|My dream of becoming the world's fastest cross-legged pirate (shirtless division) was short-lived
Whatever the exact cause, a week before the race I did a hard tempo session and tweaked my left Achilles tendon. It wasn't terrible--just a bit of tenderness to the touch--so I thought that if I just took it easy for a week I'd be okay for the race.
Long story short, I wasn't. It was a cold morning, so my legs were thoroughly chilled by the time the race started, which didn't help. By 4 miles in, my Achilles felt off, and by mile 8 I was starting to run weirdly because I was favoring my left leg. Things were definitely not going well but I didn't know what to do about it. It was a beautiful, fast course and under normal circumstances that sub-7 hour finish I'd had my heart set on should have been within reach. However, as it was I really didn't feel like running. I just wasn't having any fun. (I also forgot my hat, to add stupidity to injury.) In retrospect, I was probably overtrained. That would explain the malaise and the proneness to injury.
Around mile 10 I started thinking seriously about dropping. Although I wasn't enjoying the race, my inclination was to try to finish. I'm not a quitter--or more accurately, I'm someone who really likes to think of himself as not being a quitter. I was pretty sure I could still finish. My Achilles was uncomfortable but not excruciating and if I babied it there was a good chance it would last to the end. Then I would still on schedule for my 50 miler, and I wouldn't have to write a blog post about DNF'ing right after I'd written a post about all the progress I'd made in being healthier. I decided to stick it out.
I came into the mile 15 aid station planning to soldier on. I'd forgotten my hat at the start and it had been a while since the last aid, so I applied sunscreen and gorged myself on food. Refreshed and determined, I started off the second half of the race.
My Achilles was now twice as bad. Confound it. It was time for a more honest analysis. Reasons to quit: there was a chance I'd injure myself if I kept running; ever if I didn't injury myself, I'd probably slow my recovery from whatever this was; if I dropped I'd have a better chance of running my 50 miler and my next 50k in December. Reasons not to quit: I wouldn't feel like a quitter.
Okay, this put things in perspective a little bit more. It was basically my brain versus my pride (or possibly my brain's ability to rationalize versus my pride; it was hard to tell for sure). A half mile later I came to the fork where the 26k runners turned to go to the finish. I sucked up my pride and headed in.
Normally when I'm on the home stretch of a race I speed up but somehow I just couldn't force myself to do that this time. I kept plodding along at a conservative 50k pace, taking frequent walking breaks. I don't know if it was because I was mentally still in ultra mode, or if I was demoralized from DNF'ing, or if it was further evidence of being burnt out, but the end result was that I did a lot of walking while a stream of 26k runners (who had all started an hour after me) flew past on their way to the finish.
I briefly considered pretending to be the winning 50k runner but I'm not (that big of) a sociopath. I don't think I would have fooled anyone anyway. Based on the reception I got at the finish line I don't think anyone thought I looked like someone who could run a 3:30 50k. On the other hand there fortunately wasn't any of the outright booing I was subconsciously expecting. I went through the chute without making eye contact, picked up my finishers beer glass (I did finish the 26k, after all), and quietly took off my 50k bib so I could blend in with everyone else while I snacked.
So that was my first DNF. It obviously wasn't my proudest moment, but the real question at this point is whether it was the right decision. Looking back a week and a half later, I suppose I'd have to say yes (probably). There was definitely something wrong with my Achilles, and I'm still feeling burnt out and under-rested. I've never maintained consistent training for for more than a few months before, usually because of injury, and maybe my body needs a periodic break (or maybe the dark fall mornings are just making me lazy). I'm hoping that if I reduce my mileage for a few weeks I'll be able to come back stronger and healthier--and hopefully be able to finish the darn race next time.
Order my children's book about barefoot running: What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run?