How to Recover from a DNF: Riding the Emotional Rollercoaster

By Michele Dillon, Choose Mountains Ambassador

About a month ago, I wrote a blog for Choose Mountains about the process of training for my first race over 50 miles (you can read that here). I never thought it was going to be easy, I actually picked it because it wouldn’t be. It was an extreme challenge for me to choose this race {Georgia Death Race} as my first attempt at the 100k distance. I was absolutely going for it though and I had every belief in myself that I could do it with the hard work and training that I had put in.

Well, if the title didn't already spoil it for you, I Did Not Finish (DNF). Of the 72 miles and 14,000 feet of vertical gain, I climbed 12,000 feet and ran 45 miles before just narrowly missing the cutoff to continue. 7,000k of that gain was in the first 21 miles. It was the hardest thing I had ever done and I didn't get the chance to finish it. Naturally, I was pretty devastated to see my dream fall apart right in front of me.

It has since been a little over 2 weeks since the race and I've had a lot of time to absorb all of my thoughts. For those of you that have ever dealt or will ever deal with the after effects of a DNF, I wanted to share my words of wisdom from those days of reflection.

Taking a Fireball shot at the 45 mile cutoff point. Races in the South entail alcohol being offered to you at every aid station. It was much needed at this point. Image by: Chris Kumm (@iliketrails)

Taking a Fireball shot at the 45 mile cutoff point. Races in the South entail alcohol being offered to you at every aid station. It was much needed at this point. Image by: Chris Kumm (@iliketrails)

Wear Sweatpants

For the most part, this had a lot to do with just pure comfort. My sweatpants were the most comfortable thing for me to have on my body after the race. Then after 4 straight days of wearing them, I turned into a bit of a running joke on my Instagram stories; "taking my sweatpants to the movies", "taking my sweatpants to lunch". It morphed into something that was cheering me up because it was so ridiculous how many days I had been wearing them and had absolutely no shame about wearing them in public (and it had the added bonus of making everyone laugh). You obviously don't have to wear sweatpants specifically, but find the thing that makes you feel comfortable and don't be ashamed about wearing them forever…or in my case, until you have to go back to work.

Rocking my 4 day sweatpants and $10 Walgreens sandals on a hike post race

Rocking my 4 day sweatpants and $10 Walgreens sandals on a hike post race

Talk About It

The last thing you're going to want to do is relive the experience and talk about how you "failed". But this is the singular thing that you can do in order to make peace with the situation and even though you may not think so at the time, ultimately feel better. The people that love and support you are always going to be proud of you when you've gone out there and tried your best. What I also found was that it allowed me to view my DNF and my feelings of failure in a different light. Initially my thoughts were, I still had 27 miles to go! Even though I was close, I was nowhere near close to finishing! However, after seeing people's responses, they were just impressed and proud of me for getting as far as I did. Those 45 miles were something that a lot of them couldn't even fathom doing. They were the hardest part of the race and to them it was amazing what I had accomplished. It allowed my perspective to shift and it felt good to know that no one was disappointed in me; although I am not sure as to why I was so worried about that in the first place!

Be Proud of Your Effort

…but allow yourself to feel the pain of disappointment. You are permitted to simultaneously be happy for going out there and giving it your all and also feel the emotions that come along with not achieving your expected outcome. This is human.

In the attempt of trying to make you feel better, or simply not knowing what to say, you will hear a lot of "don't be sad" or "it's not a big deal". Appreciate the fact that it's coming from a good place, but only you can decide how you feel about your DNF. Very likely those feelings will change on a daily basis and that's OK! Allow yourself to feel each emotion as they come and don't be so hard on yourself for feeling them.

Don't Let It Stop You

You may initially think that because you didn't achieve this goal, that means that you dreamt too big and it's out of your reach. Don't. If something is important to you and you work hard for it, it can only be temporarily unattainable. Eventually you will get there. Keep dreaming big. Keep challenging yourself. Keep digging deep to find your limits and then don't let them stop you.

Don't give up, don't give up, don't give up, no no no. Image by: We Run Huntsville

Don't give up, don't give up, don't give up, no no no. Image by: We Run Huntsville

Fuel Your Fire

Think really hard about why this specific goal was important to you and whether it still is. Challenge your perspective. Don't think simply just because you didn't finish, that means you have to go back to prove yourself. You don't need to prove yourself to anyone. There has to be a deeper reason and desire or it will very likely continue to be an unattainable goal. Find the deeper meaning. Find your fire and FUEL IT.

