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Ultra Marathon DNF: Yes, You Failed [But It’s Ok]

Ultra Marathon DNF


I was perusing some online ultra marathon running groups last weekend and came across a post about DNFs in ultra running.

DNF stands for “Did Not Finish;” the participants name is not published and no belt buckle is awarded. The DNF is dreaded by many as hot-spots and slight aches turn into bloody blisters and swollen joints.

They’re a part of ultra running; eventually any person who ventures to run longer and longer and longer will fail an ultra.

Yes, I dare say fail.

Most of the comments on the posts I found offered words of support and encouragement for the runner who carries a DNF.

You still made it so far!

I can’t even run half of that!

Trying is not failing!

You’re incredible for even starting. What an accomplishment!

DNF doesn’t define you. It’s silly to even use that designation for people who try.

Toxicity in the form of helpful encouragement.

Mediocrity disguised as cheerfulness.

Comfort clawing at the door.

There is nothing wrong in the moment of a DNF. You’ve decided to quit –or your body has decided for you– and you give in, grasping for some relief from the pain of hours and hours and hours on your feet.

Sickness, mental deterioration, broken bones and torn ligaments.

There is no shame in a DNF and there is no need to question your character or your willpower. These are not broken.

They aren’t broken because of what comes next.

What does come next?

You decide.

Rise Up; Confront Another Dragon

People’s words of encouragement, their propping up of your character and personal value, their words of appreciation for your effort all come in vain. Their Facebook comments and Instagram likes mean nothing.

In fact, these well-intended comments may unintentionally –unconsciously– bring you down.

Listen to them. Thank them. Welcome their words of encouragement.

Fall into what they stand for.

Comfort. Mediocrity. Complacency.

You tried. That distance is hard. You made the right decision.

Why aren’t any of them telling you to rise up, and confront another dragon?

Where are the Facebook comments telling you to get back on the Wicked Trail and get moving; time spent mourning a DNF is time lost in the pursuit of challenge and adventure!

Why are none of your Instagram followers asking you where the next challenge lies, or how you plan to conquer this challenge, this challenge that proved too great the first time?

A DNF is a moment of failure, but it doesn’t define you. What your mind sets upon after the DNF is what keeps your character and willpower alive. Let it wander away from social media, away from the kind words of those who didn’t taste the suffering and the pain of all those hours.

Set it upon the Wicked Trail; decide what comes next.

Ultra Marathon DNF: The Wicked Trail

Remember why you ventured down this Wicked Trail in the first place; what led you to pursue such a challenge, one that proved too great? Why did you toe the line?

Have those reasons vanished? Are you not of the same mind and body?

Look in the mirror, not to social media and the kind words of friends and family.

Why did I dare go there?

It wasn’t for comfort and calm; you didn’t go there for acceptance and warmth.

You signed up for that ultra marathon, the dreaded DNF, because it made you afraid, and to be dark and cold, to experience the twisted roots of the ominous forest.

And now is no time to forget that.

Your rejection of the norm, of the established standard of mediocrity and complacency, must carry through after your DNF. This rejection was the reason you wanted to see if you had it in you to run the race, the ultra marathon.

But guess what?

You didn’t have it in you.

And that’s okay.

The end of that race, which came too early for you, was never the end goal in the first place.


Remember why you signed up for the race.


Your “Why?” surely wasn’t because you wanted to run 50 miles or 100 miles or more.

It was to inspire yourself, to conquer the unimaginable and experience the effects in your daily life, post-race. You wanted to teach your children, or brother, or sister, or friends that your physical limits are a decision you have to make. It was to live a life free from the bondage of comfort, the great lie that permeates a life and breaks down it’s potential, dragging it into complacency.

You ran that race, you laced up your shoes and toed the line, you ventured toward and experienced the dreaded DNF because there was a lot more at stake, because you are your own culture.

All of these reasons of inspiration and embracing discomfort and living a life free of the confines of culture are ongoing processes.

They don’t happen in a moment of success; they aren’t forgotten in a DNF.

This race was never the finish line.

The Wicked Trail winds on, past the final aid station, past the spectators at mile 99, and past the finish line. It carries on regardless of whether you win the race or quit at mile 10.

You don’t have to look very hard.

It’s right in front of you.

Thank your friends and family for their words of encouragement and respect. Set an example of humility in the face of a great defeat.

But don’t let your mind wander far from your “Why?” or from your next challenge. Confront another dragon.

Welcome to the Wicked Trail…

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3 thoughts on “Ultra Marathon DNF: Yes, You Failed [But It’s Ok]

  1. I love this so much. “Comfort clawing at the door.” Our poor “normal” friends mean well, but yeah, I’ve heard so many comments like that. “Proud of you no matter how far you went!” BAH!

    1. Right on, Annie! Be an example and get back on the Wicked Trail…

  2. Right on. Get up and keep going after it.

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