Updated: Nov 4, 2022
38 full marathons + 29 ultra marathons and ZERO DNFs. Here is what has helped me accomplish that.
I was chatting with a running friend the other week and we were talking about DNFs. He was surprised that after over 67 full/ultra marathons that I have never had a DNF. So, what’s the secret?
I train really hard for my races and It helps my body be ready to complete the distance I am racing. I do my best to make sure my training is specific to what I need to do on race day and that I show up to this starting line without any injuries. This allows me to not drop due to some physical concern.
Having a Solid Support Team
Getting through road marathons is usually a single-person event, but once you start getting into ultras, it is great to have a support team. Most of my shorter ultras have been solo, but for my longer races (100k and 100 milers), having a crew and pacers really helped me push through tough times and keep moving forward.
The closest I have ever come to dropping was during Kettle 100 miler in 2019. I was going through a tough time just in general due to a really tough rotation in PT school where my advisor on a daily basis told me everything I did and learned in school was wrong…day after day I was hearing that I was not doing a good job and that I was wrong. That really got into my head and leaked into how I felt about my running.
During that race, I had a weird reaction to the weather which lead to me hyperventilating, my arms and face going numb and feeling tingly, and all around feeling scared that something really bad was happening. So, I was super set on dropping at the 100k mark. They had a 100k distance, I figured that it would still count as a race. Once I got there, my crew and pacers would not allow it. I even started crying because they were pushing me to keep going even though I couldn’t imagine moving another step. But they somehow got me out of my chair and moving again and I am so grateful for it. Amazingly, I felt fine for the rest of the race other than getting trench foot.
I am still working on this myself, but have done a pretty good job during my ultras with pacing myself well. A LOT of runners go out way too fast in ultra marathons which leads to them having a lot of issues at the end of their races or dropping out all together. On race day, remember to meet your body where it is at fitness-wise vs pushing it to perform at what you WISH it was able to do. These are two very different things and one will lead to you performing your absolute best on race day and the other will lead to a “crash and burn” scenario.
Fueling and hydrating well are also super important to avoid dropping out. If you dig yourself into hole by not hydrating or fueling appropriately, it can be really hard to dig yourself out. Lack of hydrating and fueling can lead to nausea, vomiting, and excessive fatigue, so feed your body well during long races.
I think this is the biggest factor that has contributed to my lack of DNFs. A lot of runners create A, B, and C goals. My A and B goals are usually around where I place in a race. Then my C goal is to run as hard as I can and place as high as I can. What has never crossed my mind while going into a race is having the goal of “just finishing.” When I line up at the start, there are zero thoughts in my mind that dropping is a possibility…no matter what happens in the race. I think this mindset has allowed me to focus on problem-solving issues that come up vs seeing them as reasons to discontinue a race because discontinuing literally is not an option in my mind.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have had times during races where I have told myself, “I want to drop out.” But WANTING to drop out is not the same as seeing it as an option.
An example of this is when I ran a trail winter marathon in Duluth. The day was beautiful but the snow conditions were ROUGH. It was like running in sand. It was super slow and really exhausting. The race is a 2 loop course and when I finished the race, I saw some of my running friends at the finish line. They were in their normal running clothes and hanging out watching people finish. I was so confused because I was ahead of them!! "Hey guys, what's going on?" I asked them. "We dropped," they told me. I was seriously so confused. At no point in the race had it occurred to me that myself or other runners might drop from the race. My brain hasn't wired that as a possible outcome for a race.
I highly encourage people to work on their internal game so that you line up at the starting line knowing, deep down to your core, that you will finish the race. You have put the training in, you know how to race smart and take care of yourself, and you will accomplish the distance that you set out to finish on race day.