My First Did Not Finish

It’s Friday morning. I folded my last batch of laundry and piled it into my bag. I labelled my drop bins with duct tape and sharpie. I signed my waiver.

I’d spent the last year training for this race. Periodically ramping mileage up and reaching new milestones along the way. I picked a 100-mile race that was close to home on familiar territory. I started visualizing what the race would look like in my head. It was going to be of epic proportion, and I was going to make it out on the other side a new woman. Somebody completely different than who started. A woman who looked fear straight in the eye and overcome it with ease. 

The first twenty-five miles of my journey went incredibly fast. I plodded along looking at the mountains around me. I chatted with a few people and stuck to my plan. I was within minutes of the time goals I had set out for myself. 

I thought about the feeling of enlightenment that was going to happen when I crossed that finish line. Man, it was going to feel good. 100-mile races are a strange benchmark in the ultra-running community. Not all choose to run them, but it seems that if you live to tell the tale, you’ve earned the elusive badge of badassery on your ultra-running sash. 

And, of course, in the horrific event that you don’t finish?  Then all of this is stripped from you. In the wise words of my friend Gary Robbins about his first DNF (did not finish), “It felt like everything I'd known about my body was somehow proven to be a lie I'd been telling myself.” 

I would learn a lot about this and self-respect through my own DNF. 

Around 2 AM and sixty-two miles into my race I decided to stop. I turned around and went back to the aid station I had previously passed.  My legs weren’t tired, and I wasn’t peeing blood. I had the best support crew I could have ever asked for, and I had no reason for calling it a day. In fact, I had encountered harder training runs. 

I didn’t shed a single tear until I got home that night to my soon-to-be-husband, Dave. Dave and I are getting married in September and in preparation we are doing pre-marital sessions. A few weeks ago we did an exercise where we had to identify our partners greatest fear. Dave identified my greatest fear as not finishing things I’ve started. I sobbed and told Dave I didn’t want to face my biggest fear in our living room. I wanted it to happen out on the trail. 

For months and months, I wanted so badly for that moment of epic proportions to happen on my first 100 miler. I was going to put all my skills to the test and crossing the finish line would be a symbol of the ability to overcome anything. Instead, my moment would last for the next few dark days to come. I turned to running in the mountains because of its unpredictability. And this was a new situation I hadn’t encountered yet. Monday came no matter what and much to my surprise it was the same as any other Monday. My relentless dedication to the sport continues with more strength than I had on Friday night.

Finish lines and races are excellent ways of testing our performance and skills. But I’ve come to learn that they aren’t as pivotal as I originally thought. And not reaching them is just as important. I recently read an essay Jennifer Pharr Davis wrote regarding the new speed record being set on the Appalachian Trail by Scott Jurek. The following hit me in the deepest part of my aching heart; 

“I am starting to realize that a true legacy is not so much about performing when the whole world is watching, as it is a dedication to your cause when no one is watching.”

The Sinister 7 is a 100 mile (161km) run through the most rugged, remote and beautiful terrain in Alberta, Canada's stunning Rocky Mountains. 

Lindsay Neufeld is a 24-year-old mountain, ultra, and trail runner and photographer from Alberta, Canada. She is passionate about adventure and showing girls that sports are empowering and can be the key to unlocking your deepest, truest self.