This is a personal post about DNF'ing last week's Burning Man Ultramarathon 50K race. Yes. I DNF'd. OMGWTFHOWWHYWOMG. I know...that's how I felt at times, too. Read on.
Last week I took one of my only vacations of the year, flew across the country, drove 14 hours, hauling tons of stuff including all food and water for a week, to go to Burning Man to run the Burning Man 50K Ultramarathon. This is one of my favorite races (and weeks!) there is, and it's something I look forward to half the year. It's the only reason I ended up saying "yes" to go to such a crazy place like Burning Man in the first place after friends had invited me for years.
But last week was also the first and *only time ever* I've DNF'd a race. (DNF stands for "Did Not Finish" for those of you who don't know what that is because you'd never consider not finishing a race...) Well, there was one other time a few years ago I dropped around mile 8 during a small trail race after rolling my ankle on trails covered in snow, while lost, when it was 27F outside (i.e., miserable). I had only decided to run it the night before, and we were only doing 13.1 for fun, so it's different than a "big" long-distance race that one looks forward to all year.
They say "listen to your body". I'm usually good at this, but I'm also one to challenge the body and push myself further and further, sometimes not knowing a true challenge from pushing to pure exhaustion, as many endurance runners do. Dropping out around mile 14.3 last week was a painful and tough decision, and the aftermath of inner embarrassment, guilt and feeling of failure hasn't been much better. I've been running and racing for almost 15 years and dropping out of a race had never occurred to me. Even during the hardest points of a marathon or ultra, it just wasn't an option. And I think I've only once had to DNS (did not start) a "major" race because of an injury (a NYC half marathon many years ago).
A number of factors contributed to my decision to only run half the race: In weeks prior, I had been working a lot and sleeping very little, averaging 5.5-6 hours/night. I had "trained", but was mostly banging out 20-22M runs the last 3 weekends, with lots of weights, plyometrics, spin, yoga and Pilates workouts in between -- with #nodaysoff. I've also been healing (ignoring?!) a hamstring injury that just hasn't gotten better, no matter how much Rumble Roller-ing I do. I also went to a power yoga class on Saturday, 4 days before the race, got 2 hours of sleep that night, and proceeded to sit in a car for 14 hours less than 24 hours later. I got to Burning Man, and of course didn't sleep much more Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The day before the race during the 2 mile warm up run, I rolled my ankle at the roller disco after we ran a loop around their stage. That did not help, either. Factor in doing lots physical labor to help set up our camp, biking around the playa for 2 days, some dancing, some drinking, and not eating much (the heat and dry air depletes your appetite!), I'm sure I was probably underhydrated as well. Then there's the race itself with elevation, sun and dust, but that's usually okay...just not so easy. All in all, it was not the best conditions to run 31 miles for over 5.5 hours. And I felt like crap.
The day before when I heard the uber-amazing queen of fitness who's always in perfect shape, who runs long distances as much as (or more than) me, Robin Arzon aka @RobinNYC, was not running the Ultramarathon...as well as my great friend Michael Liss (out with an injury and training for an Ironman), I felt more demotivated to run, but it struck me and inspired me. Inspired, because I know these two are probably just like me -- rarely drops out, pushes ourselves hard, and surely making a tough decision to listen to their needs and their bodies instead of pushing themselves too far wasn't easy. It was the first time I felt it might be okay to listen to my body and DNF (or, DNS).
(SEE!? YOU CAN STILL HAVE FUN DNF'ING!)
So, I ran a good 2 loops for 14.2 miles, and probably could have kept going but with much agony, and a terrible recovery. (I'm happy to at least say I ran the unofficial Burning Man HALF Marathon!) After my run, I hung around at the finish, got drinks and food for runners, even had to get some medical help, and cheered on all the other finishing runners until the last one came through after 8.5 hours (!)
This experience made me think about the stigma around DNF, whether it's mostly our own internal pressure, shame and guilt, or a real stigma coming from the culture of endurance athletes, or a bit of both. And why it's so hard to just "listen to the body" and be okay with dropping out, or taking a race off, or just cheering on others from the side? Why can't we be okay with ourselves and cut ourselves a little break once in a while? And take a moment to remember why we run? It's not to kill ourselves, but to have fun and challenge ourselves in healthy ways. In the end, we are all human, made of the same matter and energy as each other, as the stars, as everything in the universe...and we have good days and bad days and it is what it is, and it's okay.
Anyway, next time you feel the shame and failure feeling when dropping out of a race, just remember that we all do it -- Olympic athletes, that 100 miler ultrarunner in your running group, the 2:45 marathoner, even the girl who's dedicated her career to build a running brand -- we've all been there, our bodies have ups and downs, and it's okay. Just enjoy the time not running, heal your body well for the next race, be at peace with "what is" and cheer for all the other runners, they appreciate you not running more than you realize! As these pictures prove, I still had the time of my life and felt a part of the race as much as anyone else. I'm okay now, and glad I dropped out. It's now time to take care of my body before my next race in a couple months.