Saturday, January 2, 2010

DNF's

At this time of year many of us reflect back on the past year and look at what has happened in our sport. In particular, some of us consider which runners ran the best and why. Then, a few of us vote to decide who should be Ultrarunner of The Year and it gets published in The Bible of Ultrarunning, “Ultrarunning Magazine.” It is a fun and engaging time and one that often fills me with hope and angst.

This year, more than any other, I have been troubled by dnf’s.

Look, I know they happen. I know they are simply part of the sport. But this past year, in my opinion, too many high profile runners deserving of spots in the top-3 chose to step off the trail before the race was over. I, for one, am troubled by this and need to get it off my chest. Thus, this post is my attempt at closure.

I know that there are many runners far more talented and skilled than I who enter a race knowing they are going to give it their all from the starting gun and they will see how the chips fall. I can think of no more impressive example of this than Hal Koerner’s Western States’ win in 2007. Legend has it that he intentionally left his flashlights in Ashland knowing that if he was going to win he was not going to need a light and if he needed a light he wasn’t going to win. I have no idea if this is true or not but it’s a hell of a good story. Especially coming from a guy who Tom Nielsen and I passed in 2006 when it was 115 degrees in the shade on the way up to Michigan Bluff. He dropped a few minutes after we passed him!

I guess, this is all to say, I think there is a big difference between “dropping” and “quitting” and it’s quitting that has stuck in my craw. Let’s take a look at what are, to me, the five most significant dnf’s of 2009:

1. Scott Jurek at Western States: I respect and admire Scott Jurek as I am sure most of the readers of this blog do. However, when he simply stepped off the trail at Devil’s Thumb this year a little of that respect drifted away. I would have thought the 7-time winner of WS would have gone a little further, dug a little deeper, tried a little harder, and given a little more before cutting off his wristband. Not to be. He dropped. Hal won. Game over.
2. Anton Krupicka at Leadville: This guy is an icon in the sport and really has not done a whole lot to deserve that status. But, he has won Leadville twice, torched both Rocky Raccoon and American River and this past year broke the Course Record at White River. Nonetheless, he dropped this year at the Fish Hatchery after leading Leadville for 70 miles. My son Logan, a huge Anton fan, was devastated. I know his quads were thrashed and he couldn’t walk another step. But, I recall another immensely talented, iconic Coloradan facing the same predicament back in 2004 and he struggled to the Finish only to ultimately finish the job the next year with a Course Record.
3. Geoff Roes at Miwok: I can’t really hold this dnf against him too much as his 100 mile Course Records during the balance of the year speak for themselves but in the most competitive sub-100 miler in the country I was quite surprised that Geoff cashed it in while still in the lead. I assume he was suffering mightily but a struggle to the finish and an 8th or 9th place finish would have spoken volumes. Maybe next year.
4. Dave Mackey at Western States: Nobody expected this. Nobody. Returning to Western States for the first time since 2004 and seemingly in the best shape of his life most prognosticators saw Dave as the man to beat or certainly a force to be reckoned with. Reduced to a walk on Cal Street he chose to end his day 78 miles from Squaw. I am sure he had his reasons but with Scott dropping at Michigan and Dave at The River, Hal had a cakewalk to the finish. More power to him. And, perhaps, to the rest of us as well.
5. Dave James at Western States: This guy has been incredible this year! On fire, actually. 13:05 100-mile split in Cleveland, a huge Course Record at Javelina, hell, he even did a 14:30 100 miler on New Year’s Eve just for kicks. But, he bailed at the Big Dance, hard. Dropped like a bag of potatoes before he even entered the Canyons. Why? I don’t know. But, to get it right in this sport you need to finish what you start. Hopefully, that’s coming in the year’s ahead.

I am sure that these comments may ruffle some feathers and for that I apologize. But I do believe that we need to recognize all of the efforts of all of the runners in our sport not only the finishes. Note that the list above does not include Karl Meltzer or Mike Wardian or Leigh Schmitt or Scott Jaime. Those guys may not have run the races of these other guys but every time, and I mean every time, they finished what they started. And, to me, that matters.

Now, I’ll get off the Soap Box and go for a run under the full moon.

59 comments:

jhalekas said...

Wow Andy! Possibly your most inflammatory post ever. I am not a big fan of DNFing either, as you know. Some DNF's are more understandable than other, though. I do think there are legitimate reasons to DNF. That said, I've got one DNF to my credit (in a road 100k), and I'll always regret that I didn't walk it in. I've beat myself up over that one for years, and I don't think I'll ever DNF again unless I'm seriously hurt or sick.

My 2c on the ones that you mentioned, that I saw in person:

1. Scott's heart was never in WS this year, I'm guessing, and he probably shouldn't have started. Leigh and I ran into him after Dusty and I would have bet $1000 he was going to stop pretty soon. He just didn't seem engaged in the race.

2. Dave Mackey, on the other hand, was seriously in bad shape out there. When I saw him just after Foresthill, he really seemed pretty seriously ill. I wouldn't hold that one against him.

3. I can't speak for Dave James at WS, but I know that he also dropped out at TRT three weeks later after leading early but taking a wrong turn and running the Red House loop twice. That's a tough situation to be in, and I honestly don't know what I would have done.

Have you ever DNF'd a race, Andy? I'd be curious to know if you have (and if so, why), or what the closest you came was (and why you chose not to). I think many of your readers might like that insight into your psyche... ;)

Happy New Year,
-J

AJW said...

