I always prided myself on not having any DNFs. Like, I thought was too strong mentally to just throw in the towel. But here I am, a few days removed from the first time I willingly pulled out of a race. It wasn’t because I missed the cutoff and couldn’t go on or had some acute injury that forced me to stop. The short story is that I stopped having fun around mile 30, felt increasingly nauseated, puked my guts up and then some, and wandered for about an hour and a half at a snail’s pace trying to keep sips of water down. And when I finally reached the aid station at mile 50ish, I didn’t want to rally. Honestly, I think if I had been given a pep talk, forced to sit for 30 minutes to get down some fluids and food, and waited for the sun to dip down a bit more, I would have finished. But since that time machine hasn’t been made, I just have to live with those self-loathing pangs of not finishing something.
I feel stupid now that the race is over because I’m playing all the “what if” scenarios in my head as though I can go back in time and change anything I did. I had SO MUCH TIME. Seriously. I had almost 19 hours to finish 50 miles with the 100 mile cutoff being 30 hours. Runner math tells me I just had to complete two 9.5 hour marathons. If I just walked at a reasonable pace, I could have finished. But by the time I had sat down on the cot in the medical tent, I had already called Adam twice, preparing him that I was on the verge of DNFing because I didn’t want him to worry about expecting me. He said all the right things, both supportive of me if I had to stop and encouraging me to keep at it.
I was most mad because here was the first ultra I had hauled not just Adam out for across the country, but I had Roger and Chantal flying in from Denver and Atlanta to pace. The guilt I felt was extraordinary and everything seemed (very dramatically at the time) like a huge waste. As I wavered back and forth in the very appropriately named “Jackass Junction” aid station, I knew the disappointment of letting my team down was going to feel just as bad as letting myself down. I braced myself for the pitying epithets.
The reality of the DNF is about as I expected. A little like the grieving process, but in a narcissistic, party-of-one style. No one cares about it in the way that I do, nor would I expect them to. And I’m sure anyone in my position has had a similar response. It hurts really, really bad at first. Especially when you are by yourself, stuck in your own thoughts. And then, like with anything, time begins to help you realize this is just one thing in your life (and good God, mine is pretty great so I really should shutthefuckup) and everything will be okay.
The longer version is that I’ve spent the last 20 weeks training for this race. I only took Mondays off of running. I ran workouts I never thought I’d hit. I woke up early Saturday and Sunday to get my long runs in during the summer. I felt ready, confident, fit. I had a crew and pacers. I knew other people that would be running that I would be able to see throughout the day. I trained in the heat. I was EXCITED.
When I woke up just before 5am on race morning and crawled outside my tent, I was thrilled to be toeing the line. There were no real race nerves, just ready to get the show on the road. Chantal was clutch and dropped my bags for me, filled my pack, and found Roger and Adam for me before the start. My body felt good, I got plenty of rest, and the weather on race morning felt perfect.
Photo cred: Chantal Elmore
The gun went off for wave 1 and I was in the mid-pack of the group. Hoping to have some people help me stay at a conservative pace, but not too far behind to lose time while the temps were nice. I felt great as the sun started to rise and though my first couple of miles were a little slower than I preferred, I was also cognizant that I had a long way to go.
Photo cred: Roger Beutler
I breezed through the first aid station without grabbing anything as both my bottles were full at the start and I had extra water in my hydration bladder. I was staying on top of eating something every 30 minutes from the beginning and sipping on GU Roctane.
As we climbed to the top of the loop at Jackass Junction, I was in good spirits and feeling happy about the day ahead. The crowd started to thin out at that point and I ran alone for a few miles until I got to Rattlesnake. It was starting to warm up a bit, but I still super comfortable and the downhill miles were super easy. I took a pit stop at Rattlesnake to pee, topped off my hydration, got some sunscreen sprayed on me, and carried on towards finishing the first loop.
I started talking to a fellow runner named William and later, Rick and we cruised for a few miles filling the miles with conversation. It really made the time fly by and I was in high spirits. I spotted Jamie and encouraged him to keep going as our chatty train rolled by - he was 2 weeks out from a killer race at Kona and understandably a bit unrecovered? I was hoping he’d rally by the time he got back to the start/finish.
I wasn’t expecting to see my crew/pacers at Jeadquarters and it was such a happy surprise. I wasn’t really sure if they were just planning to stay all day and was hoping I’d see them again and again (even though I thought I’d be okay without them) because it really boosted my spirits.
Photo creds: Roger Beutler, Chantal Elmore, Adam Liebowitz
I refilled my pack with nutrition, got my bottles refilled, tied my shoe, and headed back out for loop 2. I was cruising really well until I got to Rattlesnake and caught up with Laura who was in a bit of a rough patch. The heat started to get to me and she smartly doused me with an icy sponge. I filled my Buff and sports bra with ice and then set out to reach the top of the loop again. I don’t really remember too much from Jackass the second time.
