So I DNF'd my very first UltraMarathon, dropping for pain in my ankles less than halfway through the event. What went wrong? What can I do better next time?

Last weekend I attempted my very first Ultra Marathon (Lake Hodges Ultra) which was 32 miles total.  Less than halfway through the run, I dropped out of the race [took a DNF (Did Not Finish)] due to extreme pain in my ankles.  I think there’s alot I can say in hindsight, but I can’t bring myself to write a full race report because I didn’t finish and I really don’t know the full course…cause I didn’t run it.  But there is room to wax poetic about my own screwups and figure out if I’m just a wussy, what went wrong and how I can fix those things next time.  Needless to say, I’m no Courtney D.

Here’s a quick list of 5 things I think I did right and things I think can be improved- 

5 things that went right: 

On Time:  In the end we made the decision that I drive to the event separate from the family (who all rocked their own distances) and this was a good decision.  This allowed me to check in at my own pace, get myself ready and get to the start line early, which I liked.  I think this also made me less nervous.  

Time on the course: In the months leading up to the race I tried to run parts of the course when I was able to get to the San Diego area.  This was good for me and I’ll do my best to get time on every course if I can. 

Starting slow:  I purposefully put myself in the back for the race start and started slow.  But, I should have stayed slow, which I didn’t.  

Shaking it off:  Even before the first aid station, I bit the dust in the middle of the trail due to a rock monster that grabbed my shoe and took me down.  That’s my first real trail header and it sort of woke me up.  But after getting up and shaking things off a bit, I kept going.  

Things I can improve on next time: 

Time On Feet In My Race Shoes:  So I ran the race in my lighter pair of trail shoes, which I’ve worn plenty of times for tough hilly trail runs.  But I had not worn those same shoes for flatter, longer distance running and I had not put more than ten miles at a time on the feet in those shoes.  I think my feet swelled, the laces were too tight on the light/thin tongue of the shoe that was on the top of my foot & ankle and it mattered.  It mattered alot.  What I should have done is simply loosened the shoe laces and taken a minute to sit down and think through the pain over the top of my foot.  What felt like a small stress fracture was instead a very tight shoe lace.  Duh!! 

More mileage in my race gear:  So..yep I had only worn my full race kit once or twice before in training and perhaps I wasn’t as used to it as I should have been.  This seems like a no-brainer. 

DFL:  When I dropped out of the race, I was literally the last person in the race.  It should not have mattered before of the generous time hacks for the race but it got to me mentally.  

Glorious Expectations:  Despite my lack of training, not using all of my race kit like I should have and not prioritizing longer runs, I had very overblown expectations for this run.  

Not running to a plan:  I know that even thinking about running 32 miles is too much for me to comprehend during a race, so I had wanted to run aid station to aid station, small chunks at a time.  I totally screwed up this plan by not even thinking through the small chunks once I started, so it was blown right away.  This is where I can make the largest improvement next time.  

But for someone who literally had not put on running shoes in over four years and had not run any serious distance since 2011…I’d say this has pretty much been a couch to ultra type of thing.  I started training in May and continued with “some” training all the way up to the week before the race (Oct 21st).  My training plan wasn’t always set in stone and always had to contend with the extreme heat where I live and things that took priority over training.

Coming out of this DNF after being DFL during my first ultra has been humbling.  I had a lot of expectations for myself and others did too, but I’ve had to continue with life because I can’t change the way things happened.  Going into another training cycle after I find the next ultra, I’ll prioritize longer runs, running with full kit and do as much running on the actual course as is possible.   Thank for reading, more stories about traveling slow coming on the weekend. 


3 Responses

  1. Not sure if it was Chad or Michelle that ran the race. Either way great lessons learned. Lake Hodges was my first Ultra! You got this next time! I used Run Less Run Faster to train and added 5 miles to long runs with all my gear. Humbling to learn but better for it for sure! Just keep running …

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