I wrote a column a few weeks ago about the issue of DNF (Did Not Finish), and I know that it's something that resonates with a lot with runners. The stress, and the feelings of inadequacy that comes along with not being able to finish something that we set out to do can be overwhelming. Many of you contacted me after that article, sharing your own experiences with having to drop out of a race, but I should also point out that although difficult at the time, most of you seem to think it was an important part in the growing pains of becoming a more well-rounded athlete.
This week I thought I thought I would write about something that has become rather timely in my life—DNS (Did Not Start). As a high-profile athlete, and someone who spends a lot of time on social media, I'm usually quite open about my upcoming races and events, always quick to post pictures and updates right after my races.
As many of you know, I am currently training for a Quadruple Toronto Waterfront Marathon later this fall… That's 168.8 km in one day. Whenever you prepare for an endurance event such as this, it's always a difficult process trying to strike a balance between getting in the right number of long and taxing training runs, while trying not to tip the balance into overtraining and potential injury. This past weekend I had planned to run the 100km race at the Niagara Ultra Marathon held in picturesque Niagara on the Lake. As race day drew near, I began to get more concerned about the forecast for brutally hot conditions on race day.
I was also aware that there were quite a few people who were expecting to touch base with me out in Niagara on that day, not to mention, I always like to support this race put on by two of my close friends Di and Henri. For those of you who haven’t done this race before, I highly recommend it. The beautiful course follows the Niagara River Trail, with the turnaround at the majestic Falls.
One of the most important pieces of advice I’ve received over the years came from a friend of mine who has had a long, relatively injury-free running career. His philosophy has always been, "If you are not going to win the race, you might as well enjoy every moment of the preparation for the event and your time on the course the day of the race. And the only way to do that is to listen to your body, and be prepared to step back when it requires extra care and attention." Going into the race this past weekend, I had been battling chronic anemia, something that has visited me on and off over the past 4 to 5 years. When I saw that the temperature on race day was expected to be in the mid 30s, I knew that my body would not respond well to those extreme conditions—and so, with somewhat of a heavy heart, I made the decision not to race the 100km on Saturday.
On its own, this is not that unusual a story for runners. But I wanted to point out how I have matured as a runner when it comes to dealing with ups and downs like this. There was a time not too long ago, when I would have buried my head, engaged in a two-day pity parade, and avoided social media at all costs—Who wants to see all the finishing pictures and pre-race selfies of the runners who decided to go to the race! But that is exactly what I did not do!
I've grown to realize if I want to have longevity in my running career, it's important to feel part of a community, and that means supporting others even when I can’t run. So that's what I did... On Saturday I messaged my friends down at the race to wish them luck and then tracked their progress throughout the day on social media. The surest antidote to avoiding the plague known as the pity parade, is to turn your attention toward someone else, someone who is facing his or her own battle, joy, or adversity.
The other thing I did on Saturday was to enjoy my time with my wife, Mary-Anne. Initially, she was planning on getting up at 3 AM on race morning, and driving out to the start of the Niagara 100km race. She was also planning on waiting around for 9 or 10 hours while I ran just so she could drive me home safely after the race. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, there is no way I would be able to do what I do were it not for the incredible support of my wife, who I affectionately call the world's best running Sherpa!
My weekend didn't work out the way that my schedule had planned, but it worked out the way my body needed it to. I spent Saturday morning enjoying the warm weather, and that included going out for brunch with my lovely wife. And as far as training is concerned, I set my alarm for 4 AM Sunday morning, and got in a 60km training run. So what's the lesson in all of this? Don't treat yourself too seriously… Always keep the big picture in mind… And when in doubt, reach out to those in your community who always look to your support.