We all have less than ideal races. It’s part of the game. What doesn’t kill you … right? Races fall apart for many reasons, some within your control and some outside of it.
I recently ran the Shamrock Virginia Beach Marathon and woke up on race day to a severe weather warning. I would be running an oceanside marathon with a “high surf advisory” and pelted by rain and sleet. It was during this race that I first seriously contemplated not finishing, DNF‘ing.
As someone who firmly believes in not quitting if you’re not injured or being pulled off the course, it took everything in me to finish this race. I decided that the disadvantages of DNF’ing far outweigh the discomfort of finishing the race slower than my goal time.
When the going gets tough, here is why a DNF is a bad idea.
The DNF will haunt you.
This is particularly true if you DNF a marathon. The thing with the marathon is that if you have a bad race, it’s difficult to jump right back into another one. While it’s possible to run back-to-back marathons, you’ll likely have to wait a few months until your next race. That means you’ll be carrying the weight of the DNF around. I don’t know about you, but I knew that if I DNF’d the thought of “will I quit my next race?” would continue to haunt me.
As endurance runners, mental training is already something we need to work on. If you can avoid a DNF, that’s one less thing you’ll have to mentally overcome.
You will have to find arrangements back to the start.
As I was contemplating my DNF on the course, I started to think of the logistics of getting back to the start. Anyone who has been there can attest how deep of a hole you are in, if you start to think of the logistics of quitting.
In my case, the sleet and wind were coming at me in all directions. I couldn’t feel my legs or arms and the idea of dropping out and knocking on someone’s door to use their phone was very appealing. I eventually told myself to get a grip; I wouldn’t be knocking on someone’s door that day.
While some courses have volunteers and spectators along the course, there are many smaller races that put runners in the middle of nowhere around 30K. Without houses or cars to drive you back to the start, are you seriously just going to stop? No. Get going.
You’ll miss opportunities to learn.
Part of running is learning how to push through the tough moments. Running marathons is hard, but you DO HARD THINGS. Use these moments to prove to yourself that you can keep going. Let’s be honest, often these dark moments pass within a mile or two. If you’re in a mental hole, it’s ok to be miserable. It’s your ability to bounce back from those moments that will lead to your racing success.
I don’t know about you, but “feeling great” are rarely words I use to describe the last 10K of a marathon, yet that is the point in the race that will determine your ability to reach your goals or have another average day. If you’re physically able to carry-on when you want to quit, these moments are huge learning opportunities for the next time you encounter the Hard Times.
You won’t get the finishers’ swag
While the medal is not what motivates me to the finish, it does represent something special. Many of us hang our medals on our walls or plan to, and then use the medals as tangible proof of the months of hard work we invested in that race.
At 35K of the Shamrock Marathon there was part of me that thought of the finishers hat that is notoriously given out at the finish line. After driving 13 hours to get there, you can bet I was getting that hat. Are you really going to run 35K for nothing?
You’ll have to spin it
With all those posts on social media you made leading up to the race, you’re going to have to spin this to all your friends. Sure, “it wasn’t my day” works, but let’s face it, that’s not fun. There is a reason why people have A, B, and C goals. It’s really easy to get down on yourself if you don’t reach your A goal, but rest assured people are rooting for you to finish.
In fact, you probably have people tracking you and cheering for you in real time! Channel those vibes. Buckle down and get the race done. And think, because you didn’t DNF, you’ll have a finisher picture to share!
During a less-than-stellar race experience, what goes through your head when you want to quit? Have you ever DNF’d?