I’ve never been a big believer in the whole “death before DNF” attitude. Most of the time when people say they’ve never DNF’d a race, I’m pretty sure it’s just because they haven’t tried hard enough.
But I do understand the value in being able to tell yourself you never quit, especially at that time in a race when all you want to do is quit. It’s a tool. And I understand that sometimes the only thing you can do or take away from the day is not quitting.
The difference, of course, is that a DNF is earned. It’s what happens when there is no other option. Even the people who are able to push themselves nearly to death — and the vast majority of people are definitely not those people — have had to be pulled from the side of the road or taken to the hospital. Quitting, well, quitting is a choice, and it can happen even before you cross the finish line. Lots of people who don’t DNF basically quit anyway. (Uh, speaking from experience.)
It may say that we DNF’d the Spartan Race Ultra Beast last weekend, but we quit. And maybe that’s the part that’s been bothering me.
The Ultra Beast was a marathon-length obstacle race up in Tahoe as part of the Spartan Race World Championships weekend. It turned out it was really more like 31 miles in total. We made it through just under 16 of those miles.
Yeah, it was hard. Mostly it was really cold. At the top of the mountain, close to 9,000 feet, it was in the 20s and winds were around 30-40 mph. That sucked, but it was fine. And it sucked when we had to jump in the cold lake with our clothes on, but I kept telling myself we’d warm up. I’ve been cold getting out of the water before. The real problem was then, before we’d warmed up enough, we had to crawl/roll through a half-mile of barbed wire. Crawl, climb a wall, crawl, climb a wall, crawl, jump in another pit of water. The whole thing wasn’t keeping anyone’s body temperature up enough to stay warm. When I got to that pit of water, I must have looked bad — white and shaking, teeth chattering — because I was like, “Do I have to do this?” and the guy said I could skip it and do the penalty instead. He also asked if I was ok. I said, yeah, I was fine.
By the end of that section, I physically couldn’t climb the rope, my hands wouldn’t hold on.
I warmed up eventually, and by the time we got down to the transition zone area, it was fine. But it was ugly. Mostly, I think there was an over-it-ness to everything. It was hard to do any of the obstacles, because our hands were so messed up. I fell off one rope onto my back. Everything hurt. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Hillary it’s a very acute sense of exactly how “fine” I am when things are really, really awful.
So I couldn’t ignore the fact that I could have gone on. I put on dry, warm clothes. And I could have physically kept going, for at least some amount more. We just chose not to.
The guy who got second, Miguel, I interviewed for my school documentary back in the spring, and he talked to me at one point about this Spartan promo video, about how you have to want it, you have to want it more than you want to breathe.
I thought about this after the race. I definitely didn’t want it that much. We didn’t even want it enough to deal with all the trouble of not quitting.
I probably would not have made it to the finish line even if we hadn’t quit. I was already failing at obstacles I knew how to do easily, so it would have just turned into a burpee trudge. I would have been colder as it got later. I might have fallen on something really bad. Already, every time I was climbing up over the top of a really tall rope net or wall, and hit the wind, and could barely hold on, I would feel blown back, like I so easily was going to slip, break a leg, land on my head. So, yeah, I probably wouldn’t have finished. I might have gotten really hurt. It definitely was not worth it for something that was just supposed to be for fun. But it would have been an earned DNF.
Everyone keeps telling me it was a smart choice to quit. But you don’t really do do these kinds of things because you’re trying to make smart choices.