A DNF is a tough pill to swallow. We’re probably all going to experience it at some point for a variety of reasons but when you get your first DNF, how do you deal with it? Just 48 hours after bailing at mile 49 in Race to the Stones, I’m still trying to come to terms with it.
Entering the Race
I entered Race to the Stones in between my first and second ultra and along the way had completed the 44-mile Brecon to Cardiff ultra in a respectable time with no issues apart from general fatigue. Granted this was going to be 18/19 miles further, which is not a walk in the park, but I was confident I would reach the end. I would have 24 hours to complete it and I’m sure I’d be capable of completing it in 14 hours if everything went to plan. And if it didn’t go quite to plan surely I could just keep shuffling on until the finish. But, as with most things in life, everything doesn’t always go to plan.
In the days leading up to the race I developed an issue with my left knee that would cause discomfort whilst running even short distances. It would come and go and without actually running it would be difficult to know whether it would cause any issues.
In order to help prevent any issues I used some Rock Tape to offer some support. I’m not convinced it actually works but I’ll settle for a placebo if it helps. For the first 6 miles everything was fine but a mixture of rain and sweat caused the tape to come off just as I was descending a steep hill. Not sure if it was the tape coming off or the hill (it was bound to be the hill) but the discomfort made an appearance. This immediately caused me to doubt how well the race was going to go.
I put up with the discomfort and then at the first aid station I took some paracetamol and carried on. The discomfort eased but I couldn’t be sure if the paracetamol helped or it was due to the terrain or the rest I had at the aid station. The pain would continue to appear as the race progressed resulting in running with a limp at times.
In addition I was experiencing some major chafing in my groin. I had used Body Glide before the race and used anti-chafing cream at the aid stations but by the 3rd and 4th aid stations it was getting pretty messy down there.
Around mile 46 I was slowing down to a shuffle and my heart rate was increasing. About a mile later I was starting to feel nauseous, light-headed and the tips of my fingers were tingling. I knew I was experiencing dehydration.
I told some other runners to let the next aid station about me in the hope that they would come to my aid. I sat down for a while before realising that I would have to make my own may to the aid station. I walked extremely slowly and not in a straight line either! The two miles to the aid station were hellish but it did give me time to reflect on the situation and accept that this was probably going to be the end of the race.
On arrival I started to experience fever like shivering so was wrapped in a space blanket and given food, liquids and dioralyte. All eventually helped but a combination of everything that had happened meant that I had decided to call it a day.
Was it the Right Decision?
I had to wait around 4 hours for a van to arrive to take me to the finish line and in that time I saw dozens of people arriving at the aid stations with issues and then continuing. Some knew that it would take them 4 hours to cover the last 12 miles which would mean not arriving until 4 am but they were going for it. This was hard for me to deal with. Was I throwing in the towel too early? Should I be plodding on regardless of the pain?
Making the decision to DNF before the aid station was good in one way but on the flip side, it meant that I wasn’t going to be persuaded by other runners. If I hadn’t decided would I have been persuaded and if I had would it have been wrong for me to continue? One reason for not wanting to continue was the risk of making either my knee, my foot or the chafing worse or becoming dehydrated again.
Being sat in aid station for so long meant encountering a lot of people. At one point I was sat next to someone who was capable of running 100-milers and had his fair share of DNFs. It was interesting hearing him talk to his support crew (his dad) as he was processing his options and eventually coming to the realisation that a DNF was his best option. He wasn’t injured, was just exhausted from poor choices of food along the way. It was reassuring that even more experienced runners still have DNFs.
Lessons to be Learnt
I thought I was drinking enough fluids along the way but evidently not. I was drinking a mixture of Tailwind, High 5 from the aid stations and squash and Coke. One issue may be that I don’t genuinely like anything that I put in my bottles. I know they have necessary electrolytes and more but should I be seeking out other drinks that I genuinely like and sourcing electrolytes from elsewhere?
I had salt tablets with me and I was taking them periodically but knowing that Tailwind would be helping with salt intake I probably didn’t have enough.
Food intake may also have been an issue. I had taken plenty with me but as the aid stations were well stocked I was using very little. At first I was was taking on board crisps, oranges and sweets but then I starting eating less but also not using anything that I was carrying!
I’m still in new territory and learning all the time. Each race provides new experiences and new lessons to learn from.
Not Finishing is OK!
I didn’t finish but it was the furthest I’d ever ran (and walked). Despite not finishing I should still take it as a huge achievement!
A DNF is Not Failure
You can’t help but think that you’ve failed, especially when you are looking back on the race but it’s completely different when you are in the race.
That Which Does Not Kill Us, Makes Us Stronger
Even though I’ve appeared to make similar mistakes over various races, I’m gradually learning more which will help in future races.
Even though I didn’t finish I still raised £675 for Crohn’s and Colitis UK, a charity close to my heart. And upon reaching the finish I learned that because I had run more than 50K I still received a medal. It doesn’t feel quite having the same medal as those that completed the full distance but it’s still bling!
But What Was the Race Like?
This post can’t all be doom and gloom. The actual race was pretty darn awesome and was extremely well organised from start to (almost) finish.
Upon arrival it was easy to park the car and jump on the pre-booked shuttle bus. The bus took us to the start of the race although the driver did get a little lost. Registration was extremely quick and there were plenty of toilets available with hardly any queues.
Runners were set off in waves to make it easier to make your way through narrow paths and help thin out the runners. Being chip timed it made no difference when you started although the later you started the higher chance you had of having to run in the dark.
The aid stations were extremely well-stocked with food, drink, medics and thankfully portable toilets. I always struggle to induce bowel movements prior to a race so at the first aid station the row of green toilets were a very welcome sight.
The scenery along the way was stunning with a good mix of terrain – woodland trails, rivers, chalk paths, vistas and the infamous Field of Dreams to run through.
Those taking the 2 day option had a cracking basecamp with lots of food, massages, a bar and more. I had originally booked the 2 day option before switching to 1 day so as I passed through I couldn’t help imagine taking a break in one of the tents.
There was plenty of support along the way from random walkers, people in the villages and those welcoming runners into aid stations. Words of support definitely go a long way in a tough race.
Despite not finishing the race, I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to participate in it and would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone wanting to complete a challenging ultra or get a good time on a 100K race.