Last updated: 05-Nov-18
By Dan Stinton
You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. The Matrix 1999
Right now, you could give me any pill you want as long as it makes me ready for the Lakeland Trails 110km in around 29 hours. But alas, this is not to be. No pill, magic wand, or banned substance will cure me now and I’m squaring up, lip-wobbling, to my very first DNS (that is Did Not START). Not just any DNS, but for my “A-Race” of 2017. The one I’ve bored everyone to death with, the one the missus glazes over as soon as I mention, the one I have hotels booked and time off work for, the one that means I would get to experience a midnight start and a beautiful Lake District sunrise.
Except I won’t be trudging those trails this year. I’m refusing to believe it, even though I’ve already sent my withdrawal email and firmly broken the no-drinking rule whilst I wallow in my pit of despair. The smallest part of me thinks there is still a chance. But no. Not unless I want a DNF and potentially the rest of the year off.
Most long-distance runners need a good bit of determination and drive or else we wouldn’t be doing this. It’s very hard to tell people who want to get things done that they can’t. Not only that, they have to consciously decide to withdraw themselves which, in my case at least, was a real tug’o’war of the mind. I even had the ridiculous thought “well this pain will surely go away once something else starts to hurt more.”
View from the Recce. Photo credit: Dan Stinton.
Winding back days ago, I started leafing through an ultra magazine to give me a bit of a mental boost after a couple of tough weeks off running. The first story tells the tale of a guy who ended up urinating blood and was reduced to a 1mph shuffle (yet still finishing). Flipping through a few more pages and the next story tells the tale of a DNF with an ankle swelling to the size of a watermelon. Completely horrified, I was somehow still inspired by how we humans can face such tough conditions, and yet by the power of a few electrons whizzing round inside the skull, have the willpower to finish an ultra.
Whilst being able to take part was looking unlikely, I’d already packed all my gear, stuffed myself with carbs, had a daily dose of beetroot juice (apologies to my crisp white work shirts) and generally just strutted round like an ultra runner.
Then I started asking myself the question – when am I actually going to decide what I’m doing? Shall I wait till just before registration? How about 20 min before the start, rucksack on, fully furnished in compression gear and fear? Perhaps I could get halfway up the first hill in the dark heading out of Ambleside and quit then?
What have you done to yourself I hear you cry? Well that’s what almost makes things more difficult as I’ve not torn a muscle, twisted my knee or got plantar fasciitis. My leg just hurts. In various places. I’ve been prodded like a 1980’s beanbag by the physio and there is no sign of a specific injury, but when I run everything seems to tighten up in the hip/hamstring area. My final swansong was an 8km test run a couple of days before the race, when I knew I needed to make a decision. The pain soon came back in my upper hamstring and glute, not agony, but constant and I knew it was just not the way to start an ultra. I had a call with a very experienced ultra runner the next day who gave me a good talking to and made me question why I was I even contemplating starting. And that was that, it was over.
I’m sure many of you have had to deal with a DNS and DNF, as it’s part of the territory. We all work so hard towards a race and it’s snatched away so easily and getting back on track seems so far away. I’ve not fully accepted it yet, but I know I’ve done the right thing, as no single race can be worth starting in poor form and potentially ruining months of training ahead. The Lakeland Trails 110km happened last year, and it will happen next year. I’ll be on the start line, one year older and with a hell of a lot more miles under my belt.
About the writer: Dan is a Peak District-based runner who once ran a 50km race in the wrong direction, he likes nothing more than escaping into the Dark Peak and then writing about how difficult it was at www.allhailthetrail.co.uk