Why a DNF is the Best Thing to Happen to Me
This is a guest post by Hollie Holden. Photo by Adam Gilbert Ciuk.
It was supposed to be just another training run, with the bonus of aid stations and a medal. It should have been reasonably comfortable and ‘just’ another stepping stone towards my 50 mile goal in a couple of months time. It should be achievable enough that I can run again the following day but I ended up finishing with only 12 km clocked on my Suunto at the Run Like A Girl Be Fearless trail marathon in Squamish. I DNF’d and have decided to DNS the Squamish 50 mile race, along with any other race I had in my schedule leading up to that day.
I need a break.
It’s just not fun any more—what’s the point of doing something if you don’t enjoy it?
In the months leading up to the race I felt tired. I never really had any great long runs. Sure I got through them, including a beautiful trail marathon on Orcas Island, but it was always a bit of a struggle. I am self-employed with a work schedule that can only be described as a yo-yo—I love the fact it gives me the flexibility to run up a mountain midday on a Wednesday, but oh man it can be a struggle when you have mountains of deadlines pulling you in a million different directions all at once. Add in ultra training and there is zero time or energy left for anything else.
I even rolled my ankle a couple of times. I NEVER roll my ankles, often joking how strong they are. This led to a minor injury, or niggle, that I’ve been battling for about 8 weeks now. I can run through it but its annoying. I felt like everything was starting to fall apart.
But it was all going to be totally fine. I had a trip to California for a week planned at the end of May, goals for that week were to just sit on my butt by the pool in the sunshine! After a week of R&R ,I would feel fresh and ready to tackle the last 2.5 months of hard training before Squamish 50!
It didn’t quite work out as planned.
I got to the start line of the RLAG Be Fearless trail marathon feeling pretty uninspired, unmotivated and probably had already mentally checked out before the race had even started. Not ideal. But us runners are a stubborn lot, so I lined up amongst friends and gave it a go. Can we just pause here for a minute and mention how awesome the running community is here in Vancouver? So many friends running the race, volunteering at aid stations, as course marshalls, sweeping and race directing—the highlight of the day for sure.
I sometimes take a while to warm up and get in to a groove but the groove never happened. 3 km, 4 km, 5 km, still feeling tired. Friendly racers passed me by, trying to chat to me about the beautiful views, the perfect conditions, but I was grumpy. Normally I would jump at the chance to chat with others and maybe buddy up to help pass the time, instead I wanted to be alone. Uphill, downhill, flat, all a struggle. When a long, non-technical downhill felt like a battle I knew there was absolutely no way I could do the full 42.2 km. I fought back tears of frustration at 7 km and by 8 km, I had decided to find the nearest route back to the start. I passed friends hiking and cheering along the way and burst into tears when they asked me how I was feeling. I just couldn’t contain it anymore, it was time to stop.
It is SO HARD deciding to DNF. When you run ultra marathons for fun, you are a strange type of person—someone who is comfortable with being uncomfortable. Stopping is never normally an option and you do whatever you need to do to get to that finish line. This day was different. Honestly, in the months leading up to this day, I had spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not a 50 mile ultra marathon was really something I wanted to do right now and I think I had already decided that it wasn’t. I just couldn’t admit it to myself at the time. I needed this race as a wake up call.
So at aid station 3, only 11 km in to the race, I told the friendly, supportive volunteers that I was calling it a day. There was nothing physically wrong with me. I didn’t want them to worry, just tell me which way to go and I will take myself back to the start line and officially DNF. I arrived back at the start a couple kilometers later and bumped into friends who were just about to start sweeping the course. Again, I couldn’t hold back the tears. I am not sure if I was happy to be done, sad that I didn’t finish, frustrated with myself or just relieved. But either way I still think it was a good decision to quit so early on.
The race directors were lovely. They each came to check up on me, even giving me a finisher’s keyring despite my DNF. My bad experience is by no means any reflection of a bad race—the route was beautiful, the course well marked and all the volunteers were amazing.
A year ago I was also tired and couldn’t get through the day without a nap. But that’s just because I run so much, right? Turns out I have iron deficiency anemia, with fatigue being the main side effect—physically and mentally. It’s fairly common amongst runners, females in particular and can be managed with supplements. I have been taking multiple iron supplements a day to build my levels back up and they definitely help. I don’t feel the need to nap so much anymore. So is it just my anemia holding me back again? I’m not so sure.
Maybe its physical, maybe its mental, maybe I’m overtrained, burnt out, bored. I’m not sure I will ever really know the answer. The one thing I do know is that it is so important to listen to your body. Running is a big part of my life, I am never going to give it up. But for now, I am going to remove the pressure, throw away any sort of schedule and just go with the flow. Fancy climbing a mountain today? Sure. Fancy lifting weights instead? Why not. Need to just stay in bed? No problem.
When the people around you seem to be going from strength to strength, running further, running faster, smashing PBs and accomplishing their goals, you can’t help but get swept up in the excitement and push for these things yourself. But I am not everyone else. I am me, and perhaps what is right for them is not right for me right now. I used to be able to run 100 km a week, now I average 40-50 km. I’ve ran 60 km in one go before. Right now I’m lucky if I reach 15 km. My 1/2 marathon PB is 1:41, I’d be lucky to hit 1:50 these days. It’s hard and frustrating to not be able to do the things your friends can do, run as much, as far, or as fast as I used to. But i think, if I cut my losses now, forget my long distance goals and listen to my body, I’ll be better off in the long term.
So that’s what I’m going to do—this summer I will be running shorter, running happier, running with zero pressure and I am going to come back stronger. My only goal is to reignite my passion for running again. And you know what, I feel so much happier already.