In racing, there are two acronyms that make participants cringe: DNS (Did Not Start) and DNF (Did Not Finish). The DNS sometimes does not feel *quite* as bad because there are lots of reasons why a person may not start a race: unpreparedness/lack of training, injury, illness, personal emergencies, etc. Things come up. It happens. The DNF, however, leaves a sting that most racers do not easily forget. I know this feeling personally.
I have taken a DNF in two races, and those two experiences still haunt me. The first DNF I took was in a Thanksgiving Day 5k race about 5 years ago. I had just started taking my running seriously earlier that summer and now that November had arrived, I was approaching my first running winter. Running through summer seemed fine, and, honestly, I had not thought running through cold weather would pose any problem greater than having to wear heavier clothing. How wrong I had been! This particular Thanksgiving Day was unusually cold (about 25 °F – COLD for this native Louisianan), but I did not think much of it. I was ready to race! After all, it was *only* a 5k…
The race started out fine and I was running along as usual, until I hit the 2.5 mile mark. My lungs felt like they were on FIRE. I couldn’t breathe. I started panicking…which only exasperated the problem. Before I knew it I was doubled over, hands on my knees, gasping for air. I started to have a full-on panic attack over not being able to catch my breath. I started coughing and wheezing. IT. WAS. TERRIBLE. Doing my best to pull myself together, I started
walking hobbling…determined to finish. Another ¼ mile down the road, I could *see* the finish. It was RIGHT THERE. So close.
I never made it. The gasping and wheezing started up again and I knew that if I did not stop, I would pass out. The cold, thin mountain air (I was living in South Carolina at the time) was too much for me. I had to quit.
As it turns out, I was later diagnosed with cold weather induced asthma. Lesson learned…run with my inhaler when the weather dips below 40 °F and never for one second think you are invincible.
In hindsight, maybe that DNF does not seem quite that bad. Medical reasons prevented me from finishing. It wasn’t like I just gave up…you know, like my second DNF. I look back on my second DNF and all it does is make me angry.
A couple of years ago, I was gearing up for my first duathlon. After running for several years, I was seeking a new challenge. Not quite ready to increase my distance to half or full marathon status, I decided a sprint duathlon (5k run/14mi bike/5k run) was the perfect next step for me. I got a bike and started training. Running had become easy for me, and it turned out that I was a natural on the bike. This duathlon thing would be a BREEZE! For weeks before the event I practiced my bricks. By the time the big day arrived, I was ready!
On race day, I got body marked and checked into the transition area early. I laid out all of my gear and went over my mental checklist of what I needed to do. A slight case of nerves set in, but overall, I was doing okay. The race started with a bang! On my first run I made GREAT time…in fact, it is still one of my fastest 5k times ever. I was moving on adrenaline and I loved every second of it. T1 went smoothly and before I knew it, I was out on the bike. Half way through the bike leg, things started going downhill (no pun intended). I was totally unprepared for this ride. My training rides had been in a *slightly* hilly area. This race was an hour north of my home…in the mountains. BIG difference. Stubborn me was determined to keep the pace that I had trained for…even if it killed me.
14 miles later I pull back in for T2. I was exhausted. I threw off my helmet, put on my running shoes and started my second run. It was awful. Completely awful. My legs completely bricked up. Every part of my body was telling me that we were done. Finished. My head was spinning and I felt like I was running on broken legs. I had practiced this a thousand times and I just could not get myself together. There was absolutely no gas left in my tank.
And I cried. A lot.
Mad. Frustrated. Disappointed. I should have known better. There was so much that I had done wrong. I had not hydrated well enough. I had not replaced my electrolytes and calories throughout the race. Most importantly, I had ignored my inner voice that had been saying, “Pace yourself.”
Looking back, maybe I could have finished. Maybe if I had taken a second, calmed down, collected myself, stretched, eaten a snack…maybe things would have been different. But I gave up. My competitive spirit overshadowed my best judgment and I got what I deserved…a big fat DNF.
Every time I try a new race distance or new type of race, these memories play out in my head. They make me more determined to stay focused and race smart, not hard, and complete the task at hand. As long as I can help it, there will be no more DNFs for this competitor.
Have you ever taken a DNS or DNF? How did it make you feel? What did you learn from it?