Embracing the DNF on the Mountains of Oregon

I knew there would come a day where I would not be able to complete a race. The looming “DNF” is always in the back of the mind of an ultrarunner. When you dance with the devil called ultrarunning, you know that sooner or later, you’re going to trip up and get burned. And it was on the mountains of Oregon where I accepted this dance and got burned.

Mountain Lakes 100 ended in my first DNF (did not finish). It was the first time I was unable to reach a goal I set for myself and it was the first time I have ever had to drop out of a race. From the beginning of my running career almost 5 years ago, races have always come ‘easy’ to me. And I use that term ‘easy’ lightly. I struggled and I fought, but I always finished within the time that I wanted to. I had training runs that ended in worse outcomes than races. This time it was different. Strange thing was, while I had worried about completing races in the past, I really wasn’t worried about this one. I thought I had it. I did the training that my coach gave me, hired a nutritionist, and had a plan. I didn’t have mountains to train on, but I was getting my hill workouts. And afterall, Kaci Lickteig was able to win Western States this year training in pancake-flat Omaha, Nebraska. Ok…I’m not Kaci…not even close, but still. I would have thought I did enough to at least finish this race.

But it wasn’t enough for this course. At least for me. As a typical back of the packer, I needed to be stronger and the lack of strength training that I had this season was detrimental to my performance. I tend to perform better with lower mileage training and a lot of cross training, and if you ask me, when you don’t have mountains to train on for a mountain ultra, you need to need to find a way to get strong enough for the course. I was actually concerned about the lack of consistency with cross training that I had this season. Life really got in the way and it was a challenge to fit it all in. Still, I thought – I hoped, it would be enough. It wasn’t.

My hip gave out at mile 9 and I pushed on anyway. Every few miles it would give out from under me causing me to fall or slip. I continued to push through anyway. My energy was up and at this point, my legs still felt good. But deep down inside, this I knew this dance was beyond my capacity. The devil called ultrarunning had my number.

By the time I came down the mountain of the first 26 miles of the race, my quads were blown and my legs were fatigued. I pushed on anyway, keeping an eye on my Garmin which was so wrong that it had me at an average pace of 16:30 yet getting me into aid stations more in the 20:00 pace. I thought I had time so I took my time. And the more tired my legs got, the more my pace slowed, but I thought I still had some cushion. I didn’t. I realized it was going to be a fight to finish within the cutoff time.

As we headed into the night, I paired up with another runner, Christopher. The universe has an uncanny way of sending you people when you need them. He was exactly what I needed at that time. I wasn’t looking forward to the night run and having company was nice to get myself out of my own head. I was nervous about finishing and I kept dancing with the idea of the dreaded DNF. We chatted through most of the night taking turns pushing each other. As I started to feel my heart sink, I told him that I was about to have a moment.

We came across an open field and he paused and had us look at the stars. I looked at the brightest stars I’ve ever seen in my life. It was as if I could touch every single one of them. I’d imagine they’d feel like the sparkles that fall off the sparklers on the Fourth of July, stinging you just a little as they touched your skin. That was my moment. Now, I didn’t breakdown and cry like a baby, but I looked up at the stars and asked my heart, how bad do you want this? How much should I push this weak, struggling body? Is it okay to quit? And for the first time in my life, my big stubborn heart said yes. I took a deep breath in, exhaled and said to myself, okay. Dance over. I was done.

We took a brief moment and then continued on. Christopher caught his wind at the next aid station and was ready to take off. I was ready for bed. He chugged along ahead of me and I eventually lost sight of him in the darkness. Then out of the blue, I heard him shout out for me. And when I heard his bellowing voice, I laughed. And when I laughed I knew I was going to be okay. I told him not to wait for me and to keep going. Still, every so often, I’d hear his bellowing voice. And each time I did, I laughed again. I was going to be okay.

When I came into Clackamas (about the 55 mile mark) three hours behind schedule, Alex, my crew and pacer ran up to me with his big brown wide eager eyes, “I’m running the last 50 miles with you. We’re going to do this. Here, I’ve warmed up your clothes.” I looked at him and told him I was done. I was okay with a DNF and that I was tired, hypothermic, and ready to stop. I was completely and utterly done.

