Back in 2019, on an volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, I was hunched over on a curb and bawling my head off. The snot filled cry, that shows up unannounced and just releases its glory for all to see. I had just got pulled off a course for a marathon and pocketed my very first DNF; Did Not Finish. It broke my heart in a way that I was not expecting. I had really trained for this race and put in the work. It was a challenging race, and at mile 9, I was already negotiating my exit plan.
‘Just make it to the next aid station, just make it to the next mile, just make it to the next volcano. Just make it.’
But at mile 20, the ‘just make it to the finish’ plan wasn’t even on my mind. It took me 9 hours to complete 19 miles. Yep, that’s not a blazing 5-minute mile…and some of those miles took me an hour to scootch down on my ass so I wouldn’t tumble into an open volcano vent as a virgin sacrifice…without the virgin part. I had not anticipated the continuous muddy and precarious stairs, (up and down 7,000 feet) plus my lack of technical trail knowledge. Plus it was the day before my period, which left me depleted, weepy and just a sad sack of a person. So, at mile 19, I got a “ride of shame” by the race director Mario, to the finish and was done. At the finish line, I was trying my best to be curious with my new found soul crushing feeling. My friend, who had also had her shares of DNF’s, sat next to me and just rubbed my back. She knew that feeling, she shared my pain and made me realize when we do hard things, sometimes shit is going to go bad. More tears were shed and questions were posed.
“Why was I so upset?”
“Why does this sting?”
“What could I have done better?”
When these things happen to me, the inner critic pulls up (in my head, my inner critic drives a camaro and looks like James Woods…but that’s a whole different article) into my brain and takes over. It says shitty things to me like,
“Hey Beth…maybe you might be too old for these shenanigans. You could have trained harder. Oh! Also, you’re a failure!!”
I wasn’t buying that crap and I realized it just wasn’t my day. I REALLY hate quitting and I sure love the feeling of crossing finish lines. So, was this a fail? Yes, but the best failure is to find out what’s true, what to do better next time and try to get over myself so I could celebrate my teammates who did amazing. Little pockets of knowledge in that little DNF.
As a coach, I tell my runners to review “big why” they are doing a race. This is something I had to do for myself. WHY? For me, it was for the adventure, and I wanted to see what my body could do. I also tell my runners to have goals for any race, event or big deal thing you have to do. It helps to break it down to 3 different options.
Pie in the Sky Goal: All the angles are with you with all the goddesses and smiling down, the weather is perfect, and you knock it OUT OF THE PARK! This could look like a PR, being on the podium, or a specific time goal that you have your sights on. I like these goals to be specific so it takes out any kind of negotiation, unless something goes sideways. Which leads us to the A&RG (see below):
Attainable & Realistic Goal: This is the most logical outcome that you have trained for and you are pretty sure you can do it. It could also be a time goal or a heart rate you want to maintain that you have practiced before and are comfy with maintaining. Pats on the back all around.
Let’s Just Finish Upright Goal: This is the one that you pick when things go to crap. Your stomach is screwed up from the Indian food you tried last night, and your cat threw up in your shoe, and you are wearing different shoes than you trained in. Your baby kept you up all week. (All of the above has happened to me before marathons) And despite all of it, I still showed up and did my best. To reset the goal to “Let’s Just Finish Upright” plan. It helps keep the mojo of racing still fun so you will stay motivated and not keep crying on the curb in another country.
Fast forward to this last May of 2022, I returned to the island, and wanted to finish that effing race. I did new things, like I asked for help with training, went up so many mountains and even got poles. I even had a “big girl” talk with myself and decided to drop down to a 25k, so finishing would be more attainable. It all panned out, and I crossed the finish line with all the glory and none of the tears…well maybe some happy tears.