.

I don’t think I have to tell anyone that it hurts the heart to miss a goal that you have worked hard for.  I felt pretty crushed. Embarrassed. Frustrated.

However, I was NOT defeatedVERY important distinction.  I never thought about NOT doing this again, all my thinking was scrambling to figure out what I screwed up on, what I needed to get better at and how to fix it.

What have I learned?  What will I work on?

  • Become a faster runner.
  • Run more of each hill.
  • Hike faster/stronger on steep stuff.
  • Don’t be a jackass/rude/dismissive to the volunteers at the aid stations.  I was NOT!  Several of the other DNF’s exhibited poor sportsmanship and crappy attitudes.  Never OK.  Ever.

This is my breakdown of the race. (Here’s the map sob-50-mile-map)

I have several running friends who read this blog and they suggested that my version of a play-by-play would be interesting. Typically race reports are more about strategy, fueling and terrain – things that would help other runners know what to expect and how to prepare to run the course. Uh… Mine aren’t. My ‘race report’ is about what I was feeling and thinking.

I hope that you enjoy my ‘race report’. 🙂

Mile 1-4.  Scared to death. Super upset belly. Breathing wouldn’t settle in. I was gulping air and trying to find a rhythm for my feet and lungs…  I got paired up on the single track with a woman from Gold Beach, OR.  She said she was really struggling with nerves/belly/breathing.  I admitted the same. I thought about it for a bit and then told her that ALL of that could be easily explained away by 1.) too much coffee at the ass crack o’ dawn to make sure we pooped before the race and 2.) the freaking altitude (5,000-7,000) for us sea-level girls.  We laughed and nerves were instantly gone…  For both of us. I ran with my new friend for 22 miles and DNF’d with her as well.

4- 22. I worked on getting comfortable. Welcomed the routine of trying to settle into a long run.  I kept going over the course map and my plan in my head, reviewing the map mentally to see if I could tell what might be coming next terrain/aid station-wise.  Fueling (calories) was perfect to the minute and my gut stayed intact.  I remembered thinking – no matter how the day goes: this segment is a win on a bunch of important levels, training is playing out perfectly and these are things I can keep building on. Looking back – I also have to wonder if this section – where I was feeling the most comfortable – is this where I should have pushed harder? Would more effort here have made the difference?

21 – 22. The women grouped up and running with me at this point started talking about how we were not going to make the time cut-offs. The talk was about races they hadn’t finished.  How HORRIBLE the hill ahead of us at mile 25 really was. How they probably should have trained more. It was negative and soul-draining. I played with positive mantra’s/sayings in my head and tuned those women OUT.

23 – 25. I raced through the aid station forgoing water, purposefully, to leave all the women behind me.  I hiked with what I thought was solid purpose.  Including a fast hike up the rock field to the tippy-top for the ‘token’ to prove I had been at the turn-around point on the course.

25 – 28. Turn around and run back to the aid station. I focused on fast feet.  I ran the entire way.  Every step. If I was going to miss a cutoff, I wanted to at least have done it running downhill in the way I had trained.

28.  Wards Fork aid station volunteers said keep moving and I should make the  cutoff at Jackson Gap. I knew this was the 6-7 mile sustained climb section between aid stations.  Mental anxiety is spiking back up at this point. I kept working to stuff it back down. My strategy ALL along had been to hike this entire segment fast with a little running if I hit flats. More of the trail was runnable than I remembered on the first trip through. If it got flat or I could see a small crest – I ran. I pushed hard.

35.5.  I hit Jackson Gap aid station and they said I was at the cutoff; I had to keep moving.  Those words were just a huge mind f*&k.  I looked at the volunteer who was talking to me and burst into tears.  I just stood there crying and trying to pull my shit back together while they filled my hydration pack with ice, made sure I was physically OK to keep going, handed me some grapes and sent me up the road.  I was already moving at what I thought was going to amount to an all out effort for 50 miles; I wasn’t sure how much more I could push at this point and actually have anything left to finish. Coupled with a mistake rookie-style? I hadn’t written down any of the distances from aid stations. I KNOW BETTER. The volunteer said it was 4 miles; it was over 7.  I was mentally pushing to piece things together as I ran, I felt confused and turned around at what was likely the 4 – 5 mile mark because I knew I should have been at an aid station. I was clueless at this point because my Garmin had died.

Two guys in front of me walking up the hill right out of the Jackson Gap aid station suddenly turned around as I was headed uphill.  They said they were done, they’d done the math and there was no way they could make the cutoff.  “No reason to put in the effort at this point.”  I nodded and kept moving past them.  I remembered thinking ‘F*&^ THAT.  I’m not quitting.  They’ll have to pull me off the course…’ I stopped crying, put my head down and got serious about trying to make the cutoff.

