D-N-F, Did Not Finish, 3 letters that runners despise. Up until Valentine’s Day weekend they were letters that I knew existed, but had not experienced put together as a runner. They were mythical, mysterious, dreaded, like zombies and unicorns. Things that happened to other people. I had contemplated them, like my first trail race, but not allowed them in. Like door to door salesmen, they were banned from entering and thus, they couldn’t get me to buy into their scheme. Unfortunately, one snuck past the goalie in this case and there really wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it.
I have bad luck, well, more bad timing. Last year saw snowstorms cut short a race trip, ran a half on the hottest day ever (roughly), and had a clan full of super-sick before a marathon. Apparently just the challenge of the race isn’t enough, I must do it with a big sack of life on my back. This race, The Cross Timbers Trail Marathon, was no exception. I had been fighting knee soreness the last month or two and so I eased into training. I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be, but wasn’t completely unprepared. That was the small problem. The large problem came about a week before the time to travel. Kids got really sick, which meant that a few days before it was time to leave I got really sick. Luckily it was one of those in and out in 24 hours, drive through flu type sicknesses. But the damage was done. I drudged myself down to Texas, still reeling a bit.
I can be a pretty stubborn guy. If you tell me I cannot do something, I am probably going to try. I am strongly adverse to quitting or giving up. I think this tends to be a necessary trait for runners. Mrs. Squatch said I should have stayed home, and she was probably right, but I didn’t. So when race day morning came, I wasn’t quite sure what the day had in store for me. I didn’t have quite the same nervous excitement. It was more, anxious dread. I knew at BEST it was going to be very difficult day, and at worse, a DNF was in play. But again, my own head was telling me I may not be able to do this so I needed to try it. Besides, I didn’t drive 500 mi to go even lower and get a DNS (Did Not Start) right? Off we went to the race, very early in the morning, mostly me in my own head wondering if I had enough in me to do this.
I am going to start with the bad part of the race first and get it out of the way. I felt so much better Sat. morning illness wise. It was basically gone. However I still had some lingering, disruptions. I wasn’t eating as well as I had hoped/needed to be. When I got to the tent to get much bib, I seriously contemplated asking if I could drop to the half (in hindsight this would have been 100% the correct call). I didn’t, I wanted the full or nothing because stubborn. I got my bib and pinned it on and waited. Time soon came and off we went. This is a new trail to me, so I was rather cautious to not go too fast not knowing what all was in store for me other than the general reports/terrain map. It was not easy. It wasn’t by any stretch brutal or impassable, just more challenging than I had though. That really wasn’t a big deal as I wasn’t setting a blistering pace or anything. What really started nagging on me by about mile 3 was that I had no energy what so ever. Everything felt absolutely dead. I felt like I had finished running a marathon and was starting a new one. This was very disconcerting to me. What was compounding the issue was that I was still having trouble eating. It was around mile 9 that I decided to pull the plug and withdraw. I wasn’t necessarily broken at that point, I wasn’t in acute pain, and I wasn’t violently ill, I just knew that things were deteriorating rapidly and I was putting myself in a bit of danger. Out I went, back to the tent, phone call to my dad to get me, and some real disappointment and lament. My first DNF.
It wasn’t a total loss though. Now, on to the good stuff. First of all, I did 9 tough miles on what was at that point, basically a shell of myself. Could I have done more, probably, could it have damaged me, probably. I made a decision to protect myself and I was proud I wasn’t too stubborn for my own health and safety. Another reason I made my decision is due to the awesome terrain. There were lot of tricky ups and downs (for me, I mean, I am sure this would be considered a bunny course for them super gnarly trails) and some had decent drop offs to the side. I was getting really worn down and dragging my feet, which generally results in tripping. It’s one thing for this to happen on mile 20, but another at say mile 8. I didn’t want to injure myself, I have much bigger plans this year. So I was at least content with pulling out. Furthermore, I got to see 9 miles of an awesome trail. It was gorgeous. The lake at sunrise was worth the admission. It was misty/foggy out, really just one of those nature moments you soak in. The trail ran along the lake and had very nice views. It was tough enough to require attention be paid, but open in areas to soak it in. The sandy dirt was not super-tough, or super-slick where wet and muddy. The climbs were hard and had names. S.O.B. hill and Stairway to Heaven were aptly named. While not having gas in the tank, I had a lot of fun experiencing the trail. The aid stations were great as were the people in them. The one I stopped at to withdraw was awesome. They were playing catch and having fun until the next runners came, then right to action. They learned my name not just my number and took care of me, keeping my spirits up despite the situation. Plus, it sat right on the lake, so if I had to do the unwanted deed, it was at least a scenic place to do it and reflect for a few minutes.
In the end, I am glad I efforted, I am glad I tried. I hate DNF, very very much, but I understand it. I failed to do what I had set out, but perhaps I also was successful at recognizing what was happening and preventing something worse from happening. It sucks that I was looking forward to this for so long and it didn’t pan out, but, there is always next year. I do need to come back and redeem myself, still stubborn after all. It was an amazing course with amazing people and I want the damn medal. I guess when I get there, it will be that much sweeter. Until then, I have a little motivational agitation.