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Bull Run Run: DNF

Sara, Katie and me. My girls both demolished their PRs!


On a beautiful Saturday morning in April, I toed the line for my seventh Bull Run Run 50 Miler. 

I shared the early miles with my two steadfast training buddies, Katie and Sara. They were running so strong, I had to let them go. I knew they were going to own this race.

I spent the rest of my miles mostly alone, but not lonely. There are always friends passing, sharing a mile or two. I enjoyed my day on trail, just being out in the woods. Bull Run Run is a favorite in part because I get to see so many friends on the out and back section. I loved taking in the sights and sounds - birdsong, various wildflowers, the nascent leaves on the trees. "Gifts from the trail" Gary Knipling calls them, and rightly so.

I started having anterior tibialis soreness and cramping about halfway through the race.

The same issue had plagued me in the latter miles last year. It turned into an injury a couple of weeks later, eventually forcing me to withdraw from my goal race in June.

I was surprised and dismayed to experience it again as I believed it was a caused by insufficient training volume and hill work. Unlike last year, I felt my training leading up to the race was adequate.

2012 mileage leading up to the race vs. 2013

Other than my lower legs, I felt really good.
My energy was steady all day but for a brief, mild low point between Miles 21 - 26 (very typical for me). I had zero stomach issues, discomfort or sloshing. I felt strong. Though my lower legs were really tender,
I had been able to keep the cramping at bay by walking when they started to quiver.

As I arrived at Fountainhead (mile 38) my spirits were high. No matter my training, I am a strong closer in the final miles of an ultra. My friends were just minutes ahead and I expected to catch up and run the remaining miles in their company.

t never happened. Things began to deteriorate just two miles later, and culminated in severe pain and cramping in my anterior tibialis and ankles. At one point, it was up to my lower back and I had to lie down on a log, it hurt so badly.

The Garmin shows my meltdown. (Mileage is always short on trails).

Hubz appeared on the trail and I was so glad to see him. After what seemed like hours, we hobbled into Bull Run Marina, a mere 5.5 miles from the finish line. I sat, I waited, I ate some calories, I hydrated. I could walk the entire distance in the 3 hours before the time limit, if I could walk without cramping. But I couldn't. My race was over.

It was a humbling end to a day that had held so much promise.

But I am alright with my DNF. I did what I could that day. I simply had nothing left.

This was also my first ultra fueling on the Whole 30 program (Day 28), but I'll analyze that in another post. I cannot say definitively whether it was a factor in my tibialis cramping. Given that I had the same issue a year ago, it could be but one piece of the puzzle. 

Other factors that probably played a hand in my race:
  • my last ultra race in warm weather was a whole year ago 
  • dehydration 
  • under-fueling
  • having my period
  • a surprisingly stressful week serving on a jury

I'm looking at this DNF as a valuable learning experience and a solid 10 hour training run for my A race in June: The Laurel Highlands 70 Miler.


  1. I'm sorry your body pooped out on you at an inopportune time. I hope you had a fun day on the trails for many, many miles, and that your A race goes better.

  2. Still a great effort.Well done on sticking with it so long. :-)

  3. Sorry it worked out this way on the day, but you definitely gave it all you had, drawing back from that fine line of doing yourself damage. You have a great attitude and focus. Looks like you have some reasonable ideas of some of the problems, and an approach to work on those and investigate others. Getting all you can out of the day, impressive.

    Question - read your post from last yr abt antibial tendon. Where do you do pool running?

    1. Hi MJ,
      When I go (not often) I use the Wilson Aquatic Center near the Tenleytown metro. It's a really nice facility!

  4. Kir, the only two DNFs I've ever had in my ultra career have been at Bull Run. The first one was when I came into the race with a slight calf injury that forced me out at the Marina outbound; the second was the very next year when I went out too fast given my training and lack of heat acclimation, so I started tripping, fell once, then started cramping all before Fountainhead outbound. It was clear I was on my way to a heat injury if I didn't stop ( and I had Promise Land two weeks later). No regrets either year because I was able to run my goal race later in the year, and I used it as a training run. So, good for you in calling it quits and looking ahead. Heal up and look at the impact of your diet as well as your early pace given your training and the warm temps. Hope to run with you at Harry Landers Special on Mem Day?

  5. Ultrarunnergirl, glad you wrote a report of your experience and I am amazed that you have toed the line here seven times! Also, so great that Tom was out there to see and support you, too! I am so sorry you were unable to finish. Even though DNFs can make for great learning experiences, it is still tough when it happens.

  6. I hate reading DNF race reports, but your perspective, particularly the fact that you had a lie down on a log and the beauty that you convey about the trail, made this a surprisingly positive read for me. I can't wait to hear how Whole30 has impacted your running and training. I have read "It Starts With Food" and I am not certain that it is for me yet, although I am contemplating it as a "post-season" experiment.

  7. I DNFed twice during my marathoning days. It's such a depressing feeling. I bounced back quickly and finished a follow-up marathon a couple weeks after both. Chalk it up to experience. I hope you heal up and are ready to go again soon.

  8. What a great post - I love your attitude! I hope you heal quickly and uneventfully.

  9. This DNF doesn't change the fact that you still inspire me. You did your best and had the sense and strength to do what you needed to do.

  10. Glad that you aren't totally discouraged by this. This is still inspiring. Love the recap.

  11. Tremendous effort Kirstin. Good luck at Laurel Highlands.

  12. Your approach to the DNF is perfect - i love seeing it as a lesson.

    I've never heard it called 'sloshing' but it's the perfect description! I always call it 'hot water bottle belly' and I get it pretty badly. Do you have any tips on dealing with it?

  13. I'll be interested to see what, if any, thoughts you have on the Whole 30. I've been veering (VERY erratically) in that direction, but can never bite the bullet.

    Sorry about your DNF, but it sounds like you made the right decision!

  14. Wonderful attitude about something that happens to the best of us. The beauty of a long, happy racing "career" is that the only difference between a training run and a race is how you personally categorize it. Sounds like you had a great (if unintended) training run ahead of what I'm sure will be an awesome race for you later this year.

  15. Thank you for sharing your stories! I'm glad that you approach DNF-ing as "its okay, I did my best." As I approach my first ultra, I'm keeping that in my mind. Regardless of my finish time or if I DNF, it is all better than a DNS or a did not train. Plus, I'm doing a Fat Ass, so it should be a pretty relaxed environment and if I have to drop out I'll just get to party sooner (as you mentioned to be previously).


  16. Aubrey, great attitude. For your first ultra you should take your time and enjoy the sights and sensations of the trail. You will finish!


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