Why a DNF is good for you
Yesterday I took part in the Peak District 70th Birthday Bash race, celebrating the anniversary of the Peak District National Park. 70km / 43.5 miles and 8500ft / 2600m of ascent. There was an option to do half the distance but I decided to take on the full challenge of 70km.
I've done a few ultras now and the longest distance is 100km. So, the distance didn't concern me, it was the elevation that was going to be the challenge. I had a few friends that fancied the half distance but couldn't persuade anyone to join me for the full 70km (I'm normally very persuasive too).
The other challenge I faced for this race, was the self navigation. I couldn't just turn up and follow some carefully placed signs, I had to actually take notice of where I was going, find my own way round and potentially do some sections in the dark. To help me gain confidence I did a navigational course with Jamie at First Light Active to get my head around navigation and how to read a map (yes, I did it in guides... but that was a long time ago) and use a map (I always use technology to navigate).
Luckily, we were provided with gpx files of the route so to help with my confidence and understand exactly what I was taking on I decided to recce the whole route, in sections, with my friends. This helped me prepare mentally for the race, trained my legs for the hills and it gave me the confidence that I knew where I was going (if only it worked...). The plan was then to run the first 35km with my friends Josh, Kieran & Joanna before heading off solo for the last half of the race.
Between the group of us, we decided to opt for the non competitive start and to begin earlier in the day. For me, this meant less chance of running in the dark. Two weeks before race day whilst checking out start times, check points and cut offs. I realised that the timings were different for the 35km and 70km. I couldn't run with my friends which hit me quite hard.
For me preparation is key for these big races, I'd put the training in, practiced the route, organised start time, parking and chief support (thanks Lucy). Then the realisation of running the full route alone messed with my head for a few days. I've never run that far alone before, could I do it, who'd pick me up (2 strangers actually), would I get lost (a little bit) and encourage me to keep moving when I started to get tired? Nothing I could do to change it, so accepted it and moved on.
A few days before race day, I was out with some friends. The buzz of them finishing races and talking about ours started to mess with my head again. Nerves started to kick in, I don't normally get nervous until the day, but something about this challenge was getting to me.
Race day. Lucy picked me up around 6am and we drove to Castleton to register. After a strict bag check looking at the obligatory kit, I squashed my belongings back into my rucksack and got myself ready to start. As I had opted for an early start, I walked over to the start line to find there was just me... never have I started a race alone, thank god Lucy was there to cheer me on!
It starts with a flattish 2km, before the first climb up to Hollins Cross and then Mam Tor. The tops were covered in snow and the views were absolutely breathtaking. I felt good so continued on towards Lords Seat, Rushop Edge, South Head Hill and then finally down into Hayfield. Now, on the descent into Hayfield (about 14km into the race) I obviously relaxed way too much. I was running down hill on a gravel path, with no big rocks or drops and I tripped up and fell over (some dust or something) I always make a joke about my 'air bags' saving me from serious injury, but to be honest it's about the only plus point of being this size! Luckily the two ladies running in front of me came back and picked me up. I brushed myself down, walked for a bit to get my confidence back (and to check nothing was broken) my knee was stinging but nothing broken. The climb up to the first check point (16km) made me mutter, but was happy to see some friendly faces and grab a snack (peanut butter sandwich and banana).
Now to tackle the most difficult part of the race, Kinder Scout. I knew this race would be more walking than running for me, due to not only the hills but the challenging terrain. What I love about this section, is the views looking down on Kinder Reservoir as you climb up and then the mental challenge of looking up and seeing how far you've got left to go! I felt sick going up this section, don't know if I was trying to go too fast, knocked confidence due to my fall or the peanut butter sandwich. I thought it was the sandwich...
I then headed across the tops to Kinder Downfall and over to the next check point at Kinderlow (highest point in Derbyshire). From here we went down Jacob's Ladder, following the Pennine Way to Edale and the next check point (32km). Here Lucy was waiting for me with a bag of goodies and change of clothes. I was seriously overheating on the climbs so needed to change my top. I got changed and went to the toilet. This is when I realised that I had salt crystals all over my face, that's why I felt sick.!I hadn't drunk enough water and needed to replace the salt I'd lost through sweating, I ate some salty snacks and filled up my water bottle with electrolytes. Must remember to drink. This has never been a problem for me, I usually drink too much (and flush out all the sodium) but since running with poles I forget to drink and eat regularly because I have poles in my hands.
Lucy walked with me for a bit as I headed back out again and I then started chatting to some other runners and we stuck together for a while. The next section was relatively short, just 12km. Heading through Nether Booth, Wooler Knoll and up to Win Hill before the muddy descent back to Bamford where Lucy & Martin were waiting for me. I came to a split in the path, went to the left fork but then told myself it was the right folk that looked familiar. The views were breathtaking along this path, I was taking videos, photos and generally enjoying being outside. I must have been on here for about 2km before I realised nobody else was around me and I'd taken the wrong path... I checked the map, panicked, checked again, asked a lady for directions, panicked, called Lucy & Martin, calmed down a bit, worked out how to get back to Win Hill ( yes, it involved a massive climb upwards) and then Martin called me back, described the terrain I should be going through and confirmed what paths to follow (they were tracking me on an app), phew I was successfully navigating myself in the right direction again.
The joy on my face when I got to Win Hill and the views over to Ladybower Reservoir, I was back on track and feeling good. Then the climb off Win Hill and down to my friends at Bamford, everything changed. My right knee was hurting more and more with every step. I recognised this pain, it happened to me in my first ever ultra 4 years ago. No pain going uphill, slight pain on the flat and excruciating pain going downhill. My race was over. I phoned Lucy to tell her I'd be pulling out and then video called Jonn in tears. I knew this was a massive challenge to put my body through, but I needed to listen to my body, especially with the amount of other races I have booked in this year.
The section down to Bamford was slow and painful, I even got caught by the sweeper, which has never happened to me before. I guess that's what happens when you add on an extra 4km after taking a wrong turn! Martin came down to meet me for support and took me to what was going to be my final check point of the day 48km (should have been 44)!
I've been reflecting since Saturday, did I have any warning signs or should I have trained more/less. I had noticed a weakness in my right glute and Rachel (my sports massage savoir) had also noticed it was tight and when I was on a two day strength & conditioning training course, I had to stop training as I started to get pain in my right knee (I thought this was due to fatigue). If I'm honest, my strength training had taken a bit of a back seat as my business got busier and busier. I was just about finding time for my running, but I know that strength training is a must too. So guess what I'll be focusing on for the next few months?
I've never had a DNF (Did Not Finish) before, but as Jonn put it at least it wasn't a Did Not Try. That's not bad going for someone that's been running for 15 years. People keep asking if I'm disappointed, you must be joking! I did 48km / 30miles & 5000ft / 1568m of ascent. I'm going to wear my t-shirt with pride and keep my fingers crossed that this becomes a yearly race. I've not finished with this race yet!