This Doesn’t Define You

This doesn't define you as a runner and it doesn’t define your abilities as a runner. Finish lines are never the definition of who you are. Your goals, your dreams and your passions are. Every time you put yourself on the line and try something, especially something that is not certain, you are defining who you are. You are strong, you are resilient and you will not be broken.

Allow Yourself to Move On

Don't put a time limit on your post DNF feelings, but do be aware that there will eventually be a time they need to dissipate. It's incredibly strong to let yourself be vulnerable and not ignore your emotions, but it's even stronger to realize when it's time to let them go and move on.




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The Route to GDR: A Series of Fortunate Events

The Georgia Death Race is a 68-74 mile point to point trail run deep in the humidity filled North Georgia Mountains with around 14,000 feet of vertical gain, and a race that many have declared feels like finishing a 100 miler. Follow along Ambassador Michele Dillon's journey of her training leading up to the race happening March 31st.

Read More

Clare Gallagher: Igniting the Fire

By Michele Dillon

Picture Credit: Thomas Woodson

Picture Credit: Thomas Woodson

Clare Gallagher is an elite mountain trail runner who has been quickly making her name across the country with her amazing performances at super competitive races. She first broke into the scene by winning Leadville in 2016 as her very first 100 miler. She finished with the second fastest time for a woman in the history of the race. Another notable and more recent win for Clare was at the CCC 100k where she set the course record and became the first American woman to win, in a race that had 258 finishing women. Instead of just riding the wave of notoriety and going to interview after interview talking solely about herself and her racing, Clare has decided to use her voice to educate her fellow adventure lovers with topics that she is extremely passionate about with the hopes of igniting that fire within the rest of us. Foremost on her mind is climate change and it's not so distant effects on our future, people, animals and lands. Secondly, is protecting the public lands that we get to freely explore now but may not always have that opportunity. With choosing to be outspoken and spreading her knowledge, she encourages us all to start listening, educating ourselves, paying attention to our impact on this world and fighting to protect the things that we love. Clare was awesome enough to let me virtually sit down with her so that we could all better understand the importance behind these issues and hopefully motivate others to get started toward making their voice and actions matter.

Most people know you as Clare Gallagher, the elite trail runner. However, you are getting more and more well know known for your advocacy for protecting our lands and climate. Could you explain why you think it's so important to use your voice in your position as an athlete?

Running is not inherently altruistic. Most of us run to make ourselves feel good. Not to mention, in ultras, we require other people to forfeit time in their lives so that we can run stupid distances. It's all so weird and time consuming. That's not to say it doesn't have value, but I prefer to associate my running with issues more substantial than just running or a race. I honestly race better when I think of climate change or injustices of the world. I suppose that, too, isn't altruistic if I'm thinking of others' suffering in order to run better. Regardless, I justify my running by making it about more than just me. Who likes a runner who only talks about running? No one. Or at least, I connect with runners who also think that there's more to this weird obsession that putting one leg in front of another. Any trail runner who doesn't support public land protection or climate change mitigation efforts needs to check their privilege. Heck, I need to check my privilege every day. That's why I put myself out there with advocacy work.

Protect Our Winters is one of the many organizations you have a relationship with. How would you explain to a person who is trying to understand climate change and how they can begin to make a difference in this fight, whether big or small?

First and foremost, I think we need to be more aware of who we are voting for (and whether we are voting at all). We need to engage with democracy in order to help mitigate climate change, which is the human-caused warming of our earth, causing mass extinction, human starvation and conflict. It's an insidious crisis that's impacting the world's poorest people at the worst rates. We can begin to make a difference by voting for elected officials committed to policy to help mitigate climate change. It's rather simple. We Google election candidates every election and then vote for the people committed to making this world a better place.

Picture Credit: Ben Duke

Picture Credit: Ben Duke

Convenient consumption (fast food, single use cups/straws, etc.) is one of the biggest contributors to our world's plastic & garbage problem. You have a big passion for the ocean and coral reefs. Could you give us a closer look into how plastic effects our oceans? What are the steps you take to making your impact less?

