When everything goes perfectly on race day its magical. Of course perfectly is relative and will probably still include monster blisters and aching muscles. Overall, its pleasant to get to the finish line without any huge issues. The fact is at some point in a long race you are going to have to suffer through some dark miles and dark hours that will make you want to stop.
First off, you need to be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if you are doing lasting damage to your body, or putting yourself, others, or the race in danger by continuing. Sometimes dropping out of the event is the best choice. If you don’t feel like you can make that decision clearly in the moment ask a member of your crew before the start to be the decision maker. Often, they can see the situation with a clarity you can’t.
If you decide that you are just having a rough patch (or really really really horribly terrible eternally long rough patch) and you make the decision to continue the race, then try to evaluate the problem and find a solution. If you’re sick, figure out why (too much food, too little food, wrong food, not enough water, heat, etc) If you’re cramping find out why (too little salt, too little water, too much water, heat, poor preparation, etc) Change your socks, change your shoes, splash water on your face and get out of the chair. Emotions are powerful, valuable and necessary for long distance racing. Use emotions to motivate and inspire, but when things get tough take a deep breath and let logic reign. Examine the problem. Decide a solution. Execute the solution.
Your brain is telling you to stop because you are pushing the limits of your body. Usually you can push the limits and still keep going. You can’t always run, but you can walk to any finish line. This year I walked and jogged much of the last 30 miles of the Western States 100, I had run this section dozens of times in training and had hoped to be flying along during these miles…that didn’t happen. We all have goals going into a race, a certain time or place, but sometimes you have to think back to the core reason you are doing this sport. The reason is usually much less about an arbitrary time over an arbitrary distance. Its usually about something much bigger, something that is not measured by numbers on a clock or places in the results. When my goals and hopes were blasted half way through the race I asked myself why I was doing this race and this sport? The answer was simple. Because I wanted to do something hard, and I enjoy the freedom of moving fast. If I dropped out just because the performance goal was out of the picture I wouldn’t be acting in accordance with my greater goal. The greater goal for most of us is to challenge ourselves by doing something really hard. I realized that finishing, even if it included a lot of walking, would accomplish that bigger goal.
When everything goes wrong don’t be discouraged. Take time to learn from your mistakes. Whether you finish or not, You can rise again stronger.