Last weekend in the Endless Mountains of central Pennsylvania, I attempted the World’s End 100k. I ended up making it 22.5 miles before I decided to call it a day. In my 185th ultramarathon start, I succumbed to my first DNF. Today, just about a week later, I do not regret my decision. However, I also feel bad about it. And I have spent a few sleepless nights trying to learn from it.
The day started in the pre-dawn gloaming at 5 a.m. The first couple miles out of the state-park campground were an innocent introduction to the shoe-sucking mud and infamous Pennsylvania rocks that awaited us just up the trail. Reaching the 4.6-mile aid station after an hour and 15 minutes of running, it was clear I was in for a long day. When I hit mile 10.6 in 2:42, I considered asking the aid-station volunteers what the cutoffs were.
Fortunately, the next few miles were more benign and I began to get into a nice rhythm with a small, fun group. Until, around mile 13, that is, when I slipped and fell hard, twisting my right hip in a way that didn’t feel quite right. After walking a few minutes and rolling into a soft trot, something still felt off. On the subsequent climb I settled into a nice hiking pace and my hip flexor felt better but every time after that when I tried to run it seized up in what I could only describe to the aid-station volunteer at mile 19 as a “crain,” which was my invented word for a combined cramp and strain.
Back in 2015 when I had my first hip-resurfacing surgery, my surgeon Dr. Thomas Gross told me, “You know, while you can do anything with this hip the way it is, you need to know that you will forever have an abnormal hip and that means it will sometimes do abnormal things. You need to be prepared for that.”
As I sat in the chair at mile 19 contemplating my next move, I was thinking this might be one of those “abnormal things.”
With my face full of grilled cheese and some cold water in my pack, I plodded on for another 3.5 miles but about a mile before the Canyon View Aid Station, I knew I was going to call it a day. My left hip flexor, the one that has been my weak link since long before my 2015 surgery, was just not going to cooperate on this day. Sure, I probably could have hiked 40 miles in 13 hours but on this day I thought better of it. And, when I got to the aid station I told Wendy, the aid-station medic, “My day is done.”
Back at the start/finish when I met my crew (who hadn’t even gotten there by the time I dropped), they regaled me with comments like, “Took you long enough!” and “You should have DNFed a long time ago.” Just like everything else they’ve done to support me in this crazy sport, it was a real tough-love moment. No time for feeling sorry for myself, just time to move on.
“Well, Dad, you’re a quitter now!” said my son Tully with his 18-year-old know-it-all smirk, as we got in the car to head home with still half a day ahead of us.
And, of course, Tully is right. I am a quitter now. After 184 successful times of not quitting, I finally quit. Does that make me less of a runner? Less of dad? Less of a man? I am not sure. But what I do know is that it’s made me more accepting, more understanding, and more empathetic. If that’s the gift of my first DNF, I’ll take it.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from New Trail Brewing Company in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. A proud sponsor of the World’s End Ultra, New Trail makes a delectable Hazy IPA appropriately named Rocksylvania brewed with oats and hopped in a piney way that is reminiscent of some of the best West Coast IPAs that are decidedly unhazy. If you find yourself in Central Pennsylvania, this brewery is worth the trip!
Call for Comments
Have you DNFed a race before? Leave a comment to share your story.