I've committed to #stopsucking -- which means I say no to straws, plastic bags, or single use containers whenever I can. This is a great place to start. The "great Pacific trash island" is not an actual island of trash, is an enormous gyre of many (trillions) of microscopic pieces of plastic that have degraded over time. Those tiny pieces of plastic eventually get back to us because fish accidentally eat them and then we eat fish. Do you like eating trash? I sure don't. Not to mention, I don't like inadvertently killing marine animals from my luxurious life of single-use convenience.

You have spoken freely on your personal view of animal consumption and have also mentioned that you believe each and every one of us has to make our own personal choice when it comes to this and shouldn’t judge others for that choice. I fully agree and also feel like the first step to making any kind of change is understanding the reasons behind doing them. Can you tell us the reason why you personally choose to eat less meat and how you feel that impacts the environment?

It's pretty simple: eating veg is a very effective way to reduce one's carbon footprint. This doesn't even touch on the inhumanity of the meat industries across the world. Who needs a burger that badly? For me, I have to fly a lot for my job, but I can easily say no to meat. Boom: my impact is reduced so easily. I also save money and feel less like a jackass American jacked up on feedlot "finished" beef products.

As an athlete who chooses to eat less meat (and also deals with celiac) how do you make sure you stay healthy physically?

It's super easy: I eat a lot of fruits, veggies, rice and corn products. I eat when I'm hungry and don't eat (most of the time) when I'm full. No one needs to reinvent the wheel here. Americans eat way too much protein than we need because of our obsession with meat. We need to calm down and take notes on how other people eat across the world.

Climate change is a huge enough of a fight on its own, but you also have been a voice for protecting our public lands. Why do you feel like this is such an important topic to address and how can we educate ourselves further in order to fully understand the possible impacts?

Public lands are the most personal "issue" trail runners face at a day-to-day level. How would you react if your favorite local trail was closed off because it was sold to a private owner? What if a uranium mine was built there? Bummer, right? Trail runners are so privileged when it comes to access. We rarely are restricted from running on public lands, but the current administration is full-on assaulting what we have, and what the U.S. Dept. of Interior was designed to protect. Personally, climate change is a way more important and grander issue than public lands protection, but I see public lands protection as the gateway for giving a shit about the environment, period. Caring about anything is step one.

Being and staying informed is one of the most overwhelming parts of being an advocate for our climate and our land. What are the outlets you use to keep yourself fully informed and how often do you use them?

NY Times, my friends, I follow news outlets on my social media so when I'm scrolling it's not all pointless. Accounts like UN Climate Council,, Project Aware, U.S. Dept. of Interior, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Patagonia, and National Geographic. I also follow Colorado's Senators and my Representatives on social media. It makes me feel way more informed and connected to democracy. I love it!

How do you keep a good balance between being an elite athlete and being a voice for the things you are passionate about?

It's a daily challenge. Sometimes I get on a roll reading or writing and put off my run and then never end up getting out. Other times, in weeks of intense focus on a race goal, I'm less informed politically because I'm training so much and tired all the time. That being said, tapering before a race is often my favorite feeling in the world: I'm focused on a race goal and I am fit, but I distract my race nerves by delving into an issue. I can be super productive leading up to races! 

Picture Credit: Mike Thurk

Picture Credit: Mike Thurk

As someone who is fairly well-known and has the opportunity to speak out on these topics as part of your professional career, what would your advice be for those of us who feel like we may have a less important voice in this fight?

EVERY VOICE MATTERS. I would warn people from thinking that just people someone is more well-known or has a "bigger platform" is more powerful than anyone else. I fully believe that the best trail runner is one who loves the trails hard, and subsequently fights for the trails hard. Professional, novice, world-renowned or completely off-the-grid...WE ARE ALL THE SAME. EVERY VOTE, VOICE AND PAIR OF FEET MATTER! 

Who or what inspired you to finally make that first step into taking a stand on these topics? Any other advice you may have for those that are still trying to figure out exactly how or why to make that first step?

One of my brothers is a Green Beret. The other is a public defender. If I can't stand for protection of the earth, then I'd be a sad contributor to my family's dinnertime conversations. I'd also wonder what the heck I'm doing with my life spending my time dicking around outside only for my own self-fulfillment.

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Michele Dillon

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Choose Mountains Ambassador - Colorado