After 130+ marathons and ultras, and countless half marathons and shorter races my luck has finally run out this year and I’ve had my first DNF.
2019 I’ve tried some adventurous and challenging races so a DNF is not unsurprising.
Did it happen at the 125km Transgrancanaria, running up and down mountains in (comparative to the UK in February) heat, taking on technical trails I’ve never tried before? The race where the week before my left hip went wonky, I could hardly run and had my lowest mileage week in years. I struggled to run the 2 miles down to the expo to collect the bib so a DNF was not unforeseen. Was that where I DNF’d? No. I befriended some Irish runners, drank some beer and ploughed on.
Did it happen at Wendover Woods 50k, a challenging off road trail at night where I had my first proper fall and managed to punch a tree on the way down? Was that where I DNF’d with two dislocated fingers? No. I popped them back in and got it done.
Did it happen at the Lakeland 100? A 105 mile race with a DNF rate as high as 50-60% in previous years. One of the hardest single stage races in the UK, covering a ridiculous cumulative climb and where the constant wet socks and shoes macerated my feet so I could barely walk. Is that where I lost my DNF virginity? No. I hobbled on, swearing at the night sky, ran through two nights with some runners I hooked up with and earnt the medal.
It was clear only a race of epic proportions, vertigo inducing terrain and jungle-like conditions would break me. Something like the Old Money Run put on by Redway Runners. A flat 10 mile race in Milton Keynes. Most of it is on footpaths or flat fields with the odd kerb the only challenge to pace. It would be inconceivable to DNF there wouldn’t it? Yep. So I did. Bollocks.
The week leading up to the race started well.
I ran the 6:40min/mile paced run on Tuesday and remarked to myself how much better I felt than two weeks previously where a dodgy left hip (the same one that flared up prior to Transgrancaria) meant I dropped out of a training run halfway through for the first time ever. I’d rested for a week, banged out a moderate marathon in between and felt great, holding the 6:40 pace relatively comfortably given my holiday weight gain. I was back on it.
Wednesday I ran my usual 9 mile loop with Redway. Hip still great but right knee seemed a little stiff on the uphills so kept it easy.
Lakeside club run Thursday it felt OK after a couple of miles and I managed a HM distance run feeling strong.
Friday dog jog the knee was a little stiff but loosed off after a couple of miles again, so didn’t stress too much. As with most issues I thought this would pass.
I’d intended to rest on Saturday ahead of the 10 mile race on Sunday but needed some longer runs in preparation for Bournemouth and Chicago marathons. By luck the sons footie match was later than usual so for the first time in 2019 I was able to join Lakeside Runners for a Saturday run and covered around 14 miles. Towards the end the stiff knee returned so I rested for the remainder of the day. Half of me knew this was just temporary. Half of me worried this might be cause for concern.
Race day arrived and I did a short 1 mile warmup to loosen off the knee ahead of the race. It didn’t seem to work and I stood on the start line feeling stiff and wondering if dropping down to the 5 mile option might have been sensible. From a scan of the runners I had no chance of beating my third place from last year on the 10 mile, and would fare much better on the 5 mile.
We set off and I kept the leaders in sight for around half a mile before they pulled away and a couple of familiar runners passed me. Slowly I was passed more often. My right knee was not loosening as hoped and seemed not too keen on taking my ample weight. Mile 1 and 2 came up at respectable times but were far more work than they should be.
Mile 3 was poor. Then it all went downhill quickly and I was reduced to a painful shuffle. I had 7 miles left. I’ve stumbled further than this to finish an ultra and a lot can change over a few miles. Resolving to take it easy and make my mind up later I carried on and managed a whole half mile before I had to stop again. One passing runner asked if I was keeping the pace low to save myself for the second lap. It was probably this that made my mind up. I could barely run already, what would be the point of doing all this twice and jeopardising my marathons? Mind made up I knew I would be dropping at the end of 1 lap. Bollocks, here comes my first DNF. Ultra runner can’t handle the arduous 10 miles of Milton bloody Keynes.
Limping up to the line I signal to the timekeepers that I’m dropping and running no more. Surprisingly I’m not the only one to drop and an assembled group of 10 milers, laid waste by injury, man flu or other ailments are lingering and looking forlorn. I head straight home whilst I still think I can drive and console myself with beer and Doritos.
Injured and miserable
Having been pretty much injury proof in 8 years of running, nothing has ever kept me off running for more than a couple of days. So I wasn’t really sure what to do. Something told me my knee needed a bit more than my usual ‘ignore it and hope it goes away’ that I use on door to door salesmen so I headed to the Treatment Lab in Milton Keynes for local runner and sports massage therapist Rudi to have a prod.
He used a lot of technical words but summation is nothing is broken/torn but bad inflammation on knee means the mechanics are well off and struggling to bear weight. Pushing through on the race meant my calf and quad are stiff as well so my whole right leg is painful. Rudi worked the muscles and pressure points off and it feels a lot better. His advice is to rest, apply ice and not to run until I can single leg squat on that leg. Standing in his treatment room my mind was refusing even to entertain the notion as self-preservation kicked in the instant I attempt to bend my right knee and unbidden it locks my legs and tells me in no uncertain terms to feck off with this stupid suggestion until it decides it’s feeling ready.
So it’s now Wednesday. I’ve had my first DNF, my first visit to a sports rehabilitation expert to get my third ever sports massage and three days of not running which is unheard of. As driving was straining the knee I’ve resorted to a lengthy and awkward train journey to Exeter rather than drive. All this with a hope that I can be fit to run Bournemouth in a week and a half, and Chicago a week after. Hotels and flights are all non-refundable so I’m going anyway, just not sure if I’ll be coming back with medals or DNFs to add to the collection. Either way I’ll be sampling the local beer and pizza.
Ever been injured? Shit isn’t it. I’ve started painting the hallway.