DNFing v. Quitting

spartan - bucket

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.

spartan - peak

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.

Spartan Race AT&T Park: A Race Review


A couple weeks ago I did the Spartan Race Sprint in AT&T Park. Despite the fact that I did a Tough Mudder way back when it wasn’t even cool yet and despite the fact that I know everything about obstacle course races after working on my documentary this spring, I’ve never actually done a Spartan Race. I’ve never actually really raced one of these obstacle things either, because the few I’ve done have always been casually and with friends.

So, I just wanted to try one actually hard. Unfortunately, the only one that fit my schedule was the sprint in AT&T Park—which really does not sound like the kind of thing I’d be good at. Short and heavily strength-based? Definitely!

I realized exactly how over my head I was when I was lined up with the elite heat of women at the start. These were some seriously intense and ripped women—the sort for whom this was exactly the kind of thing they’d be good at. And the announcer guy was making a speech about penalties and warnings on certain obstacles and “when you get to the traverse wall, it’ll be like the standard traverse wall you’re used to seeing…” (hah, right) “…except there will be a gap in the middle. do not put your foot on that gap or you’ll be penalized. and of course you all know how many burpees are the penalty.” (uh?)

I went in the second group of 15 women, so that at least maybe there’d be people in front of me when I got to the obstacles so I could see how to do them. And then I enacted my plan: run hard, because the running is the only thing you’re going to be good at here.

It worked ok. As in, I would get a decent gap when we had to run up and down and up, up, up, and around the stadium, and then I’d have to take my time figuring out what the hell I was doing on some obstacle. I mean, I got the gist, but my technique was off. At one point, on the 8-foot wall climb, I was hanging upside down backwards from both my knees and the official/volunteer guy was looking at me like he wasn’t sure if that was penalty or not, because he’d never seen anyone do it that way before. And, of course, 6-7 women passed me when I missed the target on the spear throw and had to do my penalty burpees. (FYI, it’s a 30-burpee penalty.) But, and this is a huge but, the spear throw was the only obstacle I missed. I got through the weird monkey bars and the rope climbs and the Herculean hoist thing (even though it was basically my body weight that I was trying to hoist and the weight kept dragging me around through the sand instead of me dragging it).

It was really an exercise in deliberate-ness. I mean look at how deliberate I was being:


I really, really didn’t want to get hurt. And, at one point, I was running down concrete stairs, between hard plastic chairs, and then down across the benches in the outfield seats, so that I was stepping from bench to bench, and I thought, “You could really mess yourself up on these; it wouldn’t even be hard.”

Expo/Goodies: Spartan Race isn’t really about the goodies? I think. I dunno. At least not at these stadium races. You got a t-shirt and a sweat armband and a medal for finishing. And I think that was it. There might have been some bananas and water somewhere too. But part of the problem with these stadium races—as opposed to their usual ones outdoors—is that there simply isn’t that much room. Everything is a little cramped in the stadium halls, so there’s no big expo. And it was hard to even find water. The woman at one of the concession stands told me she couldn’t give me a cup of water, but she could sell me some. Awesome.

Course: It’s more or less what you would think it would be inside a stadium. You run up a lot of stairs. Like, if you don’t want to run up and down stairs, do not do this race. And then, in between running up and down stairs, you do some pretty standard strength obstacles: push-ups, heavy jump rope, stone carry, box jumps, rope climbs, walls to get over, etc. It’s cool being able to run on the field, but it’s sort of a mess running through the stadium rows. It’s fun, and that’s what you signed up for, but concrete is not particularly forgiving.

Organizational Details: On the one hand, props for putting on a 5k race inside a major sports stadium inside a major city. That takes some organizing. On the other hand, it was a bit unorganized. Where is the start? Where are results? Where is water? And I was there really early, so I was able to park on the street immediately in front of the park and still be done before the parking restrictions went into effect at 9 a.m. I’m not sure how parking and logistics worked out for other people later. The main problem was that because you were running all over the stadium there was a lot of yellow tape up to direct you in and out of doors and around columns, etc, but it was still a little unclear at times—and you’re running full speed, because this is only 40 minutes long—and some of the stadium staff (as opposed to the volunteers with the race or the Spartan staff) could not have been less happy to be there. They did not care that you were running a race. So it was more than slightly frustrating to be charging hard down the concrete walkway and have the person standing there shrug when you asked which way to go.

On the whole, though, it’s a fun race and a good kind of wacky mix-up from your regular races. If you want to race hard, then go in the elite wave at the beginning, but know that means you can’t get any help on the obstacles. And, because they can only send off 15 people at a time in the cramped corridors, you still won’t really know how you’re stacking up as you go. (ie. I went off in the second group of 15 and I ended up 12th woman overall. So I guess I beat some people ahead of me and a couple behind me beat me? Maybe.)

