I never thought a DNF could be so fun! In the inaugural running of Breaks 40, there were more DNFs than finishers with one aid station claiming a third of the field. Check these numbers:
Registrations | 60
DNS | 6
DNF | 33
Finishers | 21
Finish Rate | 35%
Breaks 40 is very likely the toughest ultramarathon in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It has a surprising opening descent, a waist-deep ford, and then the real work begins - a long, grueling ascent on Pine Mountain.
Having run and hiked this trail in the past, the big DNF numbers weren’t surprising, as it’s difficult to train for the surface and elevation this race covers unless you live near the mountains.
At Birch Knob, the highest elevation of the race, fully one-third of the field met the dreaded DNF. I was among the early DNFs, and one of the aid station volunteers offered to give me a lift back to the start/finish.
But then the DNF parade began - a blown out shoe, an allergic reaction to a horsefly bite, a blown out calf muscle, a knee injury, stomach problems, and loads of folks that either wouldn’t make the next cutoff time or didn’t make this cutoff time.
Volunteers and runners were calling for pick-up and everyone was accounted for by the time the sweeper came in. All caught rides from crew or volunteers, but I piled in a van with eleven of my fellow DNF’ers, and we enjoyed a wet, sweaty, foggy hour-long ride back to the start/finish (thank you, Forest Service!).
That van ride was nothing short of comedy. A group of ladies snapped some pictures of the scene inside the van, and while each of us was disappointed, there were plenty of smiles and laughter.
While on that long ride, I couldn’t help but think that between the runners in the van, there were likely more than 100 marathon and ultra finishes among the group. Breaks 40 is tough as nails.
Once we returned to the finish, we snapped a group picture and everyone went to get cleaned up. Nearly everyone returned to see the finishers come in while enjoying some barbecue and brews.
The 10 p.m. cutoff came with three runners still on course. Having battled the course, nighttime, and a steady rain, all three crossed the finish, but received DNFs just the same; they were past the cutoff time.
While there was plenty of misery out there, the reward for finishers was equally sweet. My friend, Rob Gentry, finished 14th in fourteen and a half hours. He picked up the race at the last minute as a warm-up for Cloudsplitter 100.
That’s one helluva warm-up!