Why it’s sometimes okay to ‘DNF’

It's 3pm in the afternoon and I have been moving for 26 hours. So far I have run 117km into UTMB OMAN course. A brutally tough mountain course in the Omani mountains, ranging from 600m to over 3000m and taking in breathtaking ridges, deep galleys, gorges, wadibeds filled with boulders the size of houses, a via-feratta and metal ladders up the side of vertical cliffs where one slip of the foot and to be honest I don't like to think what would happen. It's a stunning yet brutal course that in its first year of running in 2018 was compared by the professional top 3 to the Berkely marathons in terms of difficulty. I ran this course last year when it was 137km long - it took a gruelling 36 hours, there were some amazing hallucinations and I thought wow! How can they ever make a race like this harder? The answer? Add on another 33km and take you up and over the highest mountain in the country. The new route boasts over 10,000m of ascent and decent and the organisers make you work for every one of those meters! Back to my race: so far, everything has gone as it should. I may as well share it now but I have an ambitious goals of top ten and a sub 40 hour finish for the race. To try to hit this target I am aiming for 45km every 10 hours which would give me a buffer for “shit to happen.” Now - I’m a big believer of just running my race. Control the variables you can control and let the rest of the chips fall as they may. There is no way to determine how someone else will perform in a race this long so I figured I could hit my time targets, then the placing should/could/may happen. The first 45km and I’m through in 6h57!! Everything feels amazing, the climbs are effortless and I am smiling and chatting to people around me. The second 45km takes a little longer with some very steep climbs and a section where you are harnessed to a cable and rock climb up the side of a cliff face bringing you to the first of the bag drop aid stations. I come into here in great shape, feeling fantastic and the hot pasta and coffee elevates me even more. Jason Schlarb (the Pro who won last years race is sitting at our table and comments on how fresh we look - spirits are high!!) I’m through the second 45kms in 10h24 and feel invincible. I am well under budget time wise and know I have a nice 2h30 buffer going into a very long 12km descending section which I know from 2018 is run-able. I get through the second bag drop aid station at 107km in just over 20hours and again fill up on some of the hot pasta and coffee. I'm surprised at how my body feels, my legs are good (well as good as they can be with that distance and nearly 6000m of climbing in them), mentally I’m all there, and I can’t help but smile remembering the mess I was in at this stage last year! I leave the camp with a fellow runner from Dubai called Henrik and we take the next section (1200m of ascent in 3km together) - this section in the daylight blows my mind. Climbing up rock ladders where one foot wrong and there is 500m of nothing between you and a rather unpleasant ending gives me shudders. To think last year I hit this section with only a head torch for visibility in gale force winds! At 117km the trail splits and a medical team conduct a quick check to make sure everything is ok before they ALLOW you onto the next section. For a few unlucky runners this will be their downfall and they will make a left turn towards the finish. After a few questions (in French), and some checks I get the green light and turn right through deep un-navigated grassy trail towards Jebal Shams.  This section is to have over 2000m of climbing and 900m of descent in just over 10km! I remember the moment vividly.  I was really looking forward to this section, we had been to OMAN a few weeks prior and run a large section of a huge descent that was coming and I knew this is where I could gain some ground on the lighter “hill climbers” but then….it happens, a strange feeling in my body, like it's not mine and there has been some disconnection, like the plug has been pulled from the socket of the hoover and it powers down, my mouth goes moist, my stomach seems to be making its way up toward my throat and then out of nowhere - BANG, a beautiful colourful food explosion into the surrounding grass. Now there is very little you can do when this happens, I try some water, it comes back up, try some different fuel, it comes back up. Plan B then - press on. In hindsight I should have probably made my way back to the closest checkpoint but if I'm honest I’m a stubborn shit. The pace gets slower and slower and I can feel the energy draining from my body like a bath emptying of water! I spend more time stopping to sit. I try to have a small nap but manage only 3mins of “slanted lying” before I get back up. It's just horrible. This section was probably the longest I had felt “low” in any race as minutes felt like hours! Day turned to night and I suddenly feel very very cold! I know I am in trouble as I never usually feel the cold but I have every single one of my layers on and I am still shivering from head to toe! Four and a half hours and 7km later I finally reach the summit of Jebal shams.  Now  just process that for a second! That's less than 2km per hour!! I get to the aid station at the top and the medics take one look at me.  Their eyes say it all and at that point I know my race is over. I get my bag whisked off me, get given an eskimo style jacket and thrust into a sleeping bag next to a fire. I have my blood work taken, pulse, blood pressure, cognitive checks, the works! There is a mention that I will need to be evacuated by helicopter from the top of the mountain to have an IV - gladly that didn’t happen and the consolation is to end up spending the night on top of the mountain with yet another sleeping bag under the watchful eye of a paramedic and two mountain rescue staff. I don’t end up consuming any food until the Saturday evening (around 27 hours after I started throwing up) - why did it happen?  I could've been over-fuelling, it could've been my body telling me I’d pushed too hard up to this point and to stop, maybe I had a bug of some kind. I guess I will never really know. What I do know is that my first ever DNF was not down to me being mentally weak. It was not down to lack of effort. It was not down to poor training. For those reasons, I am ok with it. In my head it's OK. I know in those 7km I pushed harder than my body wanted, I went to a very dark place and there are no words in my vocabulary that can ever really accurately portray how I felt! Failure is feedback in these situations and I have my reflections, my nutrition strategy, my movements leading up to the race and I can go through them all and try to figure out the causes. For now I know one thing for sure. I will be back to OMAN and I will get a finish in this race, I know I will come back stronger than before and that this has added gasoline to my fire in my drive to succeed. I also know that the variables in ultra are never-ending and sometimes, despite all the best planning, perfect race plan and execution as well as all the variables you can control - the shit will most definitely hit the fan. By; Rob Jones, Endurance Coach