Welcome back to Friday runday! This week I want to talk about the dreaded DNF and how to deal with it and then come back from it for the next race! Enjoy!
A DNF (Did not finish) is a runner’s worst nightmare, even for amateur and fun run runners. No one wants this on their record, ever. It is evidence that all of the work that you put into that race has been for nothing, and it can be for the smallest stupidest of reasons. It is one of the most unfair things in running in a race, the embarrassment of it all, especially if it is a long race where the number of spectators is higher. All those people out there watching you, seeing you fail, that’s horrendous. You have pride and sometimes that pride can get the better of us.
Every race is a lesson, you always get something from the race (apart from a medal and t-shirt). You get something mentally from it all. That thing doesn’t have to be positive, however, it can be negative. Negative experiences happen all the time in life, why should a race be exempt from that? I know this, I have felt all those emotions myself on two separate occasions in my racing life.
I have technically DNF’d one and half times. the half was during a 24-hour race but as I had completed 12 hours I was placed in the 12-hour group. Even though I had completed 12 gruelling hours and travelled 100km, got the congrats and the medal (and t-shirt) to prove I was a finisher, personally deep down I had failed. 12 hours wasn’t my target and 100km sure as hell wasn’t my target either. I was there for the 100 miles and nothing else and I would be running, walking, bloody well crawling that last hour to prove that I was competitive every hour of that race. However, it wasn’t meant to be, I had a slight niggle going into the race and knew I would be running slower to achieve it. I had accepted a poor performance, but as long as I could finish I would be happy. 12 hours later I was distraught with myself internally. I still view that race as my greatest achievement and my greatest failure. But, in retrospect, maybe it is okay to accept the DNF, here are a few reasons as to why.
When it is okay to accept a DNF is coming.
If you are hurt then you are hurt, if you can’t get going in a comfortable form with a considerable distance to go, then it is only pride that is keeping you going. The injury isn’t something that a first aider can fix and get you off going again. There is no point in limping your way through the next miles to complete the rain to then end up so hurt that you are off the road/trail for the next couple of weeks or months. Self-preservation is key in this scenario, look after yourself. There is more likely a race coming in the next month or couple of months.
If your brain just can’t keep going
This is the difficult one as there are ways to get through the mental anguish of not being able to continue going, but what if it is too much? The wall may exist but sometimes your head will keep telling you for miles that it can’t keep going and something is wrong. Even if nothing feels wrong at the time, your brain can only be lying for so long. You pace will have evaporated, you won’t be enjoying the race and mentally you are shot. If the support from the crowd isn’t helping and the support of other runners, then it is okay to concede defeat this one time. Some races are not meant to be, you might not be there mentally that one day and it is better to accept this instead of mentally torturing yourself and having nothing left within you near the end. Your head could be telling you something important, but judge it carefully, the wall is a tricky mischevious beast. It wants you to quit, only do so if that mentality drops to your heart.
This is an important one as it is probably the key to the others. If you have not trained sufficiently then it is natural that your body will not cope with the stress of the race, especially if you are going at a pace that is too fast for it at that time.
But by also under training you are almost setting the doubts off in your head that you are not ready for the race, you haven’t trained sufficiently, you haven’t trained on this level of incline or terrain or even on the course. You are just not prepared. Your brain will remember all these doubts that you held during the training, and then unless it the monster of doubt upon you when you least want it. I had this happen to me recently at the Belfast Marathon. Although there were a few other reasons, one of them was
I had this happen to me recently at the Belfast Marathon. Although there were a few other reasons, one of them was definitely that I had under trained. Massively so in fact. I had tried to go a little slower to make up for it, but I got hit early with the doubts. At mile 6 I knew I was struggling and that this was going to be hard. Then came the 7 miles of uphill ‘fun’. I was still going at an okay pace at this point. On target for a 4 hour finish, but then for the first time, it hit me like a brick… I can’t finish this race at this pace and I have no idea what pace I should do. This is generally the nice part of the race as a damn industrial estate is coming and that is usually where the doubts arise. I decided to enjoy the race for what it was. (Blisteringly hot day in Belfast terms) and walked a bit, ran a bit. I did not enjoy that race at all, I actually got sun stroke that day as it was the first proper warm sunny day of the year in Belfast, so a lot of people were caught out. I kept going, but boy was I tempted to just give up. I had that runners mentality of failure is not an option. But maybe I shouldn’t have that mentality.
Why it isn’t the worst thing in the world
There is always next year
Now I am of the mindset that maybe I should think of the bigger picture, the race will be there next year and if anything, it will give you all the incentive to push and train hard for next time. I know people will have that push in them even just to repeat the year and get a better time. But think of the drive you would have within you to blast the memories of what happened away next time!
Give yourself a break
Don’t beat yourself up over it, yes you will have to tell people that you did not finish the race, but it was simply a bad day at the office. These are going to happen, and keep your head high, you are someone who can run for a bucket load of miles and train hard, this race will not define you, you have succeeded before and you will again.
Take it as a learning experience
As a runner, you will love numbers and statistics and try to work out the smallest of things. There is a lot of time to ponder when running in the open air. You learn from bad training days, a bad race will be no different. Did you train right? What made you want to stop? If it was an injury you will try and figure out how to make sure that it doesn’t repeat itself. Undertrained? You sure as hell won’t allow for that to happen again anytime soon. You live and you learn, it is what we do and I feel that is especially true to runners. If you didn’t have a bad race or run, then how will you learn to better yourself, I am not saying be grateful for the DNF, as you spent a fair amount of money on it, but in the grand scheme of things, you will be a better runner for it.
Almost everyone who runs a lot will have one
You will not be the only one on this planet to DNF, hell you might not even be the only person to DNF that hour during the race! It happens, almost everyone will have a DNF in their running life. Talk it out with others who know that pain, running clubs and groups are a bit like a group therapy session for helping others work out their anguish over a failure or defeat. People who know what it is like to have had this happen will have empathy towards you and may even have some helpful tips on what you should do to defeat it the next time.
When ready, look for the next race
This is something I did, the day after the 24-hour race DNF I decided I would get this failure out of my head. I looked online at what races were nearby and picked a 10km for a week or two after. I had a new goal, one that was short and I had the sole aim of just finishing. I wasn’t going to go for a PB. I simply wanted to get to the end of the race ( in a respectable time of course, however). I ran that race and I finished and I felt a little better, so I built up the races and the distances until I could feel satisfied with myself that DNF was just a bad day. Obviously if seriously injured wait until your doctor says you can run, other wise that is just silly!
That’s it for today! Have you DNF’d a race? What did you do to get back at it? How did you feel? Let me know!