Celebrating my first DNF.

With all the turmoil of the past two weeks, I didn’t have the chance to jot down my thoughts about the MST 50K on April 7. I didn’t finish the race. It was my first DNF, but a great experience overall. Here’s why.

On March 2, my ITB started giving me trouble around mile 16 of the Umstead marathon. I’ve had ITB issues before. The problem is caused either when I run fast and/or aggressively (for me) on trails or run really far. I love doing both.

On March 17, two weeks before the race, I started a great family run on the MST. However, the last 7 miles (which I ran solo) were a misery of ITB pain. Ruh-roh.

The next day, I couldn’t run 4 miles. Double ruh-roh.

For the first time ever, I went to a physical therapist, my friend Mimi, for a running-related injury. In the past, I just stopped running for an extended period. Nowadays, however, that would guarantee a quick trip to Crazy-Town. You can read a little bit about my cross-training and PT here.

I was discouraged. I tried to switch to the 12 mile race, but it was full. I contemplated my first DNS.

Between the Umstead marathon and the MST 50K (one month), I ran 43 miles. In the three weeks prior to the race, I ran 4 times—15 miles. But these runs were flat, slow, AND pain-free. I wondered if I could at least start the MST 50K. Maybe???

The voices inside my head launched a serious debate. Andrew, Ann, and most of my friends know that I’ll do what I’m going to do and don’t waste energy trying to sway me one way or the other. Andrew once said, “I realized a while ago that it’s better for you to reach conclusions on your own.” It’s true. Sometimes I take a long time to reach a decision, but I never look back once I get there.

Voice of Reason: Why would you risk all your hard work in PT for a race that you signed up for spur of the moment? You had a great spring racing season. Let it go and get ready for Medoc.

Runs with Scissors: Why wouldn’t I start? I feel great, and I’ll drop out as soon as I have any pain. I know the trail and can call Andrew to come pick me up at any point along the way. I can at least run to the start of the 12 miler and see my friends off.

Volunteering at the Umstead 100 the evening before just fueled my resolve to start the race. If you’re looking for running inspiration, spend some time at a 100 mile race. As I left, Danny had no sooner said “I know you’ll be smart about your run tomorrow, Steph” when I get a text from Steve saying “See you tomorrow. Don’t be an idiot!”

I felt mentally prepared to drop out, but less prepared to run 50K if I felt good. Still, I hurriedly packed a drop bag for the turnaround at Falls Lake Dam, just in case. If I felt good at the halfway mark, I’d continue, but my gut feeling was that I’d be lucky to make it to the dam.

MTS Falls Map

The Falls Lake section of the NC Mountains-to-Sea Trail. The 50K course starts at Blue Jay County Park, goes to the Falls Lake Dam, and back. The 12 mile course starts at Bayleaf Church Rd and finishes at the dam.

I arrived at Blue Jay Point County Park knowing that just being there was a gift.

I saw my friend Melina and her family. Melina had trained intensively for the race, but had also been plagued with injuries. We had emailed back and forth debating the merits of starting, but we were coming to the race from different places. This was Melina’s A race. She is an incredible athlete and I was glad to see her there.

It was a beautiful morning to hit the trails.

The 50K started out surprisingly fast. I found myself running with a couple of guys I’d run with at the Umstead marathon, Scott and Cameron, and we wondered if we were last. We came past the start of the 12 mile race and headed on. Not long after, I hit the ground hard. I jumped up quickly and felt that numb, burning  sensation that promised swelling and a strawberry forming. I decided not to look.

I felt great, and had no ITB pain. Ahead, I saw Scott Lynch’s electric green tick shirt, which I followed for seemingly miles before I finally caught up to him. We traversed a rocky section and just as I said “This is the Uwharrie section of the MST trail,” WHAM! Oh, it was rich.


Kerry took this as I came out on one of the road sections. Thanks to her, Audrey, and Anne for cheering us on!

I emerged at one of the road sections and saw my friend Kerry cheering everyone on. Just before Raven’s Ridge Rd (mile 12), my ITB started hurting. Still, I was only 3 miles from the Falls Lake Dam, where the 12 mile race would finish and the 50Kers would turn around. I decided to press on and finish my race there.

Funny, running faster actually makes the ITB feel better. Knowing that I was dropping at the dam made me pick up the pace. As I ran the last mile, I saw Melina headed back toward me in 3rd OA female, looking strong and with a big smile on her face. She was rocking it! Then Steve came up behind me and we flew to the finish.

I immediately told the timers I was dropping out before I could change my mind. What I wasn’t prepared for was the encouragement from several fellow 50Kers to continue. Both Scotts came in and said “C’mon, Steph, you can do it!” My resolve started cracking, because I felt great as soon as I stopped running. Very reluctantly, I shook my head and said I needed to finish there.

Why do some people get tattoos?

Ouch! Why do people get tattoos?

I was suddenly aware that my right leg was feeling sore and bruised. I peeked at it. Oooh, it was ugly. I’m hoping I paid my dues to the trail gods this spring, after more than two years without a tumble.

I stood in the sunshine, cheered in Stacy, Joanna, and Ken as they finished, and felt incredibly lucky. My DNF put so much in perspective. Running is a gift!

2 thoughts on “Celebrating my first DNF.

  1. Ouchy! That was a nasty looking bit of trail rash. I’ve learned my lesson. Never say the word “Uwharrie” while running a trail race.

    Now, I have to get my frickin’ report done.

  2. Pingback: OVERDUE: MST 50K Race Report | Running with Scissors

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