If you run enough races over a long enough period of time, a DNF (Did Not Finish) is bound to happen eventually. Something just doesn’t go your way on that day, and you get pulled from a race (which is especially common in longer races) or need to drop out. No finishers’ medal for you. No bragging rights. It can be embarrassing and leave you feeling pretty miserable about yourself and let down about the whole experience. Friends and family will ask about your race and instead of regaling them with tales of triumph, you are forced to publicly acknowledge that you came up short of your goal.
I had my first official DNF a few weeks ago. I wasn’t expecting it to happen – and certainly not when it did. The event was not even close to my longest distance race and it had a generous cutoff time. I definitely underestimated the difficulty of the course; my level of fitness and training was not where it needed to be for 31 miles of technical trails. I am typically a back-of-the-pack runner anyway – but I still didn’t just phone it in. I guess that’s what makes it all that much more shocking, annoying, disheartening – whatever – that I got pulled three miles from the finish of a 31 mile race and willingly accepted the DNF and ride back to the finish line.
Hours later, I started analyzing my actions and attitudes, and replaying the day’s events over and over. The endless stream of questions and self-doubt crept into my head. What went wrong? What could I have done differently? Why did this happen to me? And, dammit, it was only three more miles – I could have crawled to the finish!
Now that I’ve had time to process everything and make my peace with it, I’ve come away with a few lessons. I share these thoughts with the hope that it will save time and unnecessary fretting, as well as the opportunity to gain the proper perspective in order to move forward should you find yourself in a similar situation.
A DNF does not define you or place any limit on your abilities to reach new goals. (Even elite athletes DNF races!)
A DNF is an opportunity to learn something about yourself so you can continue to improve. As a general rule, we tend to learn more in our failings than successes.
There is no reason to be ashamed for trying and not achieving your goal. Applaud yourself for having the courage to toe the starting line. Remind yourself in running, you are lapping everyone on the couch. Use this as an analogy to every other challenge in life.
I encourage you to aim high, and if even you don’t achieve your goal, give yourself permission to hold your head up high anyway.
Happy trails, my friends!