When you toe the line for your first ultra marathon, or any race after, there will be someone running with you that no one else can see.
His bib has no number. It simply reads “DNF.”
He’s right there when you start the long journey down the Wicked Trail, surrounded by other runners and volunteers and race staff. He takes it easy with you over the first few hours; he stops at the same aid stations you do, and he power-hikes those steep uphills.
He checks his watch and adjusts his hat.
He smiles at the sounds of the forest coming alive and he grimaces when his toe catches a rock.
You know he’s there, although you can’t see him.
You knew he was there in your training, in your kitchen, sitting in your living room, and hanging around your workplace, although you couldn’t see him then, either.
Before this race even started, before you ventured onto this Wicked Trail, he was with you.
Did you out-train him?
Did you out-eat him?
Did you stay out later than him or skip workouts more than him?
You see, this runner with “DNF” printed on his bib is not weak. He can run far, he has a solid nutrition strategy, and he’s well-trained.
He was right there in your hardest, coldest training sessions. He skipped the milkshakes and went to bed on time. He trained hills and lifted weights and stretched incessantly.
To avoid a DNF, as all ultra marathon runners desire to, you must train harder than the person who will DNF. You must live intentionally to beat that person on race day. You must eat and drink and sleep and socialize and train as if you are in danger of being that person, of failing alongside that person.
Because you are in danger.
“You against yourself” doesn’t quite capture what I’m talking about here because you have an actual metric of DNF -you know the time and distance- and you have runners who will not meet that time and distance, including your ‘imaginary’ (but all too real) runner.
You must live and train in a way that allows you to beat these people, these people who won’t measure up.
How can you possibly train to beat people you don’t know? People you can’t watch or train with? How can you measure yourself against this group of people who will fall short, and strategize to beat them?
How do you beat your imaginary runner with “DNF” printed on his bib?
Train when he is tucked into bed and stretch while he relaxes.
Eat with intention while he refuels for pleasure.
Habituate discomfort while he rewards himself.
Go Farther when he seeks shelter from the rain and wind.
It’s you against him; he tucks into bed and relaxes when there is work to do. He refuels for pleasure after his long runs, or his hill sessions. He rewards himself with social media attention and a cold beer. He shuts the door to rainy and windy mornings; his mileage can wait.
He will enjoy his training. He will get excited for his race. He will DNF.
You will enjoy your training. You will get excited for your race.
You will cross the finish line.
He’s sitting right across from you; he’s bound for a DNF.
What won’t he be doing tonight, or tomorrow morning? What food will he enjoy this weekend? How many drinks will he share with his friends? Will his stretching and recovery match his level of training? Will he venture to the local hill next week and log some vertical miles?
When you toe the line at this ultra marathon, your next race, he’ll be running right alongside you. Don’t allow yourself to fall behind, or be out-trained and out-lived, by this runner who won’t reach your goal.
It is your goal.
Say this out loud: “[Insert your goal] is my goal. I will have it.”
You will have it, others will not.
Time to decide…