Or was it? True, I had earned a DNF on this year's course, and true, it was my first DNF at the Arkansas Traveler. In 2009, I had caught the ultra-marathoning fever on this exact course, which had become my first documented finish at 100 miles. So many of my personal running records had been met trudging up and down these dirty roads. With miles of unsteady rocks and understated hills, these trails embraced my laughter and my cries. I had paced it with friends and alone, some years finished broken--some years contented and triumphed. Never failing to challenge, it had taken me many years to earn a sub-24 hour time, and the course had always captivated my bona fide respect.
I made it to the start line of the 2016 ART100 with about 30 seconds to spare. A flat tire on race morning made for my slow arrival, but many times my raveled nerves had produced satisfying finishes. And while I'm hesitant to relate a flat tire to my fail, I find it somewhat of a "Murphy" start to my race stamped with DNF.
Making it through the start of the race into Brown's Creek, I turned onto the single track portion of the race that was my least favorite. For me, the footing is extremely difficult, and each year I take my time and practice patience on this section. But I would need more than patience this year as my injured hamstring made footing on the uneven terrain much more difficult. Each time I stumbled, my hamstring would tighten. With my stride requiring so much fragility and care, I encouraged runners behind me to pass and urged them to let me know if they needed around. Getting closer to Lake Sylvia, I was about 15 miles in when I stumbled and kept going. Down. Down. Down. Fallen. I wormed my way off the trail as five runners passed.
I had started the race knowing that my hamstring was in bad shape. If I were to estimate, I would say that it was probably working at about 40 percent of its max or possibly, even less. It basically lacked power, and with it being my dominant leg, I needed its full ability now more than ever. A doctor explained my hamstring injury to "running with my breaks on," and because a hamstring plays such a vital role in movement, I was really jinxed from the start. Earlier in Sept. a physical therapist had recommended treatment and recovery with the Graston Technique, and advised no running for 6 months. But my hopes for a ninth finish on the traveler course coupled with my stubborn ultra-running mentality, had me starting this 100 mile course that would show no sympathy. And it shouldn't.
I picked myself up from the side of the trail and decided to walk the remainder of the single track portion into the Lake Sylvia aid station. When I hit Lake Sylvia, I was so glad to be done with the previous section, and I was actually looking forward to some better movement with speed through the next sections. I regrouped and continued on. All day, my hamstring remained unreliable and insecure. Simple stumbles resulted in more hamstring tautness, and it was taking me so much energy to move mindfully over the rocks without pain or stagger. However difficult, I made it into Powerline before dark. As the temperature hadn't begun to drop, my focus had, and I failed to grab something warm from my drop bag with the exception of a hat. Off I went toward Turnaround only to be greeted by cold and darkness. It's no lie that I was severely unprepared for the second half of the race, and as the sun set, it only got colder. By mile 76, I found Copperhead aid station for a second time, and it would be the platform for my demise.
Beginning the race injured was my first mistake, but cozying up to the fire at Copperhead was my second. Aid station volunteers tried to keep me moving, but in my stubborn defense, I refused to listen. I was "so cold," and the longer I sat still, the colder I got. My cold body temp with a colder frame of mind lead to nauseousness and fatigue. Willingly approving a DNF, I let them cut my wrist band and help me climb into the sag wagon with another runner who had quit.
Like most of us ultra runners, I was so disheartened to the reality of my DNF. It seemed I had always been able to maintain the mentality that it took to finish a 100-mile race. When had I become so passive to giving in? I couldn't seem to recollect the strength that was required, and my attitude seemed somewhat complacent. However, as the weeks have passed and the disappointment has dwindled, I have recognized the there are two types of pain: pain that hurts you and pain that challenges you. I encountered both this year at the ART100. I have recognized that my physical injuries need time to heal; some will take longer than others. I have recognized that building resilience is a continuing process. I'm not a perfect runner, and while I will always face defeats, I just don't ever have to be defeated.