Jasper,

Thanks for the comment. And, just for the record, I have never not finished a race that I started. Call it what you will.

AJW

AJW said...

Jasper,

I didn't completely answer your question about the closest I came to dnf'ing.

It was at AC in 2005 and my pacer, Andy Roth, got me out of it, I was saying stuff like "this is boring" and he said "f that, this is a race" I was shaken out of it after about 2 hours. These things take patience.

garobbins said...

Wow, that took balls to post Andy, and I respect that immensely!
I had this exact conversation with some guys in our local community after I walked the final 20 miles at Western this year.
I can honestly say I've gotten more respect out of each of them for my death march than I would have had I managed to hold on to a top ten finish.
I haven't DNFed an ultra yet, but I'm only 25 races in so far.
I truly believe there's something to be said for having to 'pay your dues' on some courses though, and ideally the trail gods are a little kinder to you in the future once you show them what you're really made of!

GR

jhalekas said...

Andy,

You're a heck of an ultrarunner. I'm very impressed that you've made it through as many seasons and as many ultras as you have without a single DNF. Here's hoping you can keep it up for many years to come.

-Jasper

Hank said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hank Dart said...

I assume this means you'll never let me forget my DNF at Teton 2008? And that's probably a good thing.

OldGoat said...

Judging another's DNF certainly gets to the core of the "why" of ultrarunning. In a SPORT that ultimately only serves oneself, decisions to run, finish, or drop out need only be answered by the individual. A better question to ask is what are one's own motives. Maybe a DNF would be a valuable learning experience for AJW.

AJW said...

Old Goat,

Indeed, dnf's are learning experiences and I am sure those out there who have experienced them will attest to that.

AJW

Brad Mitchell said...

Early in this post I just knew it was going to stir the pot. This is exactly one of the many types of conversations I miss from our group runs!
Having DNF'd Waldo in 07, I know the mental struggles one goes through in deciding to drop. It sucks and you'll never forget that feeling of walking or hobbling away, but I do believe it makes one stronger and more focused.
As for your streak, like we've said in our little Valley group - your just a genetic freak, but good for you, I hope it continues. And HANK, you're right you will never live Teton down, and that's a good thing. After all they put a up a plaque!

GZ said...

AJW - curious if you feel differently about elites DNF'ing at shorter distances (for example, Culpepper in the marathon at NYC in the OT).

FastED said...

Andy,

You put my name in the post for someone who always finishes what I start. I gotta be honest here, I have DNF'd twice, both back in 2006. First came Miwok where I pulled a muscle on those gnarly downhills, next came Wasatch where I never should have started with pneumonia type illness.

Like others have done, I beat myself up for months following. I vowed never set foot on that starting line unless I knew I could finish (as long as things stayed within my own power). But things/problems happen and they will continue to happen, some more severe than others, it's just the nature of our sport, especially 100 milers.

DNFs happen in all forms, some more legit than others. We each battle our own demons out there and some figure out it's too much to handle - they have to live with it, not you. Like the old farmer says "if it doesn't bother the cows then who cares"

footfeathers said...

My two dnfs came from "SNT" (should not start). I think that might be a regular cause of dnfs. People put so much into training, preparing, money costs (which is a much bigger factor for some more than others) into an ultra that he/she feels obligated to get to the start line, sometimes with illness and/or injury and/or personal obstacles sapping the needed focus. I don't think there's anything wrong with dropping and I think it's thick headed and gilded elitism speaking when judging others for dropping.

I drove over and picked Mackey up in Auburn after WS and he was a mess (sorry Dave). He was so sick that he didn't have a voice for a week (the only peep I heard out of him other than coughing was when I almost killed us by tailgating at 75mph on the drive). I kept trying to imagine how disappointed he must be but he never complained about how his race went or made excuses for it.

Is it a great accomplishment to finish every race you enter? Hell yes. Is it a great accomplishment to run a course (much) faster than any other person, ever? Hell yes. Which accomplishment adds the most to the sport?

You can't bring Karl's name into the mix; that dude isn't like anyone else. His finishing the AT with the physical obstacles he endured is something I'll never be able to wrap my mind around.

Good topic, Andy. You know I admire you greatly and am in no way judging you for your opinion on this.

I think another good topic is the runners who only do one or two races a year compared to more prolific runners.

Brett said...

Well I am a nobody in this sport, but here is my two cents - a DNF is a personal thing. Whether someone is seriously ill, pulls a muscle, they have another goal race in the near future, or decide if they can't win they'd just as rather quit, or just decide they'd rather go have a beer...what is it any of our business to question them? Running is an intensely personal/individual thing, and each person has their own motivation.

My heart tells me to feel more respect for people who even have to walk it in than if they just quit, but everybody has their own personal situation.

The easy answer is to say that one person is more macho than the next if they don't drop but the other does. Some people will freely and happily admit to being a wus when they dropped, so its probably fair game to laugh and joke along with them. But thats their choice.

Great thread...as an armchair ultra watcher, I admit frustration not being able to watch top runners duke it out in races because some drop. I also admit frustration at people like Wardian - how much better could he do in some of these races if he wouldn't run 15 marathons and 10 ultras each year and instead tapered a bit? But thats all their free choice and not mine to pass judgement on. Thats my 2 turkish lira...not even worth 2 cents.

fBm said...