He wouldn’t hear it. Alex, with those oh so determined big brown wide eager eyes, wouldn’t hear it. “Let’s warm you up. Rest a little. What do you need? I’m not going to let you quit. Let’s get to the next aid station. Let’s get around Timothy Lake. We’re doing this together. ”

“I’m not strong enough for this”

“Yes you are. You are so strong. You can do this”

“No, I’m done. I okay to be done. I have nothing left.”

“Yes, yes you do. You got this. We’re going to do this together. YOU’RE SO STRONG! YOU CAN DO THIS!”

I argued with him and argued with him, but finally I gave in. I couldn’t look him in his unwavering big brown wide eager eyes and say no again. We took off to the next aid station. I made it to Little Crater Lake just about 10 -15 minutes before the sweepers showed up. I was finally done.

A week after my first DNF, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what went wrong and what I could do better and why was I not as crushed as I thought I’d be. Don’t get me wrong. It hurts. It stings. And when you watch your friends get their buckles, it stings a little more. I’m certainly disappointed in my performance and saddened that all the sacrifices I made just weren’t good enough to finish this race. But I know that this is all part of the game. It just is. And if I want to continue to play, I need to accept the fact that while this is my first DNF, it won’t be my last.

Christopher later sent me this quote that was sent to him. And every single freaking word resonated with me.

“You go out there to leave everything you have on the trail. You find something bigger than you, you throw everything you have at it, and *maybe* you come out on top… The finish line, it’s not the finish line. The external distance is just a distraction, an exercise. The goal is to cover new terrain in here.’ I tapped two fingers against my temple. ‘If you fall short, if you don’t cross that arbitrary line, it doesn’t mean that you suck. It just means that you have ambition, that you try to do big, heroic things. That’s what matters. A DNF should be a badge of honor. It means your dreams are boundless. Ultrarunning is the opposite of real life: when you fail, you win.'” — Mishka Shubaly

Every word, true.

And in that moment, I once again embraced my DNF.

And I knew that I would be back.

And I knew that I would be stronger.

And I realized that sometimes the suffering that you put yourself through in the anticipation of failure is far worse than the failure itself. What I learned is that I could fail and not be destroyed by it. I could fail and welcome the fact that in the search for the betterment of myself and finding my limits that failure can be somewhat comforting. It means that I live life to my full capacity. It means that I don’t just talk about dreaming big, but I do dream big. I means that my will, my spirit, my determination, my grit are all still intact because the failure lights the fire in my belly to get back out there and do better, be better, and succeed. And when I do succeed, because I know I will, I’ll start the cycle all over again.


Sunrise before Mountain Lake 100 PC: Alex Harris

The Spirit of the Camino and the Spirit of Running

Finally, my final thoughts on the Camino. It’s funny how things work out sometimes. I set forth out on the Camino seeking closure and to find answers from within. What I found though, was that I already had closure and I knew the answers all along. Even more, I found something I wasn’t searching for, the Spirit of the Camino.

I had it all planned out. I was going to use this trip to ceremoniously bring a close to my past and leave my wedding ring behind at the cathedral as a symbol of this closure. Instead, after 10 days on the road, most of it in the rain, and a grueling hot uphill climb on the last day, I ended up in the almost empty square of the Santiago de Compostela only to find that I had to go around the corner to a regular old office and wait for 2 to 2.5 hours in a line to get my final stamp and certificates of completion. Wha-what? Isn’t there some statue or alter where people leave shit behind (yes…100K down the road)? Where was my moment?? I was supposed to have an all out emotional breakdown fall-down-on-my-knees-crying-my-eyes-out-with-snot-running-down-my-face moment. Instead, I stood there in line with Michele with a blank stare. What the f*ck is this?

As Michele stood right beside me she watched for my queue. She knew I was expecting a moment and she knew that I had gone too long without eating. And when I don’t eat, I turn into the incredible Hulk. She could tell by the look on my face that I was a little distraught by this anticlimactic ending to a journey what was supposed to end with angels singing, people sobbing, and lots of hugging and “there there you’ll be okay – celebrate your new life” moments. I waited in line for a minute or two, she tried not to make direct eye contact with me, and then I decided..meh…I was hungry and needed to eat and food was just way more important.

