I honestly do not know how many races I have done. I started running during the 70’s running boom, and it seemed like there was a 5K or 10K somewhere every weekend. And for you young ones out there, that was before we had this new fangled interwebs thing. So looking up old results to figure out what I have done would require a trip to the newspaper archive or the Smithsonian. Either way, it doesn’t really matter. I have run a lot of races. Off the top of my head, I don’t even know how many marathons I have run (but I can probably figure that out).
What I do remember is how many times I Did Not Finish or DNF’d a race. And that answer is three. So why do I remember my DNF’s more than my finishes? Because you can usually learn more from a failure than you can a victory. And here is what I learned:
Summer of 197X???
Once I had fully embraced running as my chosen sport, I ended up running track for a summer track team. The Red Stick Striders were pretty big in Baton Rouge and had sent several runners to the Junior Olympics over the years. Being a distance runner, I would usually run the half mile, one mile, two mile, mile relay, two mile relay and even the 440 hurdles(once!) On the particular occasion for this DNF, I do not remember the meet, the year or even the location. I do remember it was during a two mile race and it was HOT (summer in Louisiana.) Even though it was over 30 years ago, I remember being about halfway through the race when I just drifted into the infield of the track and hit the ground. I was done. I was toast. DNF.
What did I learn from this DNF? Mother Nature will kick your ass if she chooses to. (I was only 13-14 years old, so my inner philosopher didn’t think too deeply about it).
1982 Baton Rouge Marathon
In 1981 I ran the Baton Rouge Marathon. It was a few days after my 15th birthday, and a few of us from the Broadmoor High School Cross Country Team decided to try it. My marathon specific training consisted of ……nothing. Back then, marathons were not the spectacles they are today. No frill aid stations every 3-4 miles. Follow the arrows on the ground and don’t get lost. No rock bands. No finish time pacers. Just on your marks, get set, go. And we did.
That particular year, my dad rode his bicycle with me the entire race. Back when I ran he was a very vocal motivator. For everyone. You always knew he was at the track or the race because he would be telling you to “Pick It UP!!!” even if you were running at top speed. And you could hear him from a mile away! So during this race, he was right beside me the entire time “whispering” words of encouragement. And I finished in 3 hours and 26 minutes. (Thanks Pop!)
Fast forward one year and I was again at the starting line of the Baton Rouge Marathon with another group of cross country runners. But this time from Episcopal High School. I had changed schools so I lost a year of eligibility and some of my drive as well. My marathon specific training for this years race consisted of ……..less than nothing. The race started fine, but at around 18 miles I dropped. DNF. Why? I was bored, not prepared, and not mentally ready to deal with the pain. I just didn’t take it seriously enough.
What did I learn from this DNF? You better respect the race. Whether it is a 5K, a marathon or an ultra-marathon, you better prepare yourself mentally as well as physically.
2012 Rocky Raccoon
This is my most recent DNF and one that I have already discussed. I went into it prepared to run the distance (100 miles), but I was not prepared to handle the physical and mental issues that came up. When I started having the blister problems, I made the wrong decision at each fork in the road. That sent me into a bad mental state while I was still alone on the course and I spiraled into one of Dante’s circles of hell (probably 5th). Game Over. DNF.
The 2013 Rocky Raccoon was a completely different picture. My preparation was much better and I handled the physical issues calmly and rationally. My mental game never dipped at all and I was just as focused when I finished as when I started. Definitely learned a lot from the 2012 fiasco.
I would love to say I have learned so much from these 3 DNF’s that I don’t need any more lessons. But I doubt that will be the case. Especially since my current insane trajectory leans more towards races where a DNF is a strong possibility! But I guess if I can still learn something, then I will keep signing up for the “classes”.
By the way, I just found out that today is #GivingTuesday! Every donation made to CCFA today will be tripled! So if you can, please donate.