Whether you’re an experienced OCR legend with a longstanding pedigree, or a plucky newcomer tearing up the field and making plenty of podium finishes, the biggest battle is always going to be with yourself. After a spate of difficult races, mainly due to adverse weather, we know a lot of people haven’t been getting the race finishes they wanted, whether they dropped out, got pulled, or didn’t even make it to the start. Quitting is hard, so we catch up with two very different OCR racers, and get their takes on why sometimes it’s okay to just... Stop.
Natasha Mansell is one of our Mudstacle Machines. She’s still fairly new to the sport, but with her speed and dedicated strength training, we’ve seen her rise from the one to watch to the one to beat.
Natasha: In my short time in OCR I have already become known as the girl who ‘can’t cope with the cold’ (amongst other things I’m sure!) I did get hypothermia and dragged off a course in MAY.
I know there will be people out there who say ‘just put on neoprene’ or encourage me to strengthen my mindset, but the purpose of writing this isn’t to enter that debate. I am in no way afraid to challenge myself but lto be realistic, I have bad asthma and Raynaud’s. I recognise the limitations of my body and know what I am prepared to put it through… And I don’t believe that makes me a wimp. You can feel free to disagree, but this sport is meant to still be enjoyable after all.
My case in point was Monster Race in Devon. The day before was a beautiful, sunny 13 degrees – perfect conditions. Enter the Beast from the East, and cue a trip to the nearest leisure centre at 7pm on a Friday night to buy a swimming hat. I was pretty naïve to think that it would help! The morning of the race was freezing and snow started falling, but I told myself I was being a wimp and I HAD to do the race. I forced myself to start despite knowing there were water dunks on course and that I was not in the right kit for the conditions (note, no neoprene). Looking back I should probably have just enjoyed cheering the runners on. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Around a mile into the race, there came a crawl through water under barbed wire and tyres. That was it. I wasn’t warming up even when running and when I got to the hoist and couldn’t grip the rope because of the pain in my hands (despite decent gloves) I knew it was only a matter of time before I would be pulled off course. With adrenaline running it’s hard to make a sensible decision (my chimp and professor brain were in a massive battle) but I took the call to stop there and then, jog back to the start, get warm and cheer everyone else on. Despite knowing, deep down, that this was the right decision at the time, I couldn’t stop kicking myself for stopping and questioning whether I had made the right choice.
It wasn’t until I saw the crowding of the medical tent that I felt vindicated in my choice. I had entered this race as a preamble to the season start. What had I really lost from dropping out? What would I have gained from ignoring my body? I had certainly avoided a painful recovery from hypothermia, and frankly, I’ll take that. My biggest worry was ‘letting people down’, but then I remembered I’m not Mo Farah, so I’m sure I’m the only one who cares whether I finish a race or not.
As a sidenote, I must give thanks to the medics on site that day for helping so many runners; and to Amie Spade who was an absolute hero, and knew exactly how to handle the stricken racers. Not least, thank you to Monster race for making the hardest call and not letting more people out on to the course. We are all very sad to see you go as a result of it.
The point in rehashing all of this is that I have learnt that there is no shame in a DNF and to have recognised when it’s a legit quit! Of course, we ALL have the occasional s**t quit – that’s the one I’m not going to make a habit of.
Amie Spade (you may have known her as Amie Booth) is the real deal. Champion death racer and all out American Legend, she is now on British soil, where the climate of OCR is different. Despite an impressive race history, there are situations that can still snag the most experience of racers.
Amie: Experience means knowing when to stop.
It seems we are quick to forget, especially those of us with extensive OCR and racing experiences, that there are so many factors to consider when taking on an event. In the OCR/Ultra/Adventure race industry, it takes many of us a long time to come to terms with taking a DNF, which I have come to find means “Did Nothing Fatal”. So it is not surprising to me that those new to the sport see shame in quitting, or feel lesser if they screw up in an event. For those people especially, it is important for them to know that even the best athlete, who has trained, won, and experienced years of competing, screws up as well. And often.
I am, by no means, world class. I have done and won, placed and raced, but that does not make me an expert in all things, nor even close to the kind of athlete you see in the Albon, Webster, Atkins, etc. types. However, I consider myself to know a great deal about nutrition, gear, training, pushing myself to be more, and doing my research before taking on any event. Despite all of this, I found a formidable foe in the NUTS Challenge in March of this year.
I realise now that many mistakes were made. First and foremost, I had just moved to the UK the week before, competing and training post injury. I was a first timer in this event, and experiencing weather not common for the UK; lots of snow and serious ice, which added up to more than I had bargained for. I used the knowledge that many athletes with experience in the event had deferred due to weather, along with my past races in winter conditions, to prepare my kit. I decided to go FULL 3mm wetsuit, with a long sleeve Marena Sport compression shirt, tights, and knee length Darn Tough socks. This seemed wise at the time, based on past experiences with hypothermia (WTM 2014 case in point). If I was going to complete 4 laps, I felt I needed to be prepared for wait time at obstacles, water, and multiple tries should I fail at anything.
Unfortunately, about half way through my first lap, I realised I had made a HUGE mistake. I have never overheated in a winter event, until NUTS. I found myself getting extremely hot, experiencing a large amount of oedema in my hands, and needing to have my wetsuit unzipped by a volunteer in an attempt to regulate my temperature. Though I was completing all required obstacles, I was finding it hard to keep my energy while running. Closing in on the end of the lap, I was developing a headache and feeling nauseous. I attempted to lie in the creeks throughout the course, submerge myself in lake water through the ice, and still could not cool my body down.
Once I came in to the transition area, I found myself faced with the knowledge that if I took off the wetsuit, my body would cool too quickly, leaving me hypothermic on the second lap. If I kept the wetsuit on, I would possibly cause myself to experience heat exhaustion, which can absolutely occur even in the most extreme winter conditions. These are the moments in which you have to admit that it is time to stop. We can all easily scream out the mantra of “DFQ” (don’t f**king quit), but there are times in which it is necessary if you want to prevent injury or damage to yourself. Tough is one thing, stupid is another. It took years to develop the understanding that sometimes quitting means you save yourself to race another day. It is when we push ourselves beyond reason that we get sloppy, and can set ourselves up for serious mistakes and injury.
The best advice I have ever received as an athlete, from a very wise and successful professional (thank you Ann Trason), was to come to terms with the fact that until you have had a DNF, you are not a true athlete. For that matter, I would add that knowing your limits as an athlete goes further, and state that in some cases, you are not a true athlete without a DNS (did not start) as well. There is no shame in knowing your own body, its limits, and learning how to overcome kit mistakes, nutrition SNAFUs, and that training to be able to do events in our sports means a bit of brain exercise too.
So there you have it. Even the upper echelons of OCR occasionally wobble off those pedestals we have them on. But does it make for a lesser person? Of course it doesn't. Sometimes it's legit to quit.