I started a 32 mile race on Saturday and dropped out at mile 17. DNF – did not finish. First time in 20 years of running I’ve started a race and not collected an obnoxiously oversized finisher’s medal.
I’ve run marathons in Nor’easters, mountain races in soul-sucking heat, qualified for Boston the day after dropping a kidney stone, and staved off heat exhaustion running the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim back in 2013. Never once gave a serious thought to stopping a race I started. I just ran my first 100 miler 6 weeks ago off basically no sleep because my super pregnant wife was in a car accident right before the race and we were in and out of emergent observation for her and the baby for hours. After that one I was SURE I would never drop a race. That was 48 hours of straight swimming in cortisol and and I still crossed the finish line of that ultra – I would never have to dig out of anything worse than that, right?!
So when I first realized I was even thinking about dropping on Saturday, I really thought I was just being a pushover. I surmised the letters DNF would forever stare at me like a scarlet letter of punking out on my UltraSignup race results page. Especially after getting out to a decent start.
I had been on pace to finish under 6 hours at the Golden Gate Dirty 30 – something I’ve wanted to do since I ran it as my first trail race several years ago. After a year of going off the road and scuffling through some longer trail events, I thought it was definitely within reach. And at the mile 12 aid station I was right on pace without pushing. I felt comfortable. Honestly, I really felt good in a race for the first time this year.
Just 45 minutes later the wheels just fell off.
That happens. Most of the time these longer races allow you some time to recover. I’ll rally.
But then everything further deteriorated… Rapidly. (Hindsight – It was probably heat related, which is on me for not doing any specific heat training or a couple rounds of sauna protocol.)
When you go from cruising up steep inclines to barely slogging a 20 minute mile downhill on terrain you normally bomb down, it’s mildly frustrating. So, yeah, I was a little bummed.
But here’s why I’m not full on angry about it: I’ve been running long enough to know when I’m going through a rough spot versus just being straight up smashed. After a mini pity party on the shuttle back out of the canyon and to my mountain-standard Dad Wagon Hyundai (Hyund-yaaay), I went over every marathon and ultra I’ve run since I started running them 15 years ago. I couldn’t remember a single race where I thought, “Man, I really phoned that in like the Clinton campaign in Michigan!” And if I’ve left a trail of bone marrow and Body Glide across every race I’ve run, I’m content in knowing what race situations are salvageable and how to salvage them. And conversely, I know when it’s stupid to hang on purely for the sake of limping in miserably five minutes ahead of a cutoff time. I’ve got enough finish line photos where I look like Bruce Wayne after his first night out in the bat suit.
And stumbling in to the third aid station on Saturday, I knew I had cashed in all my cards. My legs were like Cleveland in the 2018 NBA Finals – they ain’t comin’ back. Dropping was appropriate. I told a race attendant to cut my wrist band off and radio it in. “#59 out at aid 3”. DNF.
Even though I had to tarnish my lifelong record of finishing every race, I know the record of trying everything possible in every race remains intact. That’s the one I’m most proud of and will never let slip.
And by dropping, I really think I was able to preserve the capacity to sneak up a few other peaks this summer before our baby girl is born. And of course, keep alive the irrational and arbitrary summer 2k18 goal of saying I ran to get donuts at the summit of Pikes Peak. Because like Kanye West, and I quote, “I’m dope and I do dope (expletive).”