What I learned about my first 100 mile DNF
By Henry Howard
As runners, especially ultra runners, we often test ourselves to push our limits and discover what’s possible for us.
That could be time-based, distance-based or even a non-metric-based goal.
In pushing our boundaries, we learn what we’re capable of, and what we excel at. Of course, that can change over time, whether it is because our fitness has increased or perhaps limitations related to age, training time, injury or other factors have entered the equation.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about that since I had my second consecutive 100-miler attempt derailed. In July, I called it a day at the Burning River 100 due to a variety of issues and accepted a 50-mile finish. This past weekend, a miscue with my crew at mile 69 of the Hennepin Hundred meant I didn’t have a much needed extra outer layer and warmer gloves when I needed them. After failing to get warm while covered in blankets and additional clothes while sipping hot broth at the mile 74.5 aid station, I called it a day.
While I have finished three 100-milers — Hennepin twice previously and Rio del Lago once — I’m turning my focus more on the distances that give me joy and seem to be in my sweet spot for running. Specifically those would be the marathon and 50K.
Here are some things I learned about my first 100-mile DNF:
• The nutrition plan I had worked wonders. A combination of Honey Stinger waffles and Science in Sport caffeinated gels worked really well for me. I hit my hourly calorie goal with those for the first 40 miles. While I continued to use those on course, I delved into other food as well after 40 miles and I didn't have an stomach issues all day.
• My pace was consistent in the early going. In fact, miles 20 through 22 my pace was 10:32, 10:33 and 10:32. One runner, who was doing a run-walk, at one point smiled and shook his head. “You never stop.”
• Confirm everything with your crew before leaving the aid station. I don’t blame him for going to the wrong aid station whatsoever. If I had stopped for a brief second before leaving the previous aid station to confirm the plan, it might have been enough to save the race. That’s on me.
• While Karl Meltzer proclaims “100 miles is not that far,” a lot can happen during such a long race. Be prepared for anything that may happen. This also relates to take an extra couple of seconds before departing the aid station. Had I taken another few seconds to think about what else I may need before departing the mile 63 aid station, I might have put on an extra layer. That also could have been a game changer.
• At the end of the day, it’s not whether we win or lose, PR or DNF, it’s about the experience. I took advantage of the day to thank all the volunteers, encourage other runners and spend a day on the trails embracing my passion.
And, upon reflection, that makes the day a win.