When Spartan announced a few days before this year's World Championship race in Lake Tahoe, that the course would be shortened by about four miles, I secretly let out a sigh of relief. Anyone who ran last year's 17+ mile Beast knows that last climb at about mile 15 was a soul crusher.
With the pressure off, I was excited. Excited to run a faster race. Excited to run a beautiful course I was already somewhat familiar with. Excited to just enjoy the view. I admit I was even a little excited about the dreaded lake swim (after all, the water temperature was reported to be about 14 degrees warmer than last year). But life has a funny way of laying our best-laid plans by the wayside, and things didn't work out quite the way I thought they would.
Almost halfway through the race, after not being able to bring my body temperature back up from the swim, I succumbed to the beginning effects of hypothermia and pulled myself from the course. I had officially logged my second ever DNF (the first coming more than 24 hours into a 36+ hour endurance event), and first ever at a Spartan Race. Needless to say, I was devastated. The next couple of weeks were tough and spent doing some serious soul-searching. Here's what I learned about myself.
The Stages of DNF
Yup, that's right…there are stages. At least, for me there were. A little like mourning, if you will.
Disappointment: Immediately after recovering physically, the first emotion I felt was a sense of utter disappointment in myself. I had trained. I was ready. I started the race strong. But, for whatever reason, I couldn't finish. Though I was at a loss to understand why I couldn't shake the feeling that I had simply failed. Big time.
Anger: The disappointment I felt initially, slowly morphed into anger. I was angry at myself. Angry for not training harder. Angry for not choosing my race gear and attire more carefully. Angry for not anticipating better what could go wrong. I even found myself angry that I didn't just ‘push through' the discomfort (though, I know, intellectually, it's never smart to try and ‘push through' a serious medical condition), and finish the race.
Acceptance: Eventually, these feelings of anger and disappointment started to fade. I realized that it was over. There was nothing I could do at this point, except plan my comeback for next year. I had events coming up in the next few months that I had to continue to train for and focus on. I finally felt like it was OK to stop looking backward, and start looking forward again, and that was a relief.
Inspiration: OK, so this may not be an official ‘stage', but it was an important part of the process for me. Once I let myself go through the other stages and got to the point where I was finally alright with my…gulp…DNF, I realized that I could actually use this experience to inspire my training. I don't mean just training harder, but also training smarter, and with a purpose, or vision, of not repeating the same mistakes that lead to my not finishing.
OK, maybe not everybody, but, the truth is, even serious athletes, in great physical shape, DNF. In fact, most professional OCR competitors have DNF'd at some point. It might be brought on by a sudden illness, gastrointestinal problems, cramping, injury, weather, or some other way your body just says to you ‘not today'. The more I reminded myself of this, the more I felt at peace with my own situation. If an elite athlete that I admired could suffer a DNF at one race, then get on the podium at their next race, then surely I could get off my laurels, stop moping, and get back on that horse.
Lean on Your Peeps
One of the best things about the sport of OCR, in my opinion, is the people involved in it. I consider myself fortunate to have met dozens, even hundreds of amazing people in the last few years who share my passion for racing and endurance events. I am inspired by their stories, and I use them as a sounding board for mine. I respect their opinions and look to those more experienced than me for advice. I was open and honest with them about my experience, and, in turn, they helped me put things into perspective. Often times when we suffer defeat, we become hyper-focused with that one emotion and temporarily forget about all the incredible finishes we had before that. The people who have been with you on that journey can help remind you of all the amazing places you've been, and all the accomplishments you've made along the way. Trust them. In some cases, they know you better than you know yourself.
As uncomfortable as it's been, this has turned out to be an important learning experience for me. Whereas some people can instantly turn a negative into a positive, I had to let myself go through the entire process, in order to get to a place where I could use this experience as inspiration. For those closest to me, I'm sure it wasn't always pleasant.
But, in the same way that a person needs to go through the different stages of grief in order to be able to move on, I, too, had to go through a myriad of different emotions to get to this point. Like most OCR athletes, I'm inspired by those I see training hard and crushing the course. Truth be told, I'm even more inspired by those falls and get back up, again and again. I'm inspired by those who meet a wall and figure out a way to get over it, under it, around it, or through it. I'm inspired by those who meet defeat with a renewed sense of purpose, unwilling to take ‘no' for an answer.
I was disappointed and angry with myself, and I don't regret feeling those emotions. But, at the end of the day, I have to decide what I'm going to do with this experience, and I choose to get back on that horse and pick up where I left off. And, who knows, maybe I can be an inspiration for someone else along the way.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and official policies of Mud Run Guide LLC, or their staff. The comments posted on this Website are solely the opinions of the posters.