My spirits started to drop a bit as I headed back to Jeadquarters and I started to slow down a bit even though I was going downhill. The last 2 miles seemed to take forever and I was feeling very mopey when I grabbed my mile 41.2 bag. I tried to get in some calories and walk a bit to let everything settle. A girl passed by me running steadily and she asked if I had done the race before, if I’d done other 100s, etc. I was in such a funky mood that I really didn’t want to talk, but I stayed behind her about 30 feet when she pulled away and let her pace me for a mile or two.
Back at Cowboy, I was feeling really blah, but still running a bit and dipped a couple of pieces of watermelon in salt hoping for a revival. It was maybe about a mile down the trail that I instantly felt sick. I stepped off to the side of the trail and projectile vomited. Hoping I had just hit the reset button, I actually was happy at first. I thought it might help me feel better. But I took a few steps and did it again, and again, and when there was nothing else left, I was just dry heaving. Runners were stopping, asking if I was okay, if they could help, if they could give me anything. I just shook my head.
I tried to just walk slowly for a few minutes and even gave running a try briefly, but everything was hurting at that point. I wanted to stop and rest for a moment, but the sun was still powerful and the ice in my Buff was quickly melting. As I crept down the trail, my power walk turned into just a regular walk and later, I started wandering side to side. I was aware of it, but I also felt like I was out of control of it. A runner tried to encourage me to go with him and after I told him I had been throwing up, he said he would let the aid station know I was coming in.
The only cool thing about this was that I was moving slow enough that I plenty of time to pull out my phone to take a photo of eventual race winner and one of my favs, Kaci Lickteig.
The time seemed to stretch on forever. People would tell me how far they thought the aid station was in miles or minutes, but I was so out of it that I couldn’t really compute how much longer I had to go. I called Adam twice and was likely being incoherent. I didn’t want him to worry if I wasn’t showing up on the tracker as expected and I wanted to prepare him for my very imminent feeling of DNF. He showed me compassion, but also encouraged me to just keep going and see how I felt when I got back to Jeadquarters. At the time, I could barely handle going another quarter mile.
When I finally got to Jackass after what felt like an eternity of walking, I was greeted by a girl who led me into the medical tent. I explained my symptoms to the medic and they took my blood pressure and pulse. As time crept on, I couldn’t contemplate going back out and the nausea was not subsiding. I tried to sip some ginger ale and immediately felt horrible. The medic told me he could give me nausea medication and while I know he must of explained it meant that I had to drop after taking it, I was not lucid at the time.
They tested my blood sugar and gave me the nausea medication and shortly thereafter, Laura showed up. She sat in the chair next to my cot and encouraged me to join her in the next section. Unfortunately, it was too late as I had taken the medication. I was 50% disappointed because I was actually feeling a bit better at that point, but 50% relieved that now the decision was out of my hands.
Once I confirmed I couldn’t go back out, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m not sure why I thought I could renege on my pulling out after I said I would drop. Clearly, there was a bit of delirium. I laid on the cot trying to get my stomach feeling okay and managed to get down a cup of broth and finally some water. One of the medics grabbed me a slice of cheese pizza and I ate two bites before curling up with it and my pack underneath a sleeping bag, waiting for what I later dubbed the “loser van” (allow me a little bit of self-deprecating humor).
The “loser van”, aka the shuttle back to Jeadquarters, was running really behind and so I watched people coming through Jackass still in good spirits. Later, I realized I was happy it took so long for the van to come because I had run the gamut of emotions by the time I reach my crew. I posted on FB because I knew people were tracking me and talked to my mom because that’s what mom’s do. And tried to give myself a little grace that I wasn’t the worst friend/wife in the world for hauling people out in the desert to watch me DNF.
The silver lining to it all? I got to go back to these amazing people who cheered me up and then helped Tom get his buckle. In a transformation of events, my pacers were now free for him to use and I was able to experience a bit of the other side of the race. Roger went out with him on loop 4 and Chantal brought him to the finish line on loop 5. Of course I was insanely jealous that he was basically on pace for what I intended and was using my rockstars. Dammit, I’m human after all. But I was also seriously so moved that they stepped in, no questions asked, to run 20 miles each in the dark desert with a stranger. And that Tom had such an incredible first 100 miler - his gratitude for what had just happened when he finished was genuine. There was lots of hugging, big smiles, and though we were all exhausted, everyone seemed to be briefly full of life as we made our way back to the parking lot.
On Saturday, I definitely never wanted to run the race again. On Sunday, I was thinking that I would consider it again, but I was going to have to think about it. By Monday, I was busy plotting my revenge. And by that timeline, I’m hoping that the disappointment, the feelings of guilt and what ifs slowly fade away and that what I remember more about the weekend is the laughter, the friendships, the support of those I know and love dearly, the support of the incredible running community, and how lucky I really am that my “disappointing” day is running 50 miles in the desert.