We all have our good days and our bad days. We have no idea which days those will be, which is what makes life interesting and unique. An adventure.
It’s how we are able to appreciate great things when they come because you need the good with the bad. And it’s in your personal perspective of how you handle the bad that allows for growth and development.
Bighorn was my first DNF.
From the very start, I wasn’t feeling great. The start was at 11 in the morning on Friday on a dirt road leading into a canyon. Clear skies left the sun all alone in the sky to beat down on us. I don’t know the official temperature at the start but I would say it was about 80 degrees.
After the gun went off, everyone took off down this road for about a mile before hitting a single track trail that lead us up the canyon. My strategy for this race was patience, patience and patience.
I knew the first part of the race was going to be grueling and I felt that if I could take it easy early, that I would be able to slowly pick off the group of people that went ahead of me from the start and ultimately have a solid race.
Within the first mile, I was raining sweat down my face. I knew the first few hours of the race were going to be hot so I decided to pop a salt pill earlier than my typical plan.
Once we hit the trail, it rolled for about a mile or mile and a half. On this small stretch I had a weird feeling that I needed to throw up. I just thought it was just pre-race nerves still lingering inside that just needed a few miles to get out of me.
Once we were a few miles in, the course took us on a massive un-runnable climb. About a six mile stretch of hiking with about 3,000 feet of elevation gain. If you looked up the trail, you could see a long line of runners marching up with their heads down and hands on their knees. And looking down was the same imagine of soldiers.
Some were trying to pass people here impatiently, maybe not knowing that this was going to take awhile to get up. All of this with the sun beating down had my shirt and shorts dripping with sweat and from water that I poured on my head from my water bottles. I could have wrung out my clothes they were so wet.
Even though we weren’t running, it was still a hard hike. The feeling of needing to throw up left me as we hiked on. I expected this intense climb but I was ready to get it over with to get back to running.
It took me and the group of people I was around about 1.5 hours to do this ascent. From there we had about a mile to get to the next aid station. By the time I got there, both of my water bottles were just about out. I refilled them and finished off my first Clif bar.
Leaving that station I felt good for about a mile before both of my hamstrings were beginning to twinge…I was only 9 miles into the race. I knew I was sweating a bunch but I didn’t think much of it. And even though I took my first salt pill earlier than normal I also didn’t think to up the doseage. I thought maybe it was the long climb that had my legs feeling off.
I kept to my own easy pace. People were starting to pass me and I began to notice my easy pace was getting slower and slower. Nothing was feeling good at this point and that weird feeling in my stomach was back.
On the other side though, I was right on pace and sticking to my patience plan. At mile 13 was the first major aid station and also the first crew stop of the race. Because of the remoteness of the course there were only 3 crew points from the start to the turn around point and a crew wouldn’t be able to go to all three becuase of how long it takes to just drive to each spot. So it was either your crew hits the first and third or just the second.
Luckily for me I had two crews. My parents drove all the way out from Georgia for the race and they were stationed at the second spot. I had recruited a friend, his wife and daughter to help with crewing me at the other spots.
I came into this first major aid station right on the money of when I said I would be there, 3 hours. I handed my bottles to my crew to be refilled and as they were doing this I told them I felt like shit and that nothing was feeling good. I popped 2 salt pills, took a few sips of chicken broth and a few sips of a sports drink. I grabbed a few GUs, Clif bar and a PB&J.
After I left them, I had to actually run into the aid station so the electronic sensors would record my time. Right when I turned back around to get back running, my calf cramped up and put me on the ground. A friend that was volunteering as medical aid at this stop was only a few feet away. She got down and offered to massage the cramp away. Gladly accepting the offer from her, my friend who was crewing ran over with The Stick and I rolled it out for a minute.
Once the cramp went away I jumped up and took off running. There was a nice long downhill and the next chunk of miles were looking to be runnable with minimal hiking.
I got about a mile away from the aid station and remembered that I needed to eat something. I grabbed the ziplock baggie with my sandwich and pulled it out. Before it even touched my mouth I was gagging. I held onto in for a minute longer and decided to put it back in my pack. I forced down a GU instead. That has hard to get down and probably within a minute my first dry heaving fit came. It was like a cough that faded into that sound of throwing up, only nothing came up. Seemed like this happened about every fine minutes all the way until the next aid station at mile 19ish. Sometimes these fits had me hunched over with my hands on my knees and saliva spitting out.
I debated making myself throw up to see if I would feel better.
When I got to the next station I felt like rest was much much needed. I grabbed a cup of sports drink and sat in the grass under a tent.
There, another runner who I had met last summer at a race, was sitting in a chair with a bowl of potato chips.
“How are you doing?” I asked him.
“Not too good. My stomach feels like crap and I feel like I need to throw up.”
“I’m having the same problems.”
“And I’ve felt like this the entire race so far” Nick said.
“Me too man! I wanted to throw up about a mile into the race. I think this heat is getting to me.”
An aid station volunteer came up and offered me watermelon with salt on it and I ate it up. Then another runner came and sat with us. He said he was experiencing the exact same things.
I’m not sure which one of us brought it up, but the idea of forcing ourselves to throw up came up.
The guy that came in after me stood up, went for a patch of bushes and stuck his finger down his throat.