Damn! You are one strange dude! I'll chock this post up to a New Year's hangover. Before I remove you from my blog list I'd like to comment:

Someone commented that it took "balls" to post this. I think it was just pathetic. I find it funny that you've appointed yourself the "official public criticizer" in the small ultramarathon realm. As many learn by junior high school doing this sort of thing is simply rude and reflects more on the criticizer than those criticized.

BTW, did you tell your son in his disappointment that when Anton dropped he was a "loser" like you portray in your post. I hope so. That'd really complete the image you're carving out for yourself.

And yes, I've dropped from races. Once with an injury that made it so I could barely walk (you even had the gaul to criticize me for this one, even though you don't know me--classy). Symptoms of renal failure at mile 75 (sorry, didn't try for hospitalization). And one that I'm still bummed about because that one was a mistake. But I don't need your arrogant arse to remind me of that. And I suspect that many others out there don't like your soapbox either.

You should ask yourself why you think that you have the right to judge others' decisions? hmmm??

Good luck in the upcoming ultra season. May it include 0 drops.

Brett said...

Oh one other comment...I respectfully disagree that Krupicka has not done much to become an icon in this sport.

I would hazard a guess that (a) he doesn't care if he is an icon or not, but (b) he is usually racing if he is not injured. I am pretty sure if he has not been out there working on his icon status (tongue in cheak), its because he's hurt.

With regards to Leadville this year, why don't you try running 70 miles under course record pace despite having frequent diarreah. :)

Pam said...

Andy-
I don't really have a problem with an individual DNF. Though I have been doing it for only a year, I know that ultra-running is a tough sport and sometimes things just don't go your way.

What bothers me more are races that promote an environment to not finish what you start, specifically races that allow you to drop down in distance during the race and get a "finish" in a shorter distance. For example, can you even register to run the 100K at HURT?? If it is not an official race, why are there results (and worse, records!)?

I succumbed to the "drop down" temptation at Capitol Peak this past April in my first 50 mile attempt after getting lost and doing an extra 2.5 miles. There was nothing wrong, I just got scared and dropped to the 55k distance. If the option hadn't been available, I am certain I would have done the full 50. I know this really reflects a weakness in me and not in the race, but still I don't think "drop down" options should exist; it makes it feel acceptable to throw in the towel early. Even though I got a "finish"(I even won my age group!), it still felt like a DNF to me.

Sean Lang said...

This discussion reminds me of one time I was thinking of dropping during the Pony Express 100k. A 1 mile loop course in the Sacramento area. It was 105 degrees, I wasn't having fun, and a beer sounded really good! So I approached Norm Klein to ask him how many more miles to finish the 50K. Big Mistake!!

Norm, pulled me aside and said "You don't sign up for a 100k and drop at the 50k because you are being a candy ass!"

He then followed up by saying, "I have all of your information and I am going to put all over the internet what a candy ass you are!"
Norm's motivation made me finish the race.

If there was a Norm Klein at every race I think the percentage of drops would be significantly lower:)

katie said...

Great post, AJW! For someone like me, running 100 miles is really pushing the limits on what I'm athletically capable of. So sometimes things just aren't gonna work out. My Leadville DNF in 2008 crushed me for a few days afterwards, but motivated me to train much harder for '09, so in the long run there was lots of good to come from it.

Gotta stick up for the local guy, I don't think Tony was capable of walking in at Leadville. His legs just stopped working. Still, I remind him every time I see him that I beat him at that race!

Andrew said...

I can't speak on why these guys might have DNF'd but I can say that a regular joe 6 pack runner pushing through the pain/injury to not DNF is different than one of these guys stepping off the trail. I honestly anticipate more high level DNFs if this sport grows and would be ok with it. Not if the guys are doing it just to save face because they don't think they're having their best day but if they are hurt and feel it might be something serious they certainly should step out.

Some (if not all) on the list make a living running in these races and if pushing on to finish means they might hurt their chances of running at a top level in the next couple races or possibly jeopardize their season then I can't fault them for stopping.

regardless I think there may be some value in looking @ DNFs when deciding ultra runner of the year.

great article and thanks for not only thinking outside the box but for having the guts to post it.

GZ said...

Andy - first I respect that you put this out there under your name.

Second, I am not sure I totally agree with your take. This would make for a great run conversation.

*DISCLAIMER* - I have yet to do an ultra.

I asked the question as to what your thoughts would be in terms of other elites at other distances. We all know marathoners get out there, are not having the day and they pull up. Why? Because if they set out to run 2:07, blow up and run 2:14 they are going to be set back in their training for weeks, maybe even months. I would suspect the same of an ultramarathon, with the effects being perhaps even more drastic.

If I were voting for UROY, I'd look at the athlete's accomplishments - considering the whole picture of depth of competition at a performance, course records, conditions, DNFs, etc.

I have said that Roes is the odds on for UROY. Does his DNF take away from that? Sure. A bit. But when you look at his results elsewhere across the board, I think it is tough to argue against him.

So all that said - if I have learned anything from this sport in doing it for 25+ years, "its your trip." How a person trains (or not), what races they are drawn to (or not), and how they execute (including whether they finish or not) - ITS THEIR TRIP.

There might be an exception I think to this "its your trip" clause and that is when you are accountable to someone else in some way. For example, if you put on the US jersey, I think you have some accountability to the country you are representing. Sure, it is your trip to run a 100 miler two weeks before Worlds but I struggle with saying "hey no problem" with that.

Burton said...

