The line in the sand

The line in the sand

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A DNF (did not finish) during a running event teaches us many lessons. A lot of those lessons, I believe, are relevant to small business. A “DNF” – whether on the trails, in business, or something important to us in life – is not the end. It’s a challenge, an obstacle, a signpost for what we need to focus on to improve. This is my editorial for Edition 37 of Trail Run Mag.


As I write this, it’s about 28 hours since I pulled the pin at Yarraman, the halfway mark and turnaround point of the BVRT (Brisbane Valley Rail Trail) 200 miler. I’m at the finish line, watching the 100 milers trickle in, and it’s awesome! Behind each finish (and each did not finish) is a backstory of hard work, grit and spark. I am full of admiration for these people.


I am OK with my DNF (or did not fail, as someone kindly told me. I like the sound of that!). It’s my first DNF, and although I’m not sure how I will deal with that in the coming days, I know in my heart I did all I could, and this time, the body did not abide.


My shin hurt from the midnight start at Ipswich, Queensland. I’d been struggling with a dodgy shin for months. Up until a week before, it was touch and go as to whether I would even be able to make it to the start of this event, organised by AAA Racing & Coaching. There were just seven of us toeing the line. I did my run/fast walk strategy, which worked well for me, and for most of the time, I was an hour ahead of my schedule.


It rained a fair bit, and I was soaked, but I enjoyed the countryside. I was either too hot or too cold, never getting my body temperature or clothing right. The inside of my knee started to hurt. By Toogoolawah, about 85km in, it took over from the shin pain. My audiobook (Stephen King’s Different Seasons) helped take my mind off my whingeing body.


I’d never had a crew before, but it was mandatory to have one for this run. Being a grassroots event and such a small field, there were no checkpoints until the Saturday morning, when runners in the other distances would join us on the trail. But the race organisers checked in on us throughout the day, offering great advice. My partner, Karl, crewed for me. The love and care he gave me were phenomenal, and it was so wonderful to see him along the way. He even set up a disco ball for me under a bridge at night. (He went on to run the marathon distance on the Sunday in a smoking time of 3 hours, 49 minutes!).


Having completed the miler at this event for the past two years, this was my first attempt at the 200-mile distance on this trail (I’d completed my first 200 miles at Delirious W.E.S.T. earlier this year). The trail is flat, monotonous, hard underfoot. It wears the body and mind down, so pacing yourself from the start is critical. The 60-hour cut-off was always at the front of my mind; a pressure as unrelenting as the trail itself.


I had some nice chit chat every now and then with fellow runner and friend, Kris. I sang to my music and daydreamed, dealt with blisters, crazy chafing, wet clothes and mild nausea. With no sleep before the start, I was exhausted and needed to sleep at Bernarkin (about 137km). I climbed into Karl’s car and napped for 30 minutes, waking up with incredible knee pain, shivering uncontrollably and waves of nausea. 99% of me did not want to keep going, but I did. The inside of my knee felt like a hotwire about to snap. I ran 50 counts, walked 20. Then 30:20, 10:20, then all walking. I had fallen an hour behind my schedule by the time I passed Blackbutt (142km). With a 60-hour cut off, there was no margin for error.


I got to Yarraman (160km and the turnaround) a bit after 2am, after 26 hours of running and walking. Most things you can push through: fatigue, lows, sickness, hallucinations, soreness, and a lot of pain. But I could not push through this pain in my knee, and running was impossible. Another potential long-term injury terrified me. It was time to swallow my pride and call it a day.


I’m glad I showed up and tried. I got 100 miles in, and, as always, I learnt new things about myself and others. This run was a big ask for me and would have been even without injury. My knee is very painful now, but I feel good within myself, and am considering taking up a new hobby, like darts…


I put my whole heart into trail running. It pains me that I didn’t finish, but you know what? The world did not end. As my wonderful friend Ashley said to me, “Participating in a 200-mile event is about finding a line in the sand for that day. You chased the line, found it, and went past it. That takes guts.”


The challenge now is to figure out how to work around that line. And I will. And you will, too, when you find your line.


But for now, it’s time to rest, put my feet up and eat all the food! I’m watching another 100 miler cross the finish line right now, and it feels just as good as finishing myself.


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