Making peace with my first DNF

All you need is love, right? Love of running, love of the trails, love of being outside, maybe even the love of the physical pain, to get you through a long race. Always listen to your heart as that’s what gives you the true strength to get you to the end of a long run. That is what I thought mattered. But what happens when your sensible head breaks your heart?

So here is what happened.

I felt fantastic on the morning of my third Hardmoors 60. I felt fit, rested and raring to go. I never dreamt for a moment that I would not make it to Filey by foot – I’d never quit anything and most definitely not a race. My goal was to beat my 11.39 time from last year, with a hope of making it in 11 hours – I knew I was strong enough to do it.

Me, Tom and Emma raring to go.

Me, Tom and Emma raring to go.

The first 10 miles to Saltburn were quite fast, but comfortable. I put my sunglasses on at Saltburn, which to me is the “get focused and and settle into the run” time.

It was warm, but I don’t mind warm. Weather doesn’t really bother me when I run – I seem to adapt well. I soon passed Skinninggrove, Boubly and Staithes, 16 miles in. It was lovely to see Jamie and Jo popping up along the way who were supporting Tom to his Grand Slam win. I felt great and was having a super time in the sunshine.

Having fun in the sunshine.

Having fun in the sunshine.

Then it happened. That all too familiar pain, deep in my stomach. It came as quite a surprise really – it normally starts much later on in a run, so it’s not as concerning to battle on through the pain until the end. I knew it would pass, so I slowed down a bit and had a few wild bathroom stops in the miles leading into Runswick. The pain was taking longer to subside than usual. As I approached Runswick, Sadie Pattison and a friend were spectating and that’s when I couldn’t not cry with the pain any longer. As soon as I saw them my tears were pouring with the pain. They were so lovely, offering water and other goodies. Sadie even had a “cooling spray” she so kindly let me use.

The sadness of when it all went wrong.

The sadness of when it all went wrong.

I fought back the tears at Runswick checkpoint and headed off down the beach. It felt like an absolute age to get to Sandsend. Jo gave me some salt tablets to try and settle my stomach but it was no good, any fluid or food was coming straight back up or out and the agony in my stomach was becoming unbearable. I was really worried about the 3 miles on the road after Sandsend before getting back on the trail because finding a wild bathroom stop would be somewhat challenging! Jayson Cavill tried to save me too with some crisps on the way to Whitby.

Then I rang my sister, Sarah, and Casper too for some encouragement. But they both gave me the answer I didn’t want. To stop.

I thought they were being defeatist and unreasonable to suggest that I stop. This hadn’t even crossed my mind. But then I realised, saying the words out loud to them, of the pain, that that was what I should do – well what my sensible head was telling me to do. But I couldn’t – I wasn’t a quitter. So I rang RD Jon – I knew Jon would say the right things to me. I felt like such a drama queen ringing him with such a non-emergency. But I was desperate. So desperate for someone to tell that continuing was the RIGHT thing to do. But my head knew it wasn’t. I just couldn’t imagine being able to continue as I walked from Sandsend to Saltwick Bay, almost keeled over in agony, where I made that horrible decision to quit. I would quit the Hardmoors 60 at the halfway point of 31 miles, at Saltwick Bay. When I eventually got there, despite the pain, I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t quit.

So there I was, having past Saltwick Bay, yet still miles from Robin Hood’s Bay, huddled in a ball on the cliffside path, when it dawned on me how utterly ridiculous I was being. This wasn’t a sore muscle or dehydration, this was internal pain lasting hours and hours and I knew deep inside that I could actually cause myself long term damage.

What seemed like hours later, I eventually walked into Robin Hood’s Bay. Jo and Jamie tried to save me (again!) with fizzy water and Shelli Gordon’s discarded strawberries. Although I knew I HAD to stop I found myself walking away from Robin Hood’s Bay. My heart, my heart that loves running wouldn’t stop. I knew I had enough time to walk it all the way to Filey from here. I wouldn’t accept it was over – and so I walked to Ravenscar.

It was here, at 41 miles , 24 miles from when the agony started, that I eventually listened to my sensible head and became a quitter. I didn’t want to quit, I really didn’t, but I knew it was the right thing to do. Stopping was actually the harder thing to do than continuing.

I know I could have been a martyr and walked all the way to the end, still within cutoff, to claim my second Grand Slam completion. But what long term damage might I have done? For me, quitting was most definitely the braver thing to do.

If you have never quit I know how you feel (you’re thinking “why didn’t she just walk to the end, that’s what I would do”) because you never believe you are a quitter until you are forced by your sensible head to become one.

No ones tells you what quitting feels like – the sense of failure, the embarrassment, even the fear of running again. But all those will eventually go away and you just have to get over it.

So I did…

And quitting actually makes you really grateful – grateful for all those happy runs. Two weeks later, my stomach is still a little tender but I have had happy pain free runs and more importantly I have now made peace with my first DNF.

So whatever your one reason is to not run, find a way to not let it stop you running because actually, there are so many more reasons why you do run.

A week later and back to happy running.

A week later and back to happy running.

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