Also, there’s an attitude to Spartan Race that I sort of respect. Like, you might hurt yourself running across benches over concrete. Guess you should be careful. And, when I would catch guys in front of me, they’d move over and get out of the way or let me go first, because let’s be real: if I’m catching you, with your 10 minute head start, then you’re not in contention to win anything, and it would considered very bad form to not get out of the way. At one point, we were just running up and up and up, and usually when things hurt in a race I think, ‘well, they wouldn’t make something that I can’t do,’ but then I thought, ‘this is Spartan, they might.’ At least more than most mass commercialized races. And I sort of respect that.

Grade: B-

Spartan Race Discount, People Are Wrong, and Ireland

1. If you would like to do a Spartan Race, and of course you would, then you can use the code MEMORIAL for $40 off. I’m already signed up for the AT&T Park Stadium Race in San Francisco in July, so I didn’t even get to use the discount code.

2. People often think I’m more worried or stressed than I am about little things, which is really just because I train alone and have a lot of time to think. After you think for a few days too, you’ll just realize I’m right, not worries. People also tend to think I’m angrier than I am. No, I just swear a lot. And it’s not uncommon for people to think I’m not working as hard as I actually am, like oops I just fell into this in between my worried swearing apparently. Basically.

3. We are on our way to Ireland. I do not even have a computer with me. (I am writing this on my phone on the way to the airport.) I’m mostly excited about that part.

4. When people ask what I’m doing now, I just say, “Living my best life.”

Winner of the Spartan Race Giveaway

Jennifer, according to the random number generator: you’re the winner of the free entry to a Spartan Race. Email me. (In a coincidence of the random number generator, her story about her crazy race experience was pretty good too! Go read it in the comments.)

But, if you didn’t win, don’t forget to use the 15% off code for any Spartan Race.

Tomorrow’s the Dipsea Race, so busy getting ready for that — by which I mean I’m about to go to the movies and currently am laying on the couch watching Pineapple Express. In classic fashion, I am well-prepared after my birthday celebration last night, which turned quite epic. It is also a million degrees (or 100) today and my 20′ shakeout run was disgusting. Really hoping that comes down or the med tent is going to be the place to be tomorrow.

WIN a Free Entry to Spartan Race (and Discount Codes)

Spartan Race must be doing some kind of promotional blitz, because along with Annabelle I also have a entry to any Spartan Race to give away to my readers (ie. you) and a code for 15% off for everyone.

A little over a year ago, Maggie and I did a Tough Mudder race in Phoenix, which is the same general idea — run, jump, climb, crawl through mud and ice, revel in your misery — except that in Tough Mudder you also get electro-shocked at the end. There are a lot of reasons Spartan Race and Tough Mudder like to think they’re different (read this whole illuminating article about who stole what obstacle ideas and business plans), but the main difference to me is that you don’t get shocked at the end of the Spartan Race. Which is a selling point.

I don’t really go in for pain for the sake of pain, with no skill or reason involved. It’s like none of these guys who are super into it actually got to the end of Fight Club. News flash: pain just to feel pain DOESN’T END WELL.

Me and Maggie before we got electroshocked and started waking up in the middle of the night being like 'oh man, that was bad.'
Me and Maggie before we got electroshocked and started waking up in the middle of the night being like ‘oh man, that was bad.’

I have not actually done a Spartan Race yet. And, they are (unfortunately) not trying to buy me off and giving me an entry, just the code to give away. So, I can’t tell you if it’s good or bad — though I can tell you if I won the code I would do one of the “Beast” races, like the one in Monterey, and not waste it on one of the “Sprints.” I mean, come on.

I can tell you that when we did Tough Mudder there was an obstacle where you crawled on ice under barbed wire and there were little electro-shock wires hanging down, so you hit them as you crawled, and then every now and then a staff person would spray water over you as you crawled. When we got through, Maggie’s lip was bleeding. I asked what happened and she said, “I think I blacked out a little.”

So, there you go.

To WIN the free entry to any Spartan Race, post a comment below telling me your craziest race story. Any race, any story, any reason it’s crazy. To get in the right spirit of things.

Post a comment telling me about your crazy story by 11:59 p.m. P.T. this Friday, June 7 — at which time I will be celebrating my birthday coincidentally, so we will likely read your stories while at a bar. All entries posted by 11:59 P.T. on June 7 will be entered to win the free entry. I will pick one entry at random (using one of those random number generator things) and notify that person that they won.

Get 15% any Spartan Race by using the code here.

If you do the race, do come back and let us know how it went.

Have you done a Spartan Race? Different than Tough Mudder? Good or bad?

My sister wants to do a Spartan Race, since we’ve already done Tough Mudder and loved it except for the whole electroshock thing. (And, let’s all admit that the whole growing adventure race industry is just ripe for a disaster/large casualties.) So, I sent her this article about the Tough Mudder v. Spartan Race wars and stealing. Changes your ‘tough’ perspective.