35 – 41. I ran when I could and walked on the steep ups.  I also had to walk on some of the steep downs. I noticed I was getting tired; my toes were dragging and catching everything as soon as I let my attention waiver. This section is partially on a steep North facing slope that I swear was really just a game trail with an immediate and unforgiving drop off. Falling would require search and rescue.  No joke. I was also stuck on the narrow single-track with a PSYCHO running companion. She was hysterical, depressed, loud, opinionated, abrasive.  When I slowed; she slowed. When I ran; she ran. I wanted to push her off the cliff. BUT that’s not nice or allowed.  So I worked HARD on not letting her non-stop chatter get in my head.  I kept thinking about even though I was pushing the cutoffs and my gut was sinking with the idea that this next cutoff might be the last…

  • I was running a race I could be proud of.
  • Spencer (coach) wouldn’t be disappointed in me, my effort or my attitude.
  • I hoped everyone was wrong and that we would beat/slide past the cutoff.

I was trying to stay in the moment with picking-up and purposefully placing my feet, breathing calmly and keeping my mind working by counting groups of foot steps that were taking me closer to the finish line.

41. Siskiyou Gap aid station, done for the day.  Here’s the snapshot in my head:  I crest the hill from some trees, with single-track in front of me.  I see the tent at the aid station in a small clearing.  A woman (not the psycho one, she was finally behind me a bit…) that I had been running behind for several miles is between me and the tent in the open space, sitting on her knees with her head in her hands.  Five volunteer faces look up at me as I come out of the trees and three of them start shaking their heads slightly… You don’t even really need to hear the words…. ‘I’m sorry. Your day is done.’


This is the race that earned me my first DNF.  It really is a SOB. 🙂

It’s also the race where I met new friends, got sage advice and learned that I CAN fuel correctly. By early that evening I was reminded that my family and running friends are pretty damn spectacular.

And at the end of the day(s), with the pity party finally done and my mind settling into accepting the lessons that were handed to me…  This race turned out to be a fantastic training run on stunning trails and one more character building experience in this whole process of embracing and living a healthy lifestyle.

And no one can take any of that away from me.

4 thoughts on “DNF / SOB

  1. Betsy, you have such a gift with words! Your life is an inspiration & God has given you the gift of being able to share it with others in a way that entertains, educates, & inspires! You are incredible! I am so proud of you, my “Besty”! I live how that so often typo is so fitting for who you are! Love you!

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  2. Beautifully written and you got the emotional aspects spot on. When Quinn’s father, Gary, has a DNF it’s been so tough to be on the other end and know what to say. You train, prepare, and fully expect to cross that line and get the goods- medal, t-shirt, bag, etc. Right? It’s not about that but about what you expressed. Gary trained for the Leadville 100 and made the 50mile point minutes after it cutoff. It was so heart breaking because physically and mentally he could have finished. The best year he had another attempt but was injured in the first few stages but still ran over 40 miles. DNF won’t get easier because each race is different and your different each time. I don’t think any of us ever start something with not finishing in mind. We just have to lace up again and get back out there. Take care, you’re such an inspiration and although a DNF sucks (made my heart sink when I read your title) it’s OK! You now have another goal to mark off.

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    1. Thank you Sabrina!!! Wish I could give you a hug in person. (I MISS YOU!) So many good lessons in the whole adventure. So many! BEFORE the race, during and after as well. One of the hardest things has been when I tell people they say ‘BUT you ran 41 miles thats awesome!” Yes. It kind of is. It’s NOT what I trained for. I agree on some level or I wouldn’t be trying to leg out 50. 🙂 BUT I missed my goal. I didn’t do what I had my heart set on. I didn’t do what I trained for. I missed the mark that has been in my head for 2 years…. It’s NOT just the DNF on its own. I get the rules/cutoffs/safety precautions. It’s all the other stuff wrapped into getting to that single moment in time that came crashing down. I’m not looking for other people to validate what I’ve done. (With the exception, possibly, of my coach…) And I’m not discouraged. Not one bit! I’m actually excited about the next attempt – because I am no longer afraid of 50 miles or another DNF or killer vertical. I’ll just train harder. 🙂 I don’t know what to say to others either. And very little anyone said to me was helpful for the first little bit. Just BEING there and being a warm body and sympathetic and listening ear was the most helpful. It’s the gift I’ll try to return the next time one of my friends faces a DNF…

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