Staring Down My First DNF

AJW writes about DNFing.

By on May 29, 2020 | 8 comments

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?
Andy Jones-Wilkins
finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.