DNF?! WHAT THE #$%!
On September 15th I began the Pine to Palm 100 mile trail race in Williams,
Oregon. I was excited and more nervous than I believe I've ever been. However,
I felt confident. I was trained and I was ready. I had gone to the race
briefing the prior day, left my drop bags (race supplies to be left at various
aid stations for me), and I was READY!
The race began at 6a on Saturday morning. This is was my first 100 mile and
I was very surprised to see most of the racers walking or power-hiking. The
mountains were steep, long, and unrelenting. Once my nerves calmed a bit I
began power hiking as well. Within the first few miles people were already
missing the marked turns. I was on track but a number a people lost time. The
course went, up and up and UP! I made it to the first aid station after a few
miles and I felt fine. I topped off my bottle with water and continued UP!
My first mistake.... after about an hour and a half of climbing I said out
loud, "I'm finally beginning to settle." I felt comfortable, relatively speaking
that is. We were now on single track, switch back trails climbing up the
mountain. There were 3 "conga lines" of runners. On single track trails,
runners can only run one at a time so lines similar to conga lines form. There
were 3 lines and each line was separated by about 30 seconds. I was leading the
2nd conga line. Out of the blue, and with no warning buzz I was mauled by
hornets that came up from the ground. To say it hurt would be an
understatement. I had visions to of the "tracker jacker" scene in the move
"Hunger Games." I believe I had roughly a half dozen stings on my right arm and
back. I screamed and ran- FAST. I brushed the hornets off me and ran away. It
hurt. Really really really bad. I did my best to make sure that the stingers
were out of my skin, but I did get stung numerous times on my right side and I
had to wait a few hours until I got to the next aid station to get checked out
I began to lose time. My pace slowed and I had to concentrate to keep my
heart rate down. Also, my right arm started to swell and I was I began to hold
it over my head and shake it to keep the swelling down.
After 4.5 hours we reached the top of this climb. My thighs were screaming
and I was quite happy to begin my descent and change muscle groups. Even with
the lost time, I was in 22nd place out of roughly 150 runners. I felt a surge
My descent down the mountain was deliberate and careful. I was very tightly
hugging the curves, as one missed step would have sent me plummeting down a long
long long way. I eventually hit a dirt road and let go. I was able to open my
stride and pick up my pace. I was glad to be making up some of the time I lost
after my encounter with the ground hornets. However, I noticed after a while
that I was alone... no one else around. My intuition kicked in and I knew
something was wrong. I stopped and looked around. I turned and began walking
back up the dirt road I'd run down. I began to shout out to see if anyone else
was around. I continued for a while and eventually I heard someone deep in the
woods respond. When I realized that he was also in the race, I followed his
voice through the woods. I bushwhacked through solid forest, prickers, and
bushes. I eventually found him and we continued down the trail. I was very
grateful for this man. He took time out of his race to help me. I've noticed
this type of behavior in ultra runners. If you are stopped on the trail-
someone will check in with you and typically ask, "what do you need" or "are you
I was now extremely disappointed. I soon learned that there were only about
half a dozen people behind me now. It was a big dilemma for me. I knew that
making the first cut off at mile 28 was going to be tight, but I couldn't run
too fast to make the cut off because I would still have 70 miles of mountain
running left. I received some great advice from the incredible ultramarathoner
Scott Jurek who was working at an aid station. I was told to relax, keep
moving, but don't push it too hard to make the cut off. I had a long way to
go.... and well- that's what I did.
When I finally hit the Mile 28 aid station the volunteers hooted and hollered
and cheered me on. I wasn't having it. I asked the first woman at the table,
"Did I make it?!" She just stared at me. "DID I MAKE THE CUTOFF?!!" She kindly
said no and that she was very sorry and that I had missed it by 19 minutes. I
pleaded with her to let me go on. She again, kindly said no. I explained that I
was totally fine, hydrated, fed, and ready to GO. She said no. I explained that
I got lost after missing a turn, and that I was mauled by ground hornets. She
said no and that she was very sorry. She added that she could see that I was
fine. But, it has to be done this way. I wasn't happy. This is an
understatement. Thinking that I was physically hurting, the kind aid station
volunteers repeatedly asked me if I needed anything. I rudely responded,
"ANOTHER 19 MINUTES MAYBE?" They smiled. I truly hope they understood. I am
very grateful for those volunteers. It was a major low point.
I learned that I had to get a dreaded "ride of shame" back to Ashland. It
was a few hours from where we were. I went and sat by myself. I didn't want to
talk to anyone and Lord knows I didn't need anything but an extra 19 minutes. I
saw another volunteer come toward me. I thought to myself, "please just leave me
alone." This guy was different. He didn't say anything. He just sat with me.
This is when I broke down. I thought of all of the time, effort, resources, and
sacrifices that I had made and that my family had made for me. I was
devastated. This stranger just sat with me. No words, nothing. Just company.
It meant the world to me. After about 10 minutes or so the stranger and I
spoke. I learned that he was Craig Thornley- aka newly appointed assistant RD
for the Western States 100 and established ultra runner. It says a lot about a
person when they can sit in silence. I needed someone with me at that moment.
What I didn't need was bullshit. I didn't want to be told that "it was a great
effort" or "you can come back next year." No. Nothing could be said. Not
completing that 100 mile race sucked. It was horrible.
Later that afternoon, I was talking to my coach Jimmy Dean Freeman. I was
beating myself up HUGE! I had broken down and then some. I was going on and on
about my hard work, sacrifices, and my family, blah blah blah. Jimmy stopped me
and he said, "Meghan, these are rich white people problems. You are going to be
fine." I laughed hysterically. That was my turnaround point. That was it. I
will survive. This will be OK.
Sometimes, shit happens. And most of the time we get exactly what we
need when it does.
I sit here today, about a month later. I have since been told that you are
not a real ultra runner until you've DNF'd a race. I get that now. I completed
the Nip Muck Trail Marathon in Ashford, CT about 2 weeks ago. The race was
hell. Not fun. I pulled a hip muscle and it made running that very technical
course hell. Prior to the Pine to Palm 100 DNF I would have dropped out. I knew
I wasn't going to finish in the time that I had set for myself, I was far from
being competitive, and I was injured, what the heck - why continue? But, with a
devastating DNF under my belt, THERE WAS NO WAY I WAS QUITTING!!!!
I frequently ask myself and those I coach, "How bad do you want it?" I want
it very very very badly. What is "it" - who knows. But I will be running until
I find it. This experience only fueled my fire. Those that know me, know that
I am a wee bit on the intense side. This experience has made me more driven.
Driven to run harder, faster, and I am more committed than ever. This does
present issues at times because I do have a family and work. My husband remains
my #1 supporter and to him I am truly grateful. I will continue to juggle my
commitments. My family comes first. But I need the trails, I need the
challenge, and I need this ever present drive in me to become a better human
"Wide River to Cross" Buddy Miller
but I can not look back now
I've come to far to turn around
and there's still a race ahead that I must run
I'm only halfway home
I gotta journey on
to where I'll find the things that i have lost
I've come a long long road still I've got miles to go
I've got a wide wide river to cross
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