Staring Down My First DNF

AJW's TaproomLast weekend as I was finishing up a decidedly mediocre long run and just learning of the cancellation of the 2020 Hardrock 100, I received a text message from an old friend of mine*, “Gosh AJW, it would be a shame if you had your first DNF in a virtual race.”

Dang, that stung! You see, that morning I had set out to complete a solo 50k run as part of my participation in the East Coast vs West Coast Virtual Race taking place during the month of May and I had bailed after only 17 miles due to nothing more than a simple lack of will to continue. As a result, I have yet to complete a 50k run during the month which, in turn, motivated my friend to fire off the text message.

Over the years I have earned somewhat of a reputation for being rather outspoken about DNFs. It’s not that I am one of those “death before DNF” people, it’s just that I think sometimes people DNF when they really could keep going. In fact, back in 2010 I wrote a rather antagonistic blog post about my belief that DNFs should be considered when voting for UltraRunning Magazine’s (North American) Ultrarunner of the Year. Needless to say, that post garnered a lot of attention at the time and earned me the reputation of the “anti-DNF guy.” Another friend of mine** even circulated a rumor that a DNF would likely result in a person being crossed off my Christmas card list. And, quite a few commenters in that original post are probably still out there waiting for me to have my first DNF.

Even though I have still not had a DNF in my ultrarunning career, I can think of at least three occasions when I probably should have DNFed. First, there was that time in the 2004 Angeles Crest 100 Mile that I developed rhabdomyolysis, peed brown for six hours, and ended up spending eight days in the hospital with acute renal failure. Then, there was the 2016 Hardrock 100 when I stumbled into the 91-mile aid station barely coherent. After a two-hour nap and five hot dogs, I clambered to my feet and hobbled into the finish line. Those last nine miles took me over six hours to finish. Yep, not a typo! Finally, there was the 2017 Bighorn Trail 100 Mile where I slipped in the mud around mile 60 and slammed my head into a rock, suffering a concussion. After an hour or so at the nearest aid station, I convinced the volunteers to let me continue and I stumbled on to the finish with a really big headache.

Which brings me to my looming DNF in the East Coast vs West Coast Virtual Race. I am writing this column on Thursday, May 28 and the race ends on Sunday, May 31, so I have a few more days. The weather looks pretty good this weekend and the pandemic-related restrictions at my local state park have been lifted enough to allow me to attempt my 50k. It is unlikely to be pretty but I feel like I need to get it done. There may be a DNF in my future, I am just not yet ready for it now.

Bottoms up!

*Bryon Powell

**Craig Thornley

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from our good friends at Sufferfest Brewing Company in Chico, California. Their recently released Shred is a Kolsch-inspired beer that is remarkably flavorful given its low-calorie load. Like all of Sufferfest’s offerings, this an easy-drinking beer that is simply quite good after a long, hot day out on the trail.

Call for Comments

  • So, will AJW complete his 50k run before this weekend’s virtual race ends and avoid the dreaded DNF?
  • And in more seriousness, talk about your most recent DNF–if you’ve had one. What prompted it and what do you think of it now?

There are 8 comments

    1. The Woodsman

      Yep. Exactly why Jeff Browning should get Ultra Runner of the Decade! Over 100 ultras with ONE DNF (at UTMB). Grind it out no matter what, just finish.

      (Been lucky enough that the only time I ever seriously considered DNF-ing was in a Skimo race when my climbing skins totally failed. I ended up slogging along in last place and felt bad for all the volunteers still out there in the snow just for me. Felt really selfish finishing that one, should have pulled the plug so they could go home.)

  1. Tony Mollica

    Good luck Andy! I hope the run turns out to be better than what you were expecting. To blatantly rip off and poorly paraphrase Karl Metzler “50K is not that far”.

  2. Ben Wyrick

    Even though Hardrock 2016 cut to the bone, finishing was the right call. But rhabdo? Yeah you should have bailed on that one and then you wouldn’t have this streak hanging over your head. And Beast coast it this weekend!!!

  3. Jacob D

    Andy, best wishes out there.

    I’ll probably have some shade thrown on me for saying this, but there are times when taking the DNF shows more courage and discipline than dragging yourself through something just because you can. Any knucklehead can slog out a course for hours on end via channeling pure stubbornness; source: I’m one such knucklehead. It took me a little while to arrive at my current perspective on DNF’s. Ultradistance runners are programmed to persist, to do whatever it takes, and to never stop moving – for us those things come naturally, especially as we practice them more. As with most things in life, the easy way through is rarely the way of personal growth.

    It’s worth pointing out that in terms of motivation, speaking from a clinical standpoint, striving to achieve success and being determined to avoid failure are two very different things, the latter being driven by rigid thinking, which is never good to practice.

    I enjoyed my first DNF this January. These are a few thoughts I wrote about it following Bandera.
    Those three little letters stand for “Did Not Fail”, and are the reward someone receives when they start a race but don’t finish it. Of course, those letters actually stand for something else, “Do Not Fixate”, as in: don’t get hung up on not completing a race, it couldn’t matter less. There is always another day, there is always time to put in more training, to eat and sleep better, and to figure out what a sustainable pace looks like. It’s commonly understood that DNF also stands for “DO Notice Feelings”. For instance, taking in what it means to have the ability and privilege to traverse great distances across the natural places we love is important. In other words, receiving a DNF is quite a gift.

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