My Planned DNF

Blog, Sue Cloutier

A “DNF”, for those who are unfamiliar (and I hope most would be), is a race that you started but Did Not Finish. I am currently registered for a 50K ultra marathon trail race, and am also recovering from a tibial stress fracture or two. I signed up for the Big A 50K a few months ago, when I was sure that I would be running again with plenty of time to train for the longest race I’d never run. Things don’t always go to plan, however, and my injury has had me sidelined for longer than expected.

I had given up hope that I would be able to do this race, and had pretty much decided that I “probably wouldn’t.” I only just started running again a few days ago, and seeing as how the race is on Saturday, it would be beyond dumb for me to do it. Logically, I know this. I am on a conservative walk/run recovery plan for the next seven weeks to gradually ease myself back into regular training. Thankfully, the pain in my leg is gone, but I know that the bone remodeling process can take up to 3 months, so I’m hardly out of the woods yet. And yet…

I’m going to do it. Before you start chastising me for embarking on a thirty-plus mile race when I have not been training, and am just getting over a bone injury, hear me out. Yes, this course is 31 miles long. Yes, it’s on a mountain with a total elevation gain of over 4000 feet. Yes, I can barely run a mile right now without gasping for breath, and I’ve always been terrible on trails, even when fit from training. But the 31 miles are broken up into a 10.3 mile long course that is run three times. And that 10.3 mile course is made up of a 3 mile loop, followed by a 7.3 mile loop, both of which loop back to the start and finish point of the race. So, my plan is to do the first 3 mile loop. And if I feel good after that, I will do the 7.3 mile loop. At that point, if I am having any issues, I can call it a day. Or I can continue on to do the 3 mile portion again, and make it a half marathon. If by some miracle, after that, I am still feeling good and my leg still has no pain, maybe I might do the second loop again, then stop at 20 miles. Honestly, knowing my current fitness, the odds of me hanging in that long on that course are incredibly slim. But, if God smiles on me that day, and after 20 I’m heading for the next 3.1 mile loop, you can bet all the money in my husband’s bank account that I will stick it out for the last 7.3. But the reality is that I am completely expecting to DNF this race. I have never once dropped out of a race before, but I am happy to do it now if it means I will get to experience my first ultra.

So here’s my strategy. My plan is to walk the uphills (obviously), run the downhills gently, and stop whenever I damn well please. I hope to find other runners at my pace (or slower) to chat with, and will definitely be taking pictures of the scenery, and just hope to have a good time. There’s a post-race barbecue to “encourage the social aspect” of the race, and you can bet I will be bringing along a peach pie to share. I’m sure most of this race I will spend walking, so I’m trying to think of it as a bit of a day-long hike with some occasional easy running thrown in. I read somewhere that anyone reasonably fit can complete a 50K, not racing it, as long as their nutrition during the race is spot on. I plan to fuel with cornstarch, which I’ve used successfully in both half and full marathons, using 2 scoops every two hours, and hydrating with Nuun in my Camelbak. I’m also carrying gels with me in the unlikely event that I end up going the full distance and need the extra calories.

My two biggest running goals right now are qualifying for Boston by the time I turn 40, and completing an ultra. This past week as I considered my options for a fall marathon, I was having a lot of trouble deciding which marathon race I most wanted to do. None stood out as the obvious choice. Then I got an email regarding the upcoming 50K for which I was registered. Initially, I was sad because I knew I wasn’t in any shape to do it. Then I realized I was far more excited about the prospect of doing this challenging ultra race (even knowing full well I wouldn’t finish) than any of the fall marathons I was considering. That’s when I decided that the possibility of re-injuring myself and being unable to do a fall marathon was well worth the risk of doing the ultra.

I probably won’t finish it.