There’s a trilogy of three letter acronyms in endurance sports: DLF, DNF, and DNS. They stand for “dead last finish”, “did not finish”, and “did not start”, respectively. There’s a simple relationship among these conditions expressed as follows: DLF > DNF >> DNS. It means “dead last finish” is greater than “did not finish” which greatly trumps “did not start”. Although I came close to DLF/DNF at Pikes Peak, this weekend I experienced my first of any of these. I achieved the dubious distinction of DNS’ing my first 50-mile ultra-marathon.
Maybe it’s for the best? A mild case of IT Band Syndrome disrupted my training for this race. But given my rather sour (understatement) mood the past couple days, I better understand why DNF greatly trumps DNS.
The Rocky Raccoon 100/50-mile took place this past Saturday, February 5th. The Friday before marked the fourth straight day of being iced in. I imagine it’s never happened since automobiles began traversing concrete in North Texas that ice covered the roads four entire consecutive days. One thing I already knew but I was reminded of, is that I’m not cut out to be a stay at home dad. I love my kids, but I’m just not equipped to take care of children, especially toddlers, all day long, day in day out. As Friday approached I was anxious, stressed, and going stir crazy.
After much indecision, I departed for the journey from Plano to Huntsville around 10:30 Friday morning. The roads were still treacherous rendering my average speed under 30 MPH. Two hours later I was devastated the roads hadn’t improved. What would normally have taken just over an hour to drive had taken more than two. I was worried I would have to drive back on the same road conditions. Every 30 minutes the nightmare continued Southward, I might have to do it for another 30 minutes on the way back. I already felt guilty for leaving my wife and kids stuck (abandoned?) at home. The thought of driving back on the slick roads after running 50 miles exhausted me. I decided to turn around and head home.
Ironically, not long after I turned around the roads improved dramatically. I think it was just a matter of time of day. Later in the day more cars had chopped up the ice and snow. The sun was also peaking out and the ice was melting. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have had to drive back on bad roads, and the roads South probably would have improved if I pressed on.
I really wish I could live life without regrets. Most of the time I successfully avoid worrying about things I can’t change. I have a feeling I won’t be able to shake this one until I conquer the 50-mile distance. Certainly it’s made me question why I run. Do I run to escape? Do I run to redeem myself? Do I run to prove something to others? Or to myself? I know unequivocally these aren’t my primary goals. I am very intentional about enjoying the act of running and not making it a means to an end. I never want to spoil the satisfaction and pleasure that comes from being in the moment when I run. And I know I haven’t slipped from these priorities. But what I haven’t admitted to myself is how much these personal distance records mean to me. They are rites of passage into a community I deeply admire, that of ultra-runners.
It’s tough to be an adult and reconcile our hearts with what we tell our kids: that they can be anything they want. There are many things in life at this point I could never likely become, for instance an astronaut or a professional mountain climber. But one thing I desperately want to become is a 50-mile and 100-mile ultra-runner. Someday.