My First DNF – Sulphur Springs 100

The first time I ever fell trail running, I thought, “that had to happen at some point”. That pretty much sums up how I feel about this DNF too. I’ve never had a DNF before and it had to happen at some point. I learned a lot from this experience and a week later, I still think I made the right choice to drop when I did.

It’s taken me a while to write this post because it feels like so much happened and it’s hard to sum it all up. So here’s the much longer version of what happened. Warning: it’s really long!

Callum and I left Toronto around 2pm on Friday to get to the start/finish line in time for packet pick-up, the race briefing and dinner. We got stuck in terrible traffic and actually got there close to 5pm but it turned out that we weren’t late for anything. We drove our camper van down so we could sleep in it Friday night and Callum could periodically take naps while crewing me.

Everything went according to plan on Friday night. We had dinner then drove to go get some ice to fill our coolers for what was supposed to be an incredibly hot race day. We got a good parking spot right by the start/finish line and then relaxed until around 10pm when we went to bed. It was hot so I had trouble sleeping but I think I finally feel asleep around 11:30pm.

I had set my alarm for 5:15am to be ready for a 6am start. Since we were sleeping at the start line, there wasn’t a whole lot to do before the race besides get dressed, eat breakfast and apply a lot of sunscreen. Around 5am, I heard people walking through the parking lot and decided I should get up. It was already really hot out and it wasn’t even 6am! At 5:45, I was ready and went to go find my running group. Then all of a sudden it was 6am and we were off! I felt surprisingly calm about this race, usually I am really nervous about big races so it was a nice change.

Loop 1 – I started out slow, I ran the first couple km with Tanya from my running group and then I let her go because I didn’t want to get carried away. I talked for quite a while to a guy who did search and rescue for the military. He stopped at an aid station and I kept running. My plan for this loop was to get familiar with the course. I had run one loop of the 100 mile relay last year and I was surprised by how little I remembered about the course. I talked briefly to a few other people and the loop went by pretty quickly. I went into the start/finish knowing that I needed to start carrying ice. Callum got me my handheld bottle filled with ice and I filled my Buff with ice and I was off.

Loop 2 – I remember very little from the beginning of this loop. I was really concentrating on my nutrition and trying to remember the course so I wouldn’t get lost during the night. The course has two aid stations and you go past each twice in a loop. After you pass the second aid station, you run a lollipop and end up back at that aid station 7 or 8km later (I’m guessing the distance). During this loop about 1km after the aid station, I realized that I was about to run out of water so I panicked a little. It’s really hard to tell in my hydration pack how much water is left so this is surprisingly easy to do. Thankfully a couple km later, I ran into Chris H who gave me some water and we ran the rest of the loop together which made it go by quickly. When I got into the aid station, Callum has some PB&J crackers ready for me which I really didn’t want but took anyway. I got all my ice refilled and I was off again.

Loop 3 – I ate the PB&J crackers while walking away from the start/finish line, I forced them down and felt much better afterwards. It was getting really hot by this point, around 40C or 100F with the humidity, I think. I ran the first part of the loop with the sole purpose of getting to the first aid station so I could get more ice. I kept my Buff around my neck filled with ice and my handheld filled with ice that I poured on my neck when it melted, this system worked great. I ran into a woman earlier in the race who told me to make sure not to dump water on my head because your head controls your body temperature so you don’t want your head to be covered in ice and think that you’re cooler than you are. I listened to this advice because it seemed to make sense so I would only pour water on my neck and I left my head to be hot. By the end of this loop, my knee had started to hurt but I ignored it and hoped it would go away. I also changed all my clothes for the first time because I was soaking from all the ice melting on me.

Loop 4 – I started this loop walking and eating an avocado and cheese sandwich and drinking strawberry-kiwi juice (best thing ever). I would eat half the sandwich, which I figured was about 200 calories and then wait an hour and eat the other half so that it counted as another hours worth of food too. In addition to this, I would eat whatever looked good at the aid station, usually cucumber and pretzels. The best thing about this loop was that one of the aid stations was giving out Popsicles! After spending all day outside in the heat, those Popsicles were such a highlight. At the next aid station, I left at the same time as a someone complaining about the heat and ended up running the rest of the loop with her. Lou (my new friend) was a great distraction and made the rest of the loop go quickly.

Loop 5 – I went into this loop just wanting to get it done because I knew that afterwards I would have a pacer which I had looked forward to all day. At the beginning of the loop, I ate another cheese and avocado sandwich with more strawberry kiwi juice which was still the best thing ever. I ran this loop at the same pace at loop 4 because I wanted to get back and meet my pacer so badly. I ran sections that I hadn’t run in two loops. I ended up back at the start/finish at 9pm and I had really had enough. I had spent an entire loop by myself without really seeing anyone and my leg was killing me by this point. I turned to Callum, almost crying, and said, “no one knows the difference between 100miles and 100km, isn’t 100km good enough?” He told me that 100km is good enough but today that’s not what I was there for and that I had to keep going (this is exactly what I told him I wanted when I talked about the race ahead of time). I changed all my clothes again at the end of this loop and got some food. My pacer, Jen, had been waiting for me for an hour at this point so I decided that I should get moving.

