Since the finish of this year’s UTMB, there has been a significant amount of chatter online regarding the dreaded ‘DNF’ (did not finish) in ultrarunning. Many runners dropped out of UTMB 2011 and overall I believe there was a 45% finisher’s rate. I am not sure how that stacks up historically, but that is certainly a relatively low finisher’s rate at any race. Leadville every year sees about a 50% finisher’s rate. 100 mile races are tough and DNFs are inevitable from ‘back-of-the-packers’ all the way up to the world’s best runners.
Many top runners dropped from UTMB last week. I get the feeling that these online comments and discussions about DNFs are being slightly overstated because many of the top American’s were forced to drop out. I too was initially stunned to see so many top names dropping, but when you look more closely at it, these guys (and gals) dropped for a variety of reasons. Ankle injuries, severe cramping, exhaustion, course-changes and several other reasons. Ultimately, I believe this sport (for the top runners in the world) has gotten to the point where there is a lot at stake; from national pride to dollars and cents, sponsor obligations, and future race results. When you look at elite level marathon running and track racing, the elite runners drop out constantly as they pursue the perfect race, fast times, fitness, sponsorship levels, etc. I believe the sport of ultrarunning is almost at that level and an elite runner having to battle chronic exhaustion from grinding out a 100 mile race on destroyed legs is not ideal if you plan on racing a high profile race in the near future.
I am not trying to justify DNFs but there may be a place for them amongst the elite in the sport. I am simply trying to respond to the negative chatter I have seen dismissing some of the best runners in the world as ‘weak.’ I know most of the guys that dropped last week at UTMB and I can say with all certainty these guys are ridiculously strong-willed, tough and ready to handle adverse conditions. A bad race or a DNF does not define who you are as a runner, and all of these guys are going to bounce back, perform supremely again, and lead the sport of ultrarunning in the USA for years to come.
One last thought. I have raced almost 40 ultras, of which 9 have been 100 milers. I have yet to drop out of a race. There is a possibility that it will happen in the future but I do intend to never DNF. Call me stubborn but I would rather suffer all the way in (Like Hal did at UTMB) than call it quits. Smart? Not really. Although I have yet to drop from a race, I have decided to drop from the rest of the 2011 season. I had another race on the schedule for September 24th (UROC) but have decided to not race further in 2011. What is the difference between dropping out of a race and dropping out of a season? I would argue there is very little difference. In a race, when things are not going well and true exhaustion is setting in, you begin to weaken and if you keep fighting you may end up digging a bigger hole for yourself and eventually be forced to take a DNF for the race. Well, the same is true with my 2011 season. After a few months of fatigue, exhaustion, soreness, and other maladies, my body needs to drop out from racing the rest of the season or risk digging an even bigger hole for myself. I set out this season with one more race on the calendar and I am not starting that race. I did not finish my season. Seems like the same thing to me.
USA ultrarunning is strong. It will get stronger. No doubt in my mind. Here’s to reflection and recovery. Thanks for reading the ramblings. Live well. Be well. DC