This past weekend, I was on the start line of Ultra Trail Harricana in Quebec, lined up for the 125km race. To make a long story short, it was very much not my day. From the first minutes, nothing felt right. My gut hadn’t been thrilled with me all day, and let itself be known. My head started aching. My legs felt like lead. I was running arguably well in the pack, but everything felt like it was falling apart. I’ve never had a race where, from the start, I’ve wanted to stop. Sure, I’ve had dark moments in races and not been thrilled with what was happening or how I was feeling. But I’ve never felt quite this bad.
Still, I figured I could run it out. But with every passing mile, I felt crappier. I’d try to eat and gag. I stopped, but got dizzy. There was a wasp incident. I made a deal with myself: Just get to the first crew checkpoint at 35 kilometers and see how you feel. But I never felt better. When I finally hit the 35K point and saw Peter, I completely lost it. Broke down sobbing, just had nothing left in the tank (literally and figuratively). I can’t remember a moment like that in a race before, and I once spent the last 15 miles of an Ironman walking-while-puking.
So, I called it. Maybe I could have pushed on for a bit longer, but I know that would have been a mistake. On the outside, I didn’t look too bad, but internally, I was a mess. It’s my first ultra DNF, but I don’t regret it. I would have regretted it much more if I’d pushed on to the next aid station, because I knowingly would have been putting myself at risk, and putting the staff and volunteers at a disadvantage of having to take care of someone who knew she should have stopped.
I’ve had a few days to reflect on it now, and I still am sure I made the right call. But it still stung (stings) a bit, as it should. If you’re not disappointed, that’s probably a sign that something else is going on. But it has made me remember a few key things:
No one cares if you win
That sounds harsh, and of course, to some extent, people care. That’s how you get sponsored, it’s a personal point of pride, friends and family want to celebrate with you. But when Pierre Quinn, an executive coach, mentioned that on the podcast, he said that not to take away from a win, but to remind us that our friends and family don’t love us because we win. They love us because they love us. This was an important one for me to remember immediately following the race, as I was crying and apologizing to Peter for dragging us to Quebec only to drop out of the race. He doesn’t care. He didn’t marry me for my ultra abilities (considering I didn’t race ultra, and was a fairly crappy cyclocross racer at the time, that’s very safe to say).
It’s not about the race, really
We’ve talked about it a lot, but training is the thing. Racing is the icing on the cake, the chance to hopefully show off your training, but it’s the everyday grind, the process, the hustle, the doing-the-work that makes you who you are. We don’t do this because we want the results (or at least, that’s not the only reason). We’re in the sport we chose because we love doing this specific sport. The training for ultra is what makes me happy, what makes me who I am. I had a great summer of training, for the most part, and having one bad race certainly doesn’t negate that.
You should do some reflection—but don’t expect enlightenment
The first thing my coach asked was, naturally, was there anything different or obvious that messed with my day? I had to give him the annoying answer of ‘nothing that was clearly The Thing.’ There were lots of little things: A last minute super-official appointment a few days before that changed our travel schedule, a longer lead-in travel-wise to get to the race, sleeping in our van for the full week prior rather than doing an AirBNB for the night ahead of the race, and so on. Maybe there was something going on in the background health-wise. Maybe my period was looming. For most of us, we can find a couple things we could have done better, but a lot of the time, there’s just NOT a great answer. I wish there was, because that would be a lot easier to troubleshoot. But life isn’t that neat. I think most of us want to have a reason to point to, a thing that we can fix for next time, but that won’t always happen.
Take time off regardless
I had a full week off after this on my schedule. I only ran 22 miles (though admittedly with a ton of vert) on Friday, so part of me feels like I should be back to training already. But the thing is, if I felt crappy enough to need to DNF, I certainly can give my body a few days of rest and recovery even without finishing the race. I can tell by the feeling in my legs and my gut still, 3 days out, that I need the time off. And mentally, I think the time off is super important, even if your body is feeling good. I think the time off gives you a chance to move through your feelings about the race, to spend some time reflecting, and to have the space to start to want it again.
Don’t let it define you
I’ve always been a ‘death before DNF’ person, because that hardass attitude was the trendy thing when I started in triathlon 15 years ago. It’s served me well and pushed me through a lot of tough races. So I worried, when DNFing, if this would change how I feel about myself as a runner, as an athlete, as a person. Am I a quitter now? F@#$ no, I’m not. I lived to fight another day.
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