It has been several weeks since I completed this trek and during that time, I had a lot of time to reflect on my Camino journey. And while I didn’t have my “moment” I realized that didn’t need one. There wasn’t a moment to be had. I closed the chapter of my past and moved on long, long ago and I didn’t need any type of symbolic gesture to prove that I did. I reflected a lot on some past regrets and graciously came to terms with them (sort of) and accepted what I cannot change. But to my surprise, I found something that the Spirit of the Camino was much like the Spirit of Running.

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Live in the Moment

Living in the moment is something that I want to do more of. It seems the only time I really do live in the moment are during races and the occasional group run with my tribe. Any other time, I’m thinking about what’s next, what does the future hold, how could I have done something differently in my past. I need to learn to just be. Just be in the moment and not worry about what’s coming next. More importantly, I need to find a work life balance, or at least get better at it. I spent the better part of my 20’s and 30’s working 10-16 hour days non-stop including weekends, and often times more. The best years of my life were spent in an office and while I’ve changed that over the past few years, I’ve decided to even push it further. Perhaps one day I’ll even sell or dissolve my company and just for a regular ol’ 9-5. What’s it like working only 8 hrs in a day? I have no idea. Tell me.

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Welcome Each Day – Its Pleasures and Its Challenges

Much like running, each day on the Camino was different. One day there were tears, the next laughter, the day after utter silence. And Michele and I embraced each day and learned how to work together as a team to overcome some of the challenges we faced. As a runner, I have learned to accept and embrace the fact that you have no idea how your run or race is going to go. As with life, you can’t predict the start, middle, or end – you just have to adapt to each moment and keep moving forward. This acceptance has helped me in other aspects of my life. And the best part of it – now matter how shitty the run or how shitty the day, you learn from it and you grow. And when it’s great and wonderful, you are grateful for the gift of living and breathing.

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Make Others Feel Welcome

We spent the first few days of the Camino with little interaction with the Pilgrims. However, everyone we met along the way before we started to collide with pilgrims were very welcoming. And when we finally met others like us, just as it was with finding my tribe in running, we found our tribe on the Camino. There were a particular few that we ended up befriending and sharing some meals and drinks together. They truly felt like our Camino family. We met a mother and daughter team from Germany, a few Canadians, a couple from Australia and quite a few more. I have to admit, Michele and I said in the beginning that we were happy we didn’t have the opportunity to socialize with other pilgrims. And perhaps the Camino knew that we needed time to adjust to each other, adjust to our environment, and let go of the fear of having to include others in our conversations. When the time was right, the Camino put us on the path with our tribe. And just as it was with running, you just know when you meet your own. When a new runner joins a group, there are no awkward introductions or getting to know you periods. There’s just the look of  “hey…you run trails…we run trails…we’re family!” It was the same on the Camino. “You Camino? I Camino! WE ALL CAMINO!”

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Sharing on the Camino was essential. Michele and I borrowed each other’s stuff throughout our trip. And when it was time to eat, we would also share our meals with our fellow pilgrims. In running, we do the same thing. If your running partner needs fuel or water, you share. Need an extra shirt, you share. It’s just how it’s done. Wish the world could learn a thing or two about sharing. It would be a much better place to live in.

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Feel the Spirit of Those Who Have Gone Before You

As we walked the Camino and I looked at the markers, I often wondered how many others passed through. I enjoyed seeing the rocks or flowers that those who have gone before me had left on trail markers, and I left a few of my own along the way. I would think, what was their story? Why were they on the Camino? When I compare this to running, I don’t look in the near past. Instead, I think of our ancestors and how running was a necessity. I sometimes feel their spirit as I pass by the trees and wonder if they ever took the time to enjoy their surroundings as much as I do.

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Imagine Those Who Will Follow You

As I shared my Camino journey publicly, I wondered how many would follow and what their experiences would be like. Would they arrive at the Compestella disheartened like I did, or will they find a different path and different meaning? When it comes to running, the moment I introduce a new runner to the trails, it excites me. I see their eyes widen and their smile get bigger as they learn the ways of the trail. I see life being reborn inside of them and wonder if they realize that the moment they stepped foot on the trails, they’re lives had forever changed. And when someone tells me that they have just started running, I smile.