When he came back he said he felt better. We all sat for a few more minutes. Throw up guy took off first and then Nick and I got moving again together. Maybe a minute after leaving, throw up guy was walking back, shaking his head and said “nope” as we went by. Not sure if he was calling it a day or not, but I never saw him again.
When Nick and I left, we were joined by about 4 ladies. We fell into a solid rhythm of running the flats and downs and hiking up the inclines. One of the ladies offered some nausea medicine. I declined it but Nick took it.
Not long after that, he was feeling better and ended up leaving us behind. I held up the caboose of this small pack.
I wasn’t having any dry heaves since getting to the last aid station, which was a great sign but I had a constant side cramp. I also remember around this point, a guy was close behind me and dry heaving himself. It sounded so disgusting and I felt for him too.
Slowly I began to fade from this group of women and my legs were threatening to cramp again on every little incline.
The next stop wasn’t really a stop. There was a pipe coming out of the ground with spring water gushing out of it and everyone was taking this chance to refill on water.
I pulled one bottle from my pack and refilled it. I took a big gulp and immediately began heaving again. I chilled out for about a minute before moving on again. From the pipe, we had about 3 miles to the next aid station.
This was around when I started to feel faint. I just pushed away the temptation to sit off to the side of the trail.
This was also when I would drink some water and keeping that down was hard. When I started gagging on water, I began to think I was in trouble.
No doubt I was death marching now.
Finally getting to the next aid station, I completely laid out. Another runner was already laying down too.
I imagined I had this dazed look on my face as a few volunteers looked at me with concerned faces.
Laying there I had my first thoughts of DNFing. I was thinking about where I was in the race, only about 27 miles in and how much further I had to go. I wasn’t feeling better, my body was starting to reject even water and I honestly was having zero fun.
I felt miserable.
I think I was laying for about 10 or 15 minutes before I decided to get up. Before leaving I thought the beef jerky on the table spread looked awesome, so I grabbed a handful.
Surprisingly it tasted great and went down well….for about a minute. Then it about came back up.
From here, the trail steeply declined and even had stretches with thick mud, about ankle deep in spots. All of this was not mixing well with how I was already feeling.
Everything together just destroyed me mentally and physically.
Somewhere along this stretch, I officially made my mind up to call it a day. The next stop was at mile 30, which was where my parents would be. I had never felt this bad before in a race. And I didn’t have it in me to endure another 70 miles of it, especially if I was going to fell this way.
I always expect to feel that shitty late in a race, but to feel that way so early on I felt that the day was just not my day.
As I came into my last aid station, I said to my parents “I’m done.” That’s all and I sat down in the chair they had. My Dad asked if I was sure.
No one could have convinced me to keep going and nothing anyone would have said would have changed my mind.
When I made made my mind up about DNFing, I kept asking myself if I was sure and if I would regret the decision. The answers were always yes that I was sure and no I would not.
When I told the volunteer who was working the timing, she asked for my bib and I handed it over feeling good about my decision. As I was walking back towards my parents a guy came up to me asked if my number was 356. I said it was and he said that he was the medical guy for this station and that the last stop had radioed him to check on me when I came in.
I told him I’d be fine and that I have finished for the day.
It just wasn’t in the cards for me that day. And I had no problem accepting that mentally.
The day after a friend of mine posted this on my Facebook:
“One piece of advice from my assistant coach in college that I’ve never forgotten: ‘You have days where you don’t feel good running. Sometimes it’s an easy morning run. Sometimes it’s the Olympic finals.’ Running is a cruel mistress.”
Having reassurance felt great but it also reminded me of how I put runners down for giving up on race day. I’ve never understood when someone says that they just didn’t feel great that day. I definitely never understood it when an elite runner would say that. In hindsight, it’s easy to sit behind a computer screen and judge someone for giving in. In this sport, you almost need to have a finish or die mentality. But the only person that can justify a DNF is the runner. Sometimes the best thing a person can do is know when to push through or to call it a day.
I think the hardest part about this was disappointing my parents and the friends that were my other crew. It was hard to say sorry for failing. And I felt like I let all of them down.
But I know that the only way to think of this as a failure, would be if I didn’t learn anything from it. I am willing to say that since I dropped from the race, that I have learned more about myself, life and running than any 4 year degree could have given me. I feel enriched and that this a valuable experience I will never forget and something I will only grow from.
There will be tons of races to come for me and one race won’t bring me down, stop me or define me.
Running, for me and many others, can be a lifestyle that takes over your life. But running isn’t everything to life. And my first DNF brought me to that realization.
The day after, I went back to the finish area to cheer people on. There were other races going on including a 50 miler, 50k and 30k as well, so there were tons of people finishing up. I ended up running a friend in the last two miles of his first 50k and made sure to pump him with motivation and words of encouragement to get him across his finish line.
I met a bunch of amazing people and seeing everyone finish their race was inspirational. Getting back out was probably the best thing for me because I know I would have sat at home and let my thoughts eat me up.
It does suck that the race I was training for 6-7 months didn’t unfold how I expected. Now I am left with the wonder of what I should do next with the fitness I still have…
Thank you everyone for all of the support and encouragement along the way! The journey to get to this point has been nothing but amazing and reading every comment over the months has helped me continue on. Your words keep me going as much as I hope I am inspiring others to chase your dreams.