When the results Aren’t what you wanted


Two years ago, a determined field of runners started the six loops of Zumbro 100 with mud underfoot. Lotssss of mud.

I’m used to mud but I couldn’t seem to handle THIS mud. 

One dry-ish loop.

Then it rained.

Then it sleeted.

Then it thunder-snowed. Lotssss of snow

I got pulled for time before my last loop because the race was being cut short for weather. My first 100-mile DNF in about 20 years. I knew I was going slow but this was Zumbro...in Minnesota, not some mountainous, technical course. It caught me off-guard.

“Winter storm” is a super-convenient, believable, and totally epic excuse if ever there was one, but the real truth is that other people finished. People I’ve run with.

I could have finished.

When you’re fit and know you could have finished, it’s easy to see your DNF as a failure. You should have finished and you didn’t.

I invite you to think otherwise. While there are two options at a race - finish or DNF (and I’m there to finish) - that doesn’t mean a DNF is a failure.

Ultrarunning isn’t a board game like Monopoly where a DNF is a set-back. On the contrary.

In ultrarunning, DNFs can move you ahead - sometimes more than a finish. 

With a finish, if you think about it at all, you learn what combination of things (some of which you don’t control, by the way) worked this one time, and little to nothing about what doesn’t work. In other words, you celebrate but learn little.

With a DNF, you learn what combination of things doesn’t work (and likely won’t work in the future, so do something else), and you can generate a broad range of ideas and actions that might work in the future, no matter what the circumstances. It helps you become a more consistent, sustainable ultrarunner.

After Zumbro, I was stumped and intensely curious. 

Why hadn’t I finished when I should have? 

What did I need to do differently next time?

I talked it through with my experienced friend Lynn and with some self-coaching, came away with a pile of insight and ideas I wouldn’t have otherwise. I had to actually make a list!

I wouldn’t have done this kind of analysis, in this depth, with a finish. We tend not to analyze successes. We’re proud of them, rightly so, but we rarely look at why we succeeded. It’s tempting to assume we've cracked the code and what worked this time will work every time, but that’s a good way to drift into future problems.

So when you don’t get the results you want, take advantage of it. Instead of getting past it as fast as you can, be brave enough to dive into the details for answers.

You’ll know more about what doesn’t work and a lot more about how to succeed long term.

Seeing a DNF as an embarrassing failure to get past as fast as possible is like throwing away a winning lottery ticket. Don’t waste it!

It may not be what you wanted this time but it may give you exactly what you need for more solid, consistent success in the future.

Susan Donnelly’s signature

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