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Appreciate Those Who Walk With You Today

When you spend 14 solid days and nights with someone, you get to learn a lot about them and about yourself. There were many moments in the beginning of our journey where Michele and I were butting heads. If fact, within the first 8 hours of our hike, we were already annoyed with each other and not in agreement with decisions we needed to make. It took a lot of compromise and patience from the both of us to get us through. Later down the road when she injured her IT band, we discussed how we would continue on. I had it set in my heart that I was walking the entire trail with or without Michele. Then it hit me, what would that accomplish? She needed me and I was going to send her on a train to the next stop just so that I can stick to a goal I had set for myself and needed to do to help keep with my training schedule. I never thought I was a selfish person, but in that moment when I was struggling internally, I realized that the world does not revolve around my goals (I know…I thought it did too). But I learned that in this world, while it’s great to be able to do everything on your own, it is essential to have someone in your life that you can trust and count on. As with running, solo runs are great, but running with your tribe can be just as enriching. Life is better with friends.

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If you ever decide to walk the Camino, take this to heart. Just like running the trails, the Camino will reveal the answers you need to know and they may not the be answers you are looking for. You must go into this journey with an open mind and an open heart. You will only see things you were meant to see but you must be open to it. Again, like trail running, the Camino is not for everyone. You will know within the first few days if this journey is for you, but it is something that I recommend doing to anyone who is looking to explore new places, meet some incredible people, and perhaps find answers to questions that you didn’t know you had.

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Thoughts on the Camino – Seven Percent

“Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.”  ~Henry David Thoreau

There are many things that go through your mind when walking the Camino. It’s part of the purpose making a pilgrimage…searching your soul and finding answers from within. I do this often during my runs, and I hope that by the time I finish the Camino, I will lay to rest some unfinished business within my heart. One of them is having a family of my own.

Not so long ago I heard these words from my doctor, “you probably have a 7% to 10% chance of conceiving and having a baby.” Of course my mind stopped at the words seven percent and I head nothing else after.

I always thought I’d have a family of my own and I always thought I had plenty of time. Having children was something that my ex-husband and I never agreed on, but he made a promise that we would try for a short period of time at some point in our marriage and if it didn’t happen, I promised I would let it go. At the time I thought it was a good compromise. I was wrong.

Ten years into our marriage, I brought it up. For me, it was time. For him, it would never be the time. And when he said no, in that instant I saw the family that I thought I’d have one day die in the midst of my tears. I picked up the pieces of my broken heart and convinced myself it was better this way. My life was too busy and I wouldn’t have time. I was happy with what I had, but really, I wasn’t. Fast forward 4 years and the divorce came and went and there are new possibilities to be had.

I figured, there is plenty of time. Women have beautiful healthy children into their 40’s all the time, why not me? Then I did the research and was blown away by statistics. I consulted with my doctor and we had a very serious conversation and that’s when he dropped the seven percent bomb on me. He knew my history and we both knew that conceiving would be something that would probably need some type of medical intervention, but I didn’t know how low my chances were. It was quite shocking really.

Having a family to call my own is one of the many things that occupy my mind when I run. I go out there and run and face those demons over and over again. Sure, there are many options and there are many options I’m considering. I have more appointments ahead of me to see what is best for me, and in my heart there is hope.


I still can’t help but feel robbed of the opportunity when my body was more capable and my chances were greater. I feel that the choice was taken from me and I was blindsided by someone who once meant the world to me, and I can’t help but harbor some anger and resentment over it.

But I have to let it go.

I love the life I have and I’m grateful for every breath I take and I can’t continue to let this linger in my heart. And while I know it will be a long time before I can fully let it go, I know that someday I will find a way, whether or not it’s on the Camino.

There still many unanswered questions and many possibilities ahead, and I will exhaust every avenue I find. I believe in the Universe and that there is a plan but no matter what happens, I still have hope.

And on the Camino, I walk and I think,

And I walk and I grieve,

And I walk and I mourn for a family I felt I lost.

