Running After DNF, by Heather Griffith

DNF.  It’s not the end of the world, not the end of my running career, and it damn sure is not the end of me.

If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s failing.

Barely a year into my new running hobby, after finishing my first 100k, I signed up for my first 100 miler.  Chattanooga 100.  Maybe a little too ambitious?  Didn’t matter to me, I had time to train.

The hours and miles spent training became a bit demanding.  Training allowed me to escape the chaos of the day with three small kids, working on a degree, and a deployed husband.  I looked forward to my time spent on the trail.  No one to bother me and I could focus on my goal.  Running consumed my calendar and I was constantly adjusting events to fit around my runs.  I didn’t care that I had to make those adjustments, and I did not expect people to understand it.  This goal was mine, not theirs.

Marine Corps Marathon.  Five weeks before Chattanooga.  I remember thinking during the race “what in the hell makes me think I can run 100 miles if I’m struggling with a marathon!?”  These are the times that we must tap into our brain and tell it what to think, instead of the other way around.  Going into a marathon is a different mindset.  It’s a shorter distance, and your brain only preps for the 26.2 miles to the finish, not 100.  So, I tell myself to suck it up, and push harder.

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Race day.  I didn’t even feel nervous.  Weird.  Somewhere between mile 45-50, I wanted to quit.  I’ve never had that thought during a race.  I started to experience anxiety over the distance I had left to cover.  I wondered why I put myself through this kind of nonsense. I started thinking about going back through the 16 mile stretch with no aid. Fuck. I told myself that I had no legitimate reason to quit, and I would regret it if I did.  All I needed to do was get to the aid station at mile 50, change my head lamp batteries and contacts and roll out.  So that’s what I did.  Running down the hill out of the aid station I remember distinctly thinking “I’m about to finish the fuck out of this race!”  But I didn’t.  I missed the time cutoff at mile 70 by 25 minutes.

I got back to our room, changed out of my wet clothes and curled up under my blanket to get my body temp up from running in the rain for 23 hours.  When I woke up an hour or so later, it had set in.  I DNF’d.  I cried.  My heart was broken, my pride shattered.  I believed in my soul I would finish that race.  I had talked myself out of quitting.  I managed my way out of overwhelming anxiety on the trail.  But I still didn’t finish.

The secret to ultramarathons, adaptability.  How quickly we adapt to the ever-changing weather, scenarios on the trail, and the garbage our brain is telling us can make our break our race.  I simply did not adapt well enough. My mind was spinning.  If I can’t finish Chattanooga, what in the hell makes me think I can finish the Georgia Death Race at the end of March?  And I sure as hell wasn’t going to touch another 100 miler.  I had crushing doubt that I would not be able to finish yet another race.  To protect my tiny heart, I just won’t attempt anything difficult, and I will stick to what I know I can finish.

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I’ve spent these last few weeks attempting to sort my thoughts over my DNF at Chattanooga.  I know where I went wrong, I know what I need to adjust for next time.  And I know that I must go back.  The hardest part is convincing myself that I can do it.  That I have the mental and physical resilience to muscle through whatever may come up and keep pushing through.

Here I am in the beginning weeks of training for Georgia Death Race.  Taking what I’ve learned from Chattanooga to better my race strategy.  Putting trust in my training up to this point, and the training to come in the weeks to come.  That’s the easy part.  Convincing my brain that I can do this, that my legs are strong enough, that I can adapt any obstacle that comes up.  That’s the hard part.

DNF.  It’s not the end of the world, not the end of my running career, and it damn sure is not the end of me. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s failing.  But if there is one thing that I’m annoyingly good at, it’s not knowing when to quit.

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