Two words. Massive implication. Race stopping. Game over. The end. DoNotPassGo.
We have all thought it at some point. And I am willing to bet we have all succumbed to it at one time or another. Doesn’t matter whether you are a 2:30 marathoner or a 5 hour marathoner. We have all had that moment when we just can’t face it anymore. Maybe I QUIT! is a tad dramatic. But we have all started making excuses before we stop. I know I have. It happens more often than you might believe.
I DNF’d my first ultra. The 2012 Clydestride. At 30 miles I just had had enough. I had turned my ankle in the coo field about 5 miles before the CP where I withdrew. I officially withdrew with an injury. The truth is I lacked heart for the fight. It hurts to write that even nine years later. Even though I have went back twice and had redemptive runs on both appearances since.
I have had three serious DNF/early baths. In 2017 I had to drop at about 16 hours in my 24 hour GB debut. On that occasion the brilliant, and sadly missed, GB physio Guy pulled me out with a hamstring tear. When he pressed his finger into it I could have cried. Pain and hurt. Injury and anguish. I had stumbled on as far as I could. It was devastating. But it made me hungrier to come back. This experience was immensely important in my mental ability to recover from a horrible first half of the in Romania the following year. I used that anguish as fuel to keep pushing.
Before that, back in 2014 when we were all scared of a worldwide pandemic (ebola!), I had an almost identical experience at Glenmore 24. I withdrew at 108 miles even though I hada handsome lead. The win was possible but long term injury was certain after I had fallen and cracked my knee. The physio advice again took precedent. I would go back the next year and break the course record and really put my name out there in 24 hour racing.
The third experience was at the Autumn 100. In 2017 I spewed my way to second place behind the wonderful Paul Maskell. I felt that was a bit of a disastrous race. So in 2018 I went back for redemption. 500 metres in I went over on my ankle. Craig Holgate and I were leading after leg 1 (25 miles) but I was in pain after two more ankle turns. Craig withdrew injured at 25 miles. I pushed on but at 45 miles the pain was too much and I was struggling to run properly. Despite leading I knew I was doing damage. A phone call to Andy later and I was out. Ankle was up like a balloon. Pain and anguish. Injury and hurt. After recovery from this I went on to run some of my best miles ever at the inaugural Pyllon Endeavour. Fuelled again by the disappointment.
When you have run ultras enough there are always highs and lows. My DNF at Clydestride was a low. A mental failure and a massive lesson. I quit that day.
The other three experiences were not quitting. Like a footballer misses chances, or a golfer loses a lead, in ultrarunning you have to suffer falls (sometimes literally) in order to achieve anything. I used those disappointments to bounce back stronger. I vowed after my first ultra I’d never quit again. I may withdraw. But I would never quit.
To quit is a choice. It was to give up for me. To have to make a decision, where the head overrules the heart, is the hardest thing in ultrarunning. For every time I have withdrawn there have been at least double the number of times I have wanted to quit. The temptation of sitting down, for the suffering to be over, and to get some warm clothes on, is never far away.
The head not only has helped me withdraw at the right time, it has on more occasions helped me keep going. By remembering the feeling of past hurt I have been able to stave off the in-moment temptation of quitting. But also, when the hurt has come, when I have had to withdraw, I have used that as fuel to the fire and my next outing has been better as a result.
I apply this mindset to training. When I think of ending a session early I put in an extra set or interval to try and overcome the negative mindset. When I want to pull the covers over my head in the morning I do a countdown from 10 to reset the mind and then I get up and go. When I think the weather is too shit to run in, I make an effort to start off straight into the worst of it.
To want to quit and give in is not a crime. It’s more normal than we would all probably admit. It is as inevitable as chaffing. It is as omnipresent as a headwind on a coast run. It is as common as painted vaporflys in an olympic trial. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Own it. Overcome it. Beat it. Quit it.