And seven percent echos in my head,

over and over and over again,

Seven percent, seven percent, seven percent…

Seven percent.


Three Days into the Camino

It’s been three days since we started our journey on the Camino and I must say, this is probably one of the most breathtaking, and quite interesting, journeys I have ever made….and we still have 10 more days on the Camino left in store. We had the choice of three routes, the coastal, central, or the scenic route through the mountains. Originally, we planned on going the scenic route, but were quickly convinced that the coastal route from Portual to Spain was the way to go. Reluctantly, we decide to go with the masses and take the Coastal route. We started in the town of Viana do Castelo and ended up in Caminha. By the end of day one, we were regretting that decision.  We were only supposed walk 17 miles and ended up at 21 in pouring down rain with very brief moments of sun.  This section of the Camino was not well marked and we kept getting lost. We had several people who recognized us as pilgrims stop us to let us know that we were on the wrong road, but when we followed their directions, we ended up more lost than before. Everything was lost in translation. Continue reading

Camino de Santiago – Getting Here

I was invited by my friend Michele to walk a portion of the Camino de Santiago with her and I said, sure, why not? I’m always up for an adventure. After watching the movie The Way, my friend Michele became a little obsessed with making this pilgrimage. She also found out about and partially funded a documentary “Life in the Walk” which was about a father and son who walked the Camino together. Continue reading

Lost Boys – My Tribe

There was a time when I was alone
Nowhere to go and no place to call home
My only friend was the man in the moon
And even sometimes he would go away, too

I’ve always been the black sheep of the family, marching to the beat of my own drum, never coloring between the lines….all the clichés that describe that person who refuses to conform to fit in. Even now, my family doesn’t quite get me. There’s always the passive aggressive guilt-trips that they try to put on me about how I live my life. I suspect that’s the same with many people. It used to bother me a lot, but now, it bothers me a little. And while I’ve always felt like a little bit of an outcast, I figured that I was just unique in my way of thinking. But, I’m not. Continue reading

North Face 50-Miler – Freedom Run

“She was born to be free, let her run wild in her own way and you will never lose her.” ― Nikki Rowe

On Saturday, April 9th, I ran my 4th 50-miler in DC. This was my 3rd time running the DC North Face Endurance Challenge. And for the first time in a very long time, I went into a race without a goal. As I started running ultras, I became more and more focused on goals (if that’s even possible for my obsessive brain) and the pressure of meeting these self-imposed goals started to get to me. Race after race, I would put myself through moments of despair and self loathing that I would come out wondering, why am I so mean to myself? I was afraid that I was heading towards being burnt out so I re-evaluated my goals for the year and frankly, they are pretty aggressive. After taking a look at the big picture, I realized that I needed a freedom run. I needed to toss out the goal of setting a PR and let my spirit and my heart run free. And so I did. Continue reading

Be Inspired

Last week I had a little bit of writers block. I needed inspiration. And who better to turn to inspiration than my readers. I sent out a request for your favorite inspirational quotes and compiled them right here. So if there’s ever a day when you need a little lift, bookmark this page so you can come back and be inspired. Enjoy! Continue reading

2016 HAT Run 50K Race Recap – Chasing Seven

There are several races that I have scheduled this year where I have set a goal to achieve. The 2016 HAT Run 50k was one of them. My goal was to run this course in under 7 hours. Specifically, I wanted to do it in 6 hours 50 minutes. I had PRd this course last year when the course was in one of it’s worst conditions by 47 minutes from 7:59:29 in 2014 to 7:04:52 in 2015. Surely I was ready break 7 hours. Continue reading

The Story Behind the Necklace

Not running related, but I figured I’d write about this anyway. It’s funny how many comments I’ve had over the year about my little ol’ necklace. I guess people have noticed it in all of my bazillion running selfies. I wear it everywhere, day and night, during training, in races, in the shower, and in bed. In fact, it’s actually tied to my neck with a silk cord (probably not safe…don’t get me psycho killer) and I’ve only taken it off a few times to clean and polish the silver around the stones. The stones are not turquoise as some believe, but instead, it’s Larimar. Continue reading