Avoid These 7 Common Mistakes That Lead to a DNF
The dreaded 3 letters in ultra running: D-N-F or Did Not Finish. The 3 letters that no ultra runner at any level wants to hear on race day. Ultra Marathons are different from any other endurance event in that you can only expect this: expect the unexpected. Things will go wrong and things will go right. There are many highs and many lows during an ultra marathon but the good news is that if you keep moving forward and avoid some common mistakes, the finish line is absolutely achievable. To help you reach the finish on race day, here are some of the most common mistakes that lead to a DNF.
Starting Too Fast
When the race begins, its common to get a rush of adrenaline and you may not even realize it. This causes a much quicker starting pace. If you give in, it will certainly catch up to you later in the race. Try reminding yourself of this rush at the starting line. Stay in tune with your body and back your pace off slightly. It’s an extremely long race, and using too much energy too soon can ultimately lead to exhaustion and a DNF.
In Ultra Running there is a saying: “Beware of the chair!” On race day it’s a good idea to always move forward and refrain from sitting down if you can avoid it. Walk if you must. When you stop during an ultra marathon you become weak, stiff, and tired. Starting back up takes a substantial amount of energy. Avoiding the chair will help prevent muscle fatigue and a DNF on race day.
Experimenting With New Fuel
Using a gel may be adequate for marathon distance but when crossing over to the world of ultra running, if you attempt to use the same gel for, say, 100 miles, you may quickly find yourself for the majority of the race trying not to throw up on your shoes. Try to practice eating whole foods during your training runs. Trial and error during training will help you find new fuel sources, preventing experimentation on race day that could lead to nausea and vomiting. If nausea is unavoidable, try ginger chews or chicken broth to help settle your stomach.
Not Applying Anti-Chaffing Lube
Lube up in all friction spots with a petroleum-based product. You will thank yourself later in the race. Reapply during the race periodically and proactively–more so if it’s raining. Compression gear can also help. Chaffing can be a big issue during ultra marathons if you are not prepared. During longer events, consider changing your clothes periodically. Chaffing is a common reason for a DNF. If all else fails, throw on some duct tape and keep your legs moving forward to the finish.
Taking Too Much Time at Aid Stations
Keep your eye on the clock. If you take too much time at aid stations you could find yourself flirting with the cutoff times. Missing a cutoff time is another common reason for a DNF. As you run up to an aid station, have your mental checklist ready, grab what you need, and walk forward as you organize your fuel. Once you’re ready, get right back to running.
It’s important to manage the balance between your water intake and your electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, etc.). When your electrolytes are out of balance, it can lead to cramping and a DNF. To help remain balanced, runners use salt tablets, electrolyte powder, chicken broth, salted potatoes, sports drinks, etc. You can also monitor by the color and frequency of your urine output. An electrolyte imbalance can be dangerous, so monitor your intake, make safe choices, and cross that finish line hydrated and healthy.
Ignoring Minor Irritations
Small irritations can eventually evolve into painful circumstances on race day. A pebble in your shoe at the beginning of a race can eventually feel like a boulder towards the end of a race. This also goes for rubbing, blisters, and sunburn. If you feel hotspots on your feet or experience foot pain, try to re-tie your shoes or change them at the aid station. Blisters are one of the top reasons for a DNF, so be proactive and prevent them early on.
So there you have it, some of the most common mistakes that lead to a DNF. Finishing an ultra marathon is not about how well you do when everything goes according to plan. It’s about how well you perform when the unplanned occurs. If you can be proactive and if you can be resourceful then maybe, just maybe, you will find yourself on the other side of the finish line with a whole new perspective on what you are actually capable of: a gift that will change your running forever, and quite possibly even your life.