Good post. On weather you have the right to criticize or not...It's your blog you can do what you want with it. The DNF's of top runners has always irked me a bit. I respect that they are running much harder than I, and that can lead to dangerous circumstances I don't have a problem with anyone dropping for safety reasons. What bugs me is when they quit cause they aren't winning, or just are not having a great day. Still, it's their life, they can do what they want. I don't know their individual reasons, and can only guess as an outsider. I also understand that they might have another race in 2 weeks that they might not want to trash themselves for.

I have 1 DNF at Diablo 50m. I was peeing blood, and not processing fluid. It was a new experience, and I was scared. I quit after 9 hours, and am fine with that. If that was Western States I probably might have stayed in, but I don't know. I'm super proud of my 8 hour struggle in from the river this year.

On Jurek, I don't know his actual circumstances, but it seems like he just wasn't into it. That bugs me a little, but it's his life, and his decision. Still, I would have liked to see him finish since he was carrying Dan Moores bib number. Or at least hand it off to someone else so it could finish the race.

Rick said...

I think that each athlete is the only one who knows their own "big picture." Take your example of Anton's Leadville - Perhaps Anton was thinking about next year and the year after, etc. Maybe he could have gone on shitting his brains out, but prefered to give this another go some other year. I think his DNF is WAY different that MC's 33 mile walk to the finish. Anton had already won it twice and had a different goal in mind. It was MC's first attempt. Trying to decide whether someone's DNF is deserving or not is not for anybody else to try and figure out, not a UROY selection committee or even a blogger trying to bring up a good point. Certainly (almost) nobody would argue that a broken ankle is not a good reason to DNF. So where is the line drawn? It's subjective, and only the person making the decision to go on or drop out has all the info needed to make that decision.
One other thing - No examples of female DNF's right? It'd be interesting in knowing the ratio of male to female DNF's also considering the number of male to female starters. Back when Anne Trason was catching up to the guys in WS I read some articles that the longer it goes the better chance she had of winning. If WS was 110 miles she may have been an OA winner. Plus, I saw my wife give birth twice, Au Natural at home - she can take a lot more for alot longer period of time than I can!

ultrarunner (Brian Philpot) said...

It will allway's hit home when talking about some topic's. I think it's great for getting the blood to flow! To push on and pay the price or not! I push hard to run a fast 100 mile race. I will dnf than walk a race! But I am a nobody and i'm ok with that, i'm racing for me.

Team Gangels Runs said...

AJW,

How do you feel about people using races that fill up in minutes as training races (ie. Way Too Cool)? These runners are taking a spot of a potential competitor because they just want to get a good training run in. Isn't toeing the line at a race with no intention of racing just as bad as a DNF?

=TG

Eudemus said...

I try not to judge other people's motivations. You never know what someone else is really going through. For example, I happened to share a car with Geoff after his DNF at Miwok. I can tell you that it was no light decision on his part since he was trying to qualify for States. However, since he was unable to keep any food down his energy level simply gave out and he was simply unable to continue.

It's nice to have a "no DNF" streak; I've got one myself (45+ races, 10-100's so far). However, I'm also keenly aware that there's as much luck and stupidity in it as there is resolve. Perhaps it's just my mid-packer attitude, but I often wonder if my lack of DNFs--rather than being a badge of honor--actually indicates that I have not pushed myself hard enough. I have just as much respect for those who lay it all on the line and fail as I do for those who trudge through to the finish. At any rate, I think the very fact that finishing is never a given, is part of the allure of this sport.

Maybe you've just become too comfortable with the standard 100-mile races. I think you should give Gary C a call next Christmas. ;-)

RunSueRun said...

AJW, I totally disagree with your assertions. Who are any of us (you) to judge another runner's reasons for DNF'ing... or continuing on to the finish but with resultant life-threatening bodily injury (kidney failure, for example)? Personally I don't see anything heroic about puking one's way to a finish line, but that's just me. Conversely, I have a lot of respect for someone who has the balls to stop when they realize it's just not their day, saving it for the next race. (Eric Clifton comes to mind.)

One could argue that if one has not DNF'd, one has not attempted a challenging enough race. (Barkley comes to mind.) I'm only partly kidding.

We each have our own personal reasons and goals for running. And let's not forget: IT'S JUST RUNNING!

FWIW, I have run over 100 ultras and DNF'd maybe 6 or 8.

Sue Johnston

robert.blair said...

Andy,

Great post. Excellent post!!!!

Yes, especially due to some of the responses that I am sure you realized you were going to get for just expressing the opinion, it took a lot of courage to publish this post.

Thank you for having the courage to do it.

It gets the topic right out there.
Much better than little gossip circles out there.

In this case, a wide spectrum of opinions are able to be expressed, and respected or not, in a safe environment.

People can call you on something and you have an opportunity to stick with your initial thoughts or come back and respond after more thought.

We can all take what we like and leave the rest.

As for DNFing, if I am ever peeing blood, wretching my guts out over and over again uncontrollably, suffering from a fever, a broken bone, bear, rattlesnake or mountain lion attack, I hope to YAHWEH that I have the sense to quit on the spot.

There are obviously sensible reasons to not finish a race.

That said, I hope I NEVER experience a DNF. My goal in each race is to finish the race. Period.

I will walk it in, crawl it in, hop it in, limp it in, whatever it takes. Whatever it takes.

I spend time training, and too much money on shoes, race fees, travel expenses, gels, etc. to DNF for anything but an extremely serious health/physical reason.

My family makes a TREMENDOUS sacrifice in allowing me to be away from them in order to train and race.

