About a year ago I wrote a post on this blog about dnf's. In essence, I was asking what I thought, at the time, was a simple question,
"Should dnf's be a factor in the UROY voting?"
However, after numerous comments to this blog and many sidebar conversations, it became clear to me that raising the issue in a public forum surfaced other unintended consequences well beyond the scope of the UROY voting. In the subsequent turmoil members of the ultrarunning community called me, among other things, self-centered, egotistical, judgemental, and downright wrong. I'm a big boy and, of course, I admit to being all of those things:) But, reflecting back on the post, the reaction to it, and the last year in ultrarunning and in my life I think there is more to be said on the topic.
No, I am not going to analyze the 2010 dnf's and call out certain elite runners (although, for the record, there were far fewer high profile dnf's this year than last). Nor am I going to suggest that I, somehow, think people who dnf are bad or unworthy of respect and admiration in the UROY voting and elsewhere. And, I am not going to suggest any change in the UROY voting. However, what I am hoping to do with this post is write a bit about the ideas around the dnf topic and what they have meant to me, personally, over the past 12 months. In addition, I think there are lessons to be learned by running ultras that go beyond the trail and the track and extend into our everyday lives. Lessons that can change the way we think and change the way we run.
I should start by saying that, as regular readers of this blog know, I am in a time of transition in my life. For reasons that are complex beyond the scope of this blog, I am in the midst of a life change that will affect my family and me for years to come. This is not a bad thing or a good thing, it is just life. And in life, as in running, you need to take what the Mountain gives you.
That said, when you think about it, this personal experience for me is not unlike the feeling that inevitably comes somewhere in the midst of 100-mile race. There comes a time, almost every time, as we close in on the Finish Line, when we ask ourselves; Why am I doing this? Is it worth it? Do I want to hurt this bad? Is the reward worth the risk? What would my mother think?
And usually, most of the time, in fact, facing those questions and grappling with our own inner angst, we pop a gel, put our heads down, and forge on down the trail with the grit and determination that characterizes just about every ultrarunner I know. That is what makes us special. That is what makes this sport different. That is what I love about my ultra friends. That is what makes us whole.
Do we learn from our failures more than we learn from our successes? Absolutely! And, as I have spent the last year speaking to people about dnf's it has become clear to me that everyone has their reasons. Everyone knows that they didn't start the race planning to dnf and everyone wants to do better, work harder, be more of themselves the next time. But, still, dnf's happen. They happen on the trail and they happen in the office. They happen in relationships, in families and in schools. In fact, these days they seem to happen more often in places they never happened before.
Clearly, as has become clear, I admire those people who push through to finish regardless of the result. I admit that bias. But, that's just me. And, as is often said about this sport, we only know what we know. We can only view the world from the perspective we have. At the end of the day, the meaning and purpose of our incredible sport is not really clear to the naked eye. Especially, the naked eye that drips with envy, judgement, and ignorance. What is clear to all of us may not be clear to the casual observer. Those on the outside who view us as obsessed, crazy, and self-absorbed don't, ultimately, understand what it feels like to be absolutely spent. Those folks simply won't ever grasp what it means to dig deep and crawl into the Pain Cave one more time. They won't know how hard it is to get up off that comfortable cot at the Highway 49 Aid Station and hike it in.
All of us, on the inside, however, get it. And, I dare say, we live it and love it.