Did not finish.
The ‘dreaded’ DNF.
I thought I was going to be really upset when I saw that a DNF was likely, but actually I dropped out feeling good, and to this day, am glad it was the decision that I made.
Here’s how the event unfolded, and why I am not seeking self-forgiveness for the DNF.
Race organisers: Sikhs in the city
Race: Sunlight ultra
Distance: As many 2km laps as you can do from sunrise until sunset
Elevation: 54ft per lap
I think it’s fair to say that my race preparation hadn’t been ideal.
I hadn’t been sleeping well, and I was on the tail-end of a kidney infection – both of which were out of my control – but the lack of road running in the lead up to it was entirely my own doing!
The two days prior to the race, I worked from 2pm-10.30pm, and then 8am-4.30pm the following day. Safe to say that I was reasonably tired. And my legs? Well they were as unfresh as ever!
The aim of the race was to put some miles on the clock before February’s 100 miler, so it was nice standing at the start line with no pressures, expectations or anxieties about what the day would bring. I acknowledged the race as an opportunity to mentally toughen myself up, as well as get in a longish run.
As always, the night before the ‘race’ was spent food prepping. I made sandwiches and my usual peanut butter oat balls.
The great thing about a lap race is that you really have the opportunity to micro-manage your nutrition.
You can really time what you want, and when you want it.
I have found a food intake or ‘nutrition regimen’ that suits me well. For breakfast, I will have a sizeable oat and chia porridge plus a few peanut butter oat balls. After that, the next thing I eat will be 12 miles into the run. From 12 miles onwards, I take in 200-250kcal per hour for the rest of the run.
I’ll be honest here: I went into the race expecting hell.
I’ve never run a lap race. And I don’t like road running. So the thought of doing a lap race on the road made me think that I was going to meet some new demons.
Not the case one bit!
I am still surprised to find this was the case, but I actually really enjoyed my time out on the course. I think largely it was due to the predictable nature of the footing, and the ease with which I could switch off. Although I love nothing more than some gnarly terrain, it does require large efforts of concentration. Given how tired I was, I think I really appreciated the opportunity to just switch off and let my legs take control.
I locked into a pace that felt comfortable and sustainable – somewhere around the 9 minutes per mile mark – and ignored my watch for the rest of the run.
Other than a quick-wardrobe-change-come-bathroom-stop, the run was uninterrupted until the knee niggle started becoming an issue.
Despite enjoying the run, I could feel a niggle in my right ITB – just on the outer side of my knee – around mile 12. Given that I was running anti-clockwise loops, if anywhere was going to hurt, it would there!
At mile 17 I decided that yes, the pain really was quite significant, and that I would take a tramadol to see if it would ease up.
I’ve never taken tramadol before. I’m not big on taking drugs to get me through a race if I can help it: it doesn’t seem sensible or natural. But, given that I was in such a controlled and enclosed environment, I figured that if I was going to try a strong painkiller, now was the time to test it. Heck, if I had a bad reaction to it, I was surrounded by people and on the doorstep of the hospital! Please note, I’m not advising anything drug related – this is simply what happened on the day.
Plus, I’m a pharmacologist. I’m a curious type!
Mile 19 came and my ITB felt even worse. Cue a second tramadol and an ibuprofen.
Still no relief.
Approaching the DNF
Around mile 16 when my ITB niggle was giving intense pain, I considered that I may well have to drop out of the run if it didn’t ease up.
Sure enough, the pain didn’t ease.
The decision was simple and easy:
I am 3 hours into an 8 hour race, and I’m in pain. Is there really any point in pushing through another 5 hours in pain?
The answer was no.
Despite the knee pain, I’d been really enjoying the experience on the whole, and there didn’t seem like an awful lot of reason to push through to say that I’d completed the race.
Heck, I’ve run 68 miles over stupid terrain – I’d nothing to prove to myself.
If two tramadol and an ibuprofen aren’t enough to ease the pain, that’s a pretty clear message from my body. I’d rather drop out before I did any serious damage to my body than push on for the sake of it.
At the point of my DNF, I was 2nd lady for the ultra.
I was urged by the marshals to run a final few laps so that I’d get 2nd lady for the regular marathon. But really, what was the point?
I didn’t enter the marathon, so it didn’t seem fair to jump in at the last moment and take someone else’s prize.
I felt really happy, relaxed and completely zen – there was no need to round my run to a marathon or a tidy number. Prize at stake or not.
I spent the rest of the afternoon wrapped up and at the side of the course feeding and cheering the other runners.
I’m not sure how many cups of tea I made for the other competitors, but it was easily into double figures!
It was a lovely feeling being able to give back and cheer the runners on.
On top of this, I met the most incredible guy: he was 104 years old and still running. What an inspiration. I honestly could have popped with pride for him. So. Much. Love.
The race organisers and atmosphere
This was a well organised, and lovely event to attend. Everyone helping at the event was so warm, welcoming and friendly. The food provided at the aid station…onion bhaji? Yes please!
This is one of the nicest races that I’ve been to. The event was low key and relaxed, but everyone was full of enthusiasm for the event.
The following day I woke up feeling like the right-hand-side of my lower body had been hit by a car. But that’s probably because I hadn’t run on roads for so long!
It’s been a few weeks now since the DNF, and I can honestly say that I look back on the experience with nothing but fondness and positivity.
There will be times in the future when I consider a DNF, but I push through and be completely glad that I didn’t throw in the towel. In this instance, however, it was definitely the right call. If it was a simple case of ‘I can’t be bothered with this’, I’d be kicking myself, but the odds just didn’t stack up to keep running.
There is no shame in pulling out of a race if it feels like the right thing to do.
The DNF stats
Distance: 22 miles
Time: 3 hours 12
Although I’ll openly admit that road-running isn’t my favourite, I’m looking forward to doing another lap-race in the near future!
So here you have it, my first DNF.
No frowns. No shame. No beef.
Just a great day and another experience to tuck behind my ear.