DNFing is simply not an option for me, UNLESS not DNFing is going to lead me to harming myself SO MUCH that it jeopardizes my ability to financially provide for my family after the race.

AJW said...

Thanks everyone, for all the constructive comments. A few replies:

Gary, your finish last year at WS was awesome and I know you'll come back soon and nail it.

Hank, no, I'll never let you forget that dnf at Teton. And I bet you'll never forget it either.

Brad, can't wait to have you back out on the trails. I miss you!

GZ, I haven't thought much about marathoners and their dnf's but I imagine it's similar. Remember, the entire genesis of my post was to consider dnf's as part of a runner's body of work for an entire year and if the voter's for UROY should consider dnf's in their ballots. It was not, as some have suggested, a vilification of all dnf's. And, it was by no means intended to suggest that I am somehow better than the 5 runners discussed because I have not dnf'd. Quite the contrary. I couldn't hold a hat to any of those five. In fact, the post was not about me at all (although that may be hard for some to believe:) and I only mentioned myself when Jasper asked if I had ever dnf'd.

FastEd,sorry to misrepresent you. The point of my final paragraph was to suggest that there were four outstanding runners in 2009 who had not dnf'd. You were one of them.

Tim, thanks for the comment. We'll miss you at Ghost Town although I think there's at least one other guy coming who wants a piece of me:)

Brett, doesn't everyone watch every race anyway?

Sean, Norm is one of the best dnf preventers out there!

Katie (Brownine), 6 pack of pbr if your next post gets more comments than this one:)

Burton, my first WS had a 7 hour struggle from the River and it was worth every step. Nice!

Rick, excellent point on the lack of female dnf's. In the top-5 there were none. Says alot, I think. Nikki's 4th at WS, for example, was an outstanding performance!

Team Gangels Runs, I think people run races for their own reasons whether the fill quickly or not.

Eudemus, you may be right. Perhaps I have become too comfortable.

Sue, you know you are one of the ultrarunners I most admire and I am sorry we disagree on this. But I understand your position and think that both points of view have value. Can you see my point of view?

And Robert, indeed, most of all, I find it very hard to dnf when the family is on board.

Please continue to comment or, if you'd prefer, email me directly at:

awilkins@communityschool.org

crowther said...

Consider my feathers ruffled as well! I agree that DNF's should be considered, just like any other subpar performances, in runner-of-the-year votes. But losing respect for someone based on a DNF without even knowing (or caring about) the particulars of the situation is just plain silly.

AJW, you (and others) make the unfortunate assumption that everyone else should have the same racing goals and values as you (e.g., "dropping out is almost always wrong"). Anton explained in great detail on his blog why he dropped out of Leadville, and if all you can muster in rebuttal is to cite the example of Matt Carpenter, well, that's exactly the point I'm making. Anton is not Matt Carpenter and should not be expected to behave identically because he has his own goals and his own values.

Another example: I dropped out of Western States in 2007, and, in doing so, was able to recover more quickly than I would have otherwise, allowing me to help the American men win bronze medals at the World Cup 100K 2.5 months later. Who are you to tell me that I should have death-marched my way through the rest of Western States, sacrificing the rest of my summer just to avoid a DNF? I know that Western States is your Super Bowl, but why does it have to be mine as well?

Kudos to jhalekas, Old Goat, GZ, FastEd, Footfeathers, Andrew, Rick, fBm, Eudemus, and Sue Johnston for speaking up (in one form or another) in defense of DNFs.

Greg Crowther
(2 DNFs in 23 ultras)

JAD said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyydY5u-jTY

rustyboy said...

Dude, I LOVE your blog and your career and mindset and accomplishments (okay, you get the idea), BUT:

I've had 3 DNFs in my running career. These were all learning experiences for me. We're all individual humans, and each difficult choice to DNF is *very* personal. I admire the fact (and luck) that you haven't faced something so awful that you haven't HAD to drop, but hey, it happens, and every race is specific.

You can learn more from losing something than you can from winning sometimes. Trust me on this.

AJW said...

Greg,

Thanks for the comment and I appreciate your point of view. However, let me clarify my remarks on Anton's Leadville:

I did not intend to pass judgement on Anton for dropping. By all accounts he did the right thing and I know he spent considerable time and energy trying to continue his race. I am sure nobody was more disappointed than Anton about his dnf. The reason for my remark was that I, too, was disappointed. When I saw Anton returning over Hope Pass I hooted and hollered and wanted nothing more than to see him break the CR. I was rooting for him to do that as was my son.
In fact, I really hope he returns to the race next year and gets the CR.

And, just to be clear, I was not judging Geoff, Dave, Dave or Scott either. I know they all had very good reasons to dnf (stomach, heat, injury, etc...) I was simply saying that, as an observer of the sport and a lover of the sport, I was disappointed that they dnf'd and I was wishing that they hadn't.

Finally, as I have said before, my post was primarily intended as a reflection on these five dnf's and what, if any, impact they might have in the Ultrarunner of the Year voting.

crowther said...

Thanks for the response, AJW. However, when you say you're not judging these folks, I'm afraid I don't quite buy it. "A little of that respect [for Jurek] drifted away" when he dropped out at WS? If you lost respect for him, how can you claim that you're not judging him? Likewise, regarding Roes at Miwok, "a struggle to the finish and an 8th or 9th place finish would have spoken volumes." You mean that struggling to the finish would have indicated great things about his character; the obvious implication is that dropping out indicates less-than-great things about his character.

