Knowing When…to Say When

DNF

Did Not Finish

Three letters…three words…that make the stomach of any endurance athlete hurt.

I am told it is a character builder. I am told that anyone who attempts the improbable should expect a DNF at some point. Inevitable, they say………

When I began running, I couldn’t get my head around the idea of a half-marathon, much less a marathon. There was no hook to hang it on. No point of reference. I could as easily imagine flying to the moon. But, as I began piling mile upon mile, 13.1 suddenly seemed less… impossible.

Attempting outlandish things teaches one a great deal about life. It teaches you that when you think you have nothing left, there may be a strength inside you you have never yet found. It teaches you that the most overwhelming task can be taken on one mile, or one minute, at a time. And, it gives you the opportunity to feel the smile of God. To look at your feet in wonder as they keep on moving, even after you have gone further than you have ever gone before.

Not surprising that some of us become addicted.

Four half marathons, including one straight up Pikes Peak. Five full marathons. And now, the ultra. It seems like the logical next step. A new challenge.

So I choose an ultra that will give me time. A 50 miler that allows me 24 hours, in the glorious Grand Tetons. Even with altitude and 10,000 feet in vertical gain, 24 hours is a long time. Except, that this year they make changes. This year, there will be no 100 miler which means that they can’t be so liberal about time limits. Twenty-four hours becomes sixteen (or seventeen–the jury is still out on that). And suddenly I know that a 50 miler will be an inevitable DNF.

I could own the DNF right up front; sign up for the 50 miler knowing I won’t finish and just go as far as I can. I think about this for a long time. Finally, though, I decide a 50k with altitude and several thousand feet of vertical gain just might be challenge enough for now.

In the beginning it feels cowardly. Like giving up. I am embarrassed to tell anyone. But, as the days go by, I come to revel in it. I will have more time with my family this summer. I will have enough juice left to join my son in his first running event, The Franklin Classic, two days later. And, I will have time to inhale the vistas, take photographs, and drink deeply of the experience. It is the right choice for now.

And if, in the end, I still come away with a DNF, I will trust God to use it to grow me.

Grand Teton 5ok. September 3rd, 2011. Training has begun….

Few of us know what we are capable of doing…we have never pushed ourselves hard enough to find out.

~Alfred A. Montapert