Loop 6 – I had been so excited to get back and have a pacer and now I had Jen but all I wanted was to not go back out! Jen and I finally got going but my knee wasn’t really bending by this point so we mostly walked. I think we maybe ran 1km in the 20km loop. Jen was extremely encouraging and told me that we didn’t need to run but we needed to keep moving. It was dark out but it was still incredibly hot. I did talk Jen into letting me sit down three times on a bench, twice for two minutes and once for 30 seconds. She would time me and then I’d get up and keep moving. I told Jen halfway through the lap that when we got back I was dropping and she told me that we’d get back and ice my knee, have some food and I’d be ready for my next pacer. At the beginning of the loop, I could walk fairly pain free but running was extremely painful. By the middle of the loop, walking was extremely painful and I could feel my knee swelling. By the end of the loop, I would have to stop on hills because of my knee pain. Within 2km of the start/finish line, it began to thunderstorm.

In the pouring rain at 2am, I dropped out because of my knee pain/swelling. My knee was huge, I couldn’t bend it. I decided that not being injured all summer was more important to me than finishing. I’m also getting married in a month and I’d be nice to be able to walk normally for that!

Before this race, the farthest I had ever gone was 50 miles (80km) so I made it 1.5 times farther than I ever had before. I ran for 20 hours, almost twice as long as I’d ever been on my feet for. I ran at night with headlamp, also a first. My nutrition was pretty much right on and I didn’t feel nauseous even with the extreme heat. And I survived a day outside in extreme heat without getting heat stroke.

I didn’t get the belt buckle but I learned a lot about myself and what I can do. Could I have pushed through the pain and walked the last 40km of the race? Probably but I’m also happy that I didn’t. It’s been over a week and I still can’t walk down stairs normally! I don’t want to be out because of an injury all summer, this is my favourite time of the year to run and explore!

I feel like I have unfinished business with this race but I’ll be back next year to resolve that. For now, I’m resting and hoping that my knee recovers quickly.

I’ll do another post about everything I ate, packed and the logistical stuff soon!

Have you ever DNF’d?

Happy running!


10 thoughts on “My First DNF – Sulphur Springs 100

  1. Tina@GottaRunNow June 7, 2016 / 8:06 pm

    I’ve dnf’ed. It felt great to return and to finish that race later, uninjured. Sorry about your knee, but congrats on nailing your nutrition and running your longest distance ever!

  2. inkdgirl55 June 7, 2016 / 8:17 pm

    I ran Sulphur too, I did the 50 miler and those conditions were brutal. Congrats on getting as far as you did!

    • KatherineRunsUltras June 7, 2016 / 8:20 pm

      Thanks 🙂 Congrats on the 50 miler! It was a brutal day but now I guess we’re all ready for summer running!

  3. Russ June 7, 2016 / 9:55 pm

    That’s some brutal conditions. I’ve never DNF’d but was it you that shared the great article on Twitter? I’ve puked in two ironman races – sat dejected each time and wondered if I could go on. Eventually I did. But I know what it’s like to hit the lowest of lows in a race.

  4. Canuck Carl June 8, 2016 / 3:40 am

    Thank you for sharing Katherine. I can’t imagine the emotions you must have been experienced about whether to keep going or to call it off in the pouring rain and in the dark of the night after 120k’s.

    I struggle to get my mind around that distance. In the heat, and on technical trails that is a HUGE accomplishment.

    I have only been running for 3 years, and have not yet had a DNF, but as I am pushing myself to longer distances I am expected my time will come. And Katherine, I have so much respect for how you came to your decision. Particularly with your upcoming wedding, there would be a lot of things weighing on your mind. And congratulations! 🙂

    I have heard that redemption runs in which unfinished business are resolved are very sweet. You will be back next year, and will do it.

    Hopefully I will see you on the trails this summer and get to meet you. Until then have a great wedding, and enjoy this ever so brief Canadian summer! 🙂

  5. Jessica June 8, 2016 / 9:19 am

    I have DNFed and it will always haunt me, even though it was the right decision. Fantastic work, Katherine. You are a queen.

  6. Tanya June 8, 2016 / 9:47 am

    Congratulations. Respect to you my friend!

  7. adamhaesler June 12, 2016 / 3:34 am

    Hey Katherine,
    This was so tough to read. You are more level-headed about it all than I was after my own. But I could kind of imagine what it felt like in each loop.

    I was reading your race report, and at times nearly cried, as quite frankly I wanted you to finish maybe more than I wanted myself to finish my own, ☺ (plus I can imagine the many things going through your head when you make the decision to dnf). Or maybe I just had more faith in you, I guess kind of the same thing. I knew from the get go mine would be 50 miles at best, but felt that with all your experience in ultras you could finish this, maybe not fast but that you would finish. But unfortunately this is the reality of ultras, and why we are all humbled by them, and a dnf can happen to anyone anytime.

    But with that said I am very proud of you, and I have no doubt you made the best decision, walking down the aisle, not limping would be preferable i am sure, and the summer is the best time to explore. Although, I am glad Callum was there to push you to go out for the 6th loop, so he is awesome. The reason is because you might have always wondered if it really was true you were done physically, or was it just in your head.

    So happy for you getting married congratulations a 1000x!!!

    Have a wonderful day!
    You rock!!!

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