Furthermore, I question the idea that this post was primarily about ultrarunner-of-the-year voting, since two of the five people in your examples are not serious contenders for that honor as far as I can tell. Both Jurek and Mackey have great career resumes, but I don't think Jurek had a single excellent race in 2009, and I haven't heard much about Mackey beyond him winning a couple of relatively low-key 50Ks.

My opinion is that you are indeed judging these people, whether or not you can admit it. I could be wrong, of course.

garobbins said...

After taking a full day to digest all these comments and fully process what's being talked about I feel I should slightly elaborate on my ten second comment within minutes of Andy posting this.

-I have issue with people stepping off the trail when they are simply not going to win their race, or finish near the top.
-I did not mean to imply that I agree with all that Andy is saying here, just that I feel it took courage to post this to the masses and inspire such a controversial conversation
-The only two DNF's I personally saw in here were Dave and Scott at WS. When I passed Dave I was dieing...but he was on a whole other planet of pain...and there was still 30 miles left to go. I don't think he would have even made cut off had he attempted to crawl it in from there.

Yes, I'm damn proud of the fact that I slogged to the finish line at WS...but upon further reflection I'm not sure I'd do it again should I find myself in that situation at that same race in the future...I now have my coveted silver buckle and outside of that my only other goal at WS is to be a top finisher. In short, my motivations would be different and I now know how much I paid for that death march after the fact with a full month of being messed up.

I can understand why someone like Anton would choose to drop during Leadville this year, and even though it's disappointing to true fans of the sport, I'm sure we can never fully appreciate that persons own disappointment in having to do so.

Sometimes it takes more balls to drop than it does to keep on toughing it out...and yes I've now said balls twice in my responses here!

If the person in question is good with their DNF then who am I, or anyone, to question that. I do not doubt that I'll have a DNF in my future as I've only done 4x races over 100km so far, and I know that when that day comes I certainly wouldn't want to feel that I had to justify it to the general public.

GR

Rogue Valley Runners said...

Well Andy, I must chime in only because I feel implicated in the blog, and only to say that I embrace my nickname " Drop Bag " even if it does have a double meaning.

True, we aren't baseball players, speaking to averages of corse, but at the end of the day and the multitude of miles on our bodies dictates a lot.

If youre following the grid iron right now you'll see the biggest debate is about concussions, the invisible injury. How is anyoneone to gauge the human body outside ankle sprains and superficial trauma? It's much to tough to say that one injury outweighs another. It could be ultimately more dangerous.

Oh I'm dropping it.

hk

Rogue Valley Runners said...

this was typed furiously on my iphone, sorry for the grammer and spelling!

Ryne said...

As a fella who has DNFed his fair share of races here is my two cents for what its worth.

* if I had seven Western States winners trophies for every one DNF at Western States I would be thrilled.

* when you have won Western States more than any man in history I think you have earned the right to have a bad day there

* two Leadville wins with one DNF. Given the historical finishers rate there hovers around 52% and Anton is at 66% I would crucify him for his so called "quitting"

I also totally agree with Greg about having to prove yourself at Western States specifically. I mean if you really want to go to the Super Bowl of ultrarunning go to the World Championship 100k. Ya ya its road and road sucks but really there are a dozen 100 milers out there more epic in terms of challenge and terrain.

Finally, may I respectfully suggest that perhaps by never having DNF'd a race that you haven't found your full potential and limits?

I do give you credit for posting what's on your mind knowing your gonna get a fair bit of backlash!

Ryne

Joseph said...

Been there twice here. 2006 Vermont 100 because I was still trashed from Western States and was at high risk for renal failure (114K CPK at WS). Second time was at 2008 Kettle Moraine. No excuse there except that my head wasn't into it and I was close to not making my morning flight back home. One Did Not Start at Wasatch. I forget why but I think I had a conflict with a family event.

Mixed reviews on the DNF. I tend to favor the finish what you started motif regardless of impact on further race performances. However that's me and I understand that everybody has different race goal and objectives. I guess when things go wrong I thank my blessings for the ability to be otusdie anyway and just finish.

Joe Kulak

Craig Thornley said...

AJW, I'm having troubles understanding the purpose of this post. You've said in the comments "the entire genesis of my post was to consider dnf's as part of a runner's body of work for an entire year and if the voters for UROY should consider dnf's in their ballots."

Are you just using these high-profile DNFs as hypothetical examples that could possibly influence voters for UROY, because as Crowther points out, only a couple of these could have possibly influenced the top ten spots for 2009.

While I've also been a critic of "quitters" and an advocate of taking care of oneself during ultras, the difficulty is when the runner really should quit instead of continuing on. We, I think naturally, want runners (ourselves or others) to push through and persevere when things get rough in 100s. Most of the time this is probably a good thing and is respectful of competitors, the race, the crew, etc. However, there are times when pushing through is detrimental to the health of the runner which also puts the family/crew, the race, and the sport in a bad way. When should we push and when should we stop? It's not black and white.

I would like to see our sport create a Haggin Cup type of award for 100s to celebrate and acknowledge those who take care of themselves while persevering and finishing at or near the top.

Regardless of your intent, I agree that it took some balls to post this.

Craig (two marathon, one 50K, one 50 mile DNF)

Aaron said...

I think one of the things all of the comments show here is a changing of perspective in the sport. I come from a track background and have ran very few ultras but this is what I see: 40 years ago finishing a marathon was really something. Today, finishing a marathon is pretty unremarkable and the focus has shifted to running it faster and faster - a new frontier of human ability. It wasn't that long ago that doctors thought it was physically impossible for a woman to finish a marathon and now you're not world class unless you run sub 2:30! Similarly, there is a new breed of ultra runners who want to win/break records - that requires taking significantly more risk upfront and a different perspective on training and recovery. I predict you are going to see way more drop outs in the future. You'll also see more really amazing races and finishing times as a result. Personally, I like the trade-off.

AJW said...

Aaron,

What an excellent point! I really do think that this entire discussion is emblematic of the changing nature of the sport. Thanks!

AJW said...

Craig,

Sorry about the confusion. The original idea for the post emerged out of a conversation I was having with a friend about the voting for UROY and whether or not dnf's are factored into the voting. It was a largely hypothetical discussion but I did think it was relevant given the fact that there were some "high profile" dnf's in 2009 and therefore wrote the post. Of course, I also can completely understand why you might feel some of the 5 guys mentioned would not merit top-10 status.

Will Thomas said...

AJW,

Thanks for bringing this topic up! Only on your blog or a handful of other heavily followed ultra blogs would this topic bring the proper feedback from the proper people. Obviously it is a topic that people are passionate about one way or another.

Thank you for posting this blog and so frankly explaining your opinion. Doing so has opened up the opportunity for many other high caliber athletes to speak their mind on the topic as well. As a middle of the pack runner, I enjoy following the top runners in this sport. Getting to hear their opinion on this topic is great treasure for me. Thanks for taking the beating.

Was there another way you could have brought up this topic without causing as much of a riff, yet still got the responses you did? Maybe, but we'll never know.

I personally have lost respect for many athletes that have DNF'd even after hearing their reasoning. This is most likely because I have a different mindset/goal//agenda for them then they had for themselves. As a spectator/fan I am free and allowed to pass judgement on top competitors in this sport for whatever reason it may be DNF or other. This comes with any sport that has spectators/fans.

I don't think this question can be answered and it probably varies greatly, but I WOULD BE CURIOUS HOW SPONSORS VIEW THEIR ATHLETES WHO DNF. Would they rather see their athlete slog into the finish line not as a top competitor (and possibly more banged up) or not finish the race and face the consequence of having their athlete drop out before the finish line and maybe recover more quickly for the next race.
THOUGHTS from sponsors or those who are sponsored?

Remember Andy, although you rightfully earned your M10 this year at WS100, you may be heading back only thanks to the grace of those who gave up early (DNF). You might want to thank many high caliber WS100 competitors who had a bad day or other excuse not to finish. It is thanks to them that your streak remains. And after this post, some of them may have a different agenda next year just to bump you out.

Bring on the competition!

Craig Thornley said...

@Aaron, I've heard the position before that there is a "new breed" of runner that wants to win and set course records. Do you really think that ultrarunners from the 70's, 80's and 90's didn't try to win or set course records? I'd like to see someone make a compelling argument for that and so far I haven't seen it.

@AJW, as you know, DNF information is not readily available as RDs generally don't report them and UR doesn't publish them.

Joseph said...

Where's Eric Clifton when you need him?

Every DNF has it's own story as does every finish, win and course record. Good stuff

Joe Kulak

Jon Allen said...

Good, stimulating discussion. Thanks, Andy. Personally, I understand your premise and think admiration for no DNF's is good, while realizing that there is a degree of luck involved. That being said, I think considering DNF's can certainly be a factor in UOTY decisions, but I would be wary of extending it much beyond that.

I think DNF's have such a wide range of causes that it's hard to lump them all together- running beyond your ability, lack of training, weather, mental, injury, etc. My only DNF was during college- I tried to run with Mono. I wish it hadn't happened, but DNF-ing was better than continuing in that case. But in the future, I will be happy as pickles if I never DNF again.

steve said...

AJW,
I'm guessing you're probably taking heat for writing this post, but I was happy to see it not because I agree, but merely because the thought occurred to me, too. However, I didn't have the courage (or audience) to start a discussion. Regardless, I think it's better to talk about these things out in the open rather than let them fester in my brain or in a small clique. Without it being in the open, I would never have seen the brilliant viewpoints of people like Aaron, who gave me an angle I hadn't thought of before.

Jamie said...

Andy, I almost feel bad for you for never having a DNF. I've grown from my two, and am thankful for the experiences. That being said, I hope I don't have many more. :-)

Geoff said...

i'm don't think that you're specifically doing it here (at least not intentionally), but one thing that has bothered me whenever this topic comes up is the double standard that many people seem to have as to how they view a dnf based on a runners ability/potential. I have talked to more than a few people who outright admit that they have more of an "issue" with someone who is ahead of them in a race
DNFing as opposed to someone who is behind them in a race. I don't think it makes sense to judge anyone for their personal reasons for dropping out of a race, but if you're going to do so it's odd (at best) to hold top runners to a higher standard than other runners further back in the field. i know that's not what you were intending to do here, but i think you're treading very close to inadvertantly doing so.

as to the specific point you were making - i think dnf's inherently work against anyone being considered for UROY. i don't think a dnf does (or should) detract from that which anyone accomplished in another race, but MOST anyone being considered for UROY will run somewhere between 3-8races in a year. if any number of these result in a DNF you are fairly significantly reducing your options for impressive races that would push you closer toward recognition as uroy. thus a dnf is kind of automatically working against you in that you lost an oppurtunity to improve your resume, even though you used up a lot of time, money, and energy (usually more than you use up in a race that you finish).

AJW said...

Geoff,

Thank you very much for commenting so thoughtfully and constructively. I agree that my remarks may be treading closely to a double standard (holding top runners to a different set of expectations than others) but in a way that was my point. In a way, I was writing my post as a "fan" of the sport. Certainly you know (judging from my hooting and hollering for you and Ulli at SF last month) that in addition to being a participant I am also a big "fan of the game". And, like it or not, often fans hold their idols to higher standards than mere mortals.

In regards to the UROY standards I agree with your point completely and was, as you could tell, attempting to use some examples from 2009 to make my point.

Aaron said...

@Craig, I was basing my comments on what has happened in the marathon and Ironman and for that matter any other sport that at one time was considered fringe and then moved into the mainstream. Initially, the collective goal was to simply complete something that collectively society thought insane. Of course, from the beginning there were individuals who wanted to race, win and break records. Similarly, today there are individuals (many) whose goal is just to complete a marathon. I'm not trying to argue a point on anecdotal cases.

What I am saying is our collective imagination regarding ultras has changed. That is very significant. Very few are inspired by someone just finishing a marathon. As such, our collective aspirations for the event has re-focused on spectacular races and breaking records (or for many, making standard for Boston:).

I THINK the same shift is occurring in ultras. As AJW just pointed out, another 50 sold out in record time. Everyone is running these things now and the collective mindset is changing. As the distance becomes less insane in our minds, more traditional distance (and I would argue faster) runners are entering the sport - they bring a VERY different approach to training and racing (this is based on personal observation of the ultra community and ten years of being coached and racing at an elite level). More sponsors and companies are taking notice (the 10k prize at NFEC being the most obvious example) which increases the certainty that this trend will continue.

These factors, as I stated in my previous post, require athletes to take more risks, significantly reducing the margin of error and increasing the likelihood of dnfs.

Speedgoat Karl said...

"regardless I think there may be some value in looking @ DNFs when deciding ultra runner of the year".

I think it matters just a bit. At Cool this year I ran 20th. On the books, a so-so performance by me. I was running with Scott Jaime near 5th place, feeling good and ready to put the hammer down for the last run up "Goat Hill". My calf seized a mile before that, then I ended up 20th, with a slight, but safe hobble in. What was better, me finishing 20th, or dropping with "no result"?

Tough call on what would work against me.

Sorry I didn't chime in on this post earlier. I'm sure I would have had some good entertaining info.

5 DNF's, 103 ultras.....No DNF's since 2004, and no more to follow. Unless of course an injury prevents me from running. An example of that would be the 2000 Squaw Peak 50, I had a bulging disc....that was legit. All the other DNF's I had were weak decisions. And I regret not walking them in.

Dan Olmstead said...

Andy! This topic is a can of worms vortex! I have tried to resist, but it keeps pulling me back in. Thanks (I think). Since no one else has, I have to point out that while Hal’s 2007 story is inspiring, it is a poor example for the point I believe you were trying to make. This was an all or nothing plan. If things were not going well, Hal had to drop weather or not he could have made it to the finish.

Geoff said...

AJW, i was meaning to shoot you a line and thank you for the enthusiasm by the end of the out-n-back last month in the NF race. i was hoping to catch up with you after the race and i saw you head to the beer tent just as soon as you finished and then when i went there a bit later you were gone already.

AJW said...

Geoff,

Thanks. I had to leave pretty quickly after the NF race to catch a flight home but I gotta say it was amazing to see you and Ulli flying down the coastal trail in lock step. As a spectator, it was incredible.

If you come down for some recon runs on the WS course please let me know.

Congrats on a great season!

C.J. Hitz said...

Though I love your heart and passion as a leading voice in the ultra scene, I have to disagree with the premise of your post.

Unless we're truly able to walk in another's shoes, we simply can't make a 100% accurate assessment of that person, their guts or their motives for a DNF.

Is there shame in a DNF? Not if the person has given everything they have. Would it be better if a person on the brink of permanent injury...even death still finishes the race at all costs? Or would it be wise to think about one's future and preserve what they have for another race? There are so many more varying, unforeseeable dynamics in an ultra compared to shorter races. One foolish miscalculation regarding pace or nutrition could end up dooming a person even at the halfway point.

Calling people out by name on a blog as popular as yours certainly stirs the pot, but also disrespects and passes judgment on those named.

I'm all for finishing what we start, but there are times when we must make that tough decision to DNF rather than cross the line out of shear macho stupidity.

As my friend Matt says, "Failure only increases your chances for success at your next attempt."

Ben Nephew said...

Encouraging people to finish races no matter what is dangerous advice that could lead to serious health issues even in shorter races. In ultras, there is much greater potential for serious injury, which makes the advice even worse.

Encouraging finishing despite a minor injury promotes the use of pain medication. The prolonged use of many of these medications during strenuous excercise can lead to kidney and/or liver damage.

We aren't just taking about the risk to future race performances, this could lead to shortened careers. I'd rather promote healthy racing than a finish or die mentality.

I find it funny that people don't consider proper pacing to be a category of running talent like speed or endurance. Some people are better at pacing than others. Those who are not, will drop out more often because they are more likely to run into physical or mental issues that they cannot overcome.

This brings up the issue of emotional distress. Some runners are more prone to depression and anxiety than others. These runners will drop out more often. It is likely that some of these individuals use running as a form of medication. To be personally troubled by this is not very empathetic.

Speaking of empathy, I agree that this entire conversation could have occurred without using any names.

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