Dealing with DNF Disappointment

The 3 letters every runnner fears most!

Earlier this week, Mint discussed that “now what?” feeling after a marathon.

So how do you deal with the “what happens next?” feeling after you didn’t finish that goal race?

My goal race this fall was an attempt at a new personal distance record for me (100K, 62 miles). Unfortunately, my IT band and right knee were hurting a week before the race and I decided to start anyway, thinking I’d rather try and fail than not try at all. At mile 23, I reached the third of four aid stations (the race was two 50K loops), sat down in a chair and cried for a few minutes before handing the volunteers my bib and timing chip. It was my first time my race results would say DNF (did not finish).

In the weeks following, I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with the disappointment.

Yoga Class at a Gym Category:Gyms_and_Health_Clubs
Cross training is a great way to recover and take your mind off running. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Focus on rest first. After a DNF your first inclination might be to HIT.IT.HARD. to prove to yourself that you still got it. But first and foremost, the biggest focus should be on rest and recovery, particularly if your DNF was in the later stages of a long race or due to injury or burn-out. Don’t focus on the race result itself and overanalyze the “why” feeling. Take the time off from running to rest, enjoy things that aren’t running and take care of you! Take your mind off of it by doing something else. The week after my DNF, I took the time to hang out with my boyfriend more, go out with my friends more and take more yoga classes. It all helped me relax, rest and take my mind off the negativity.

You don’t have to talk about it. Seriously, you don’t have to put it on Facebook, Twitter, whatever. After I DNF’ed, I had to sit at the race start/finish for about 10 hours until one of my friends finished the 100K and offered to drive me back to Ohio. I didn’t want to talk about it. I was embarrassed and really didn’t want anyone to know what happened. Because of social media, it’s hard nowadays to not have everyone know exactly what you’re doing and what your goals are. It felt like others were expecting something from me, but the reality is, that the only person’s expectations I disappointed were my own. And I really didn’t want to talk about it right away.

But talk to someone who’s been there when you’re ready. The non runners in your life don’t necessarily understand how you may feel after a race is over, no matter what the result. Talk to someone who really understands: another runner!

Get back to your normal routine. After the rest is over and you’re ready to get back out there, I find it best to go back to normal and stick to a routine you’re used to. For me that means doing things like going back to my usual days of the week for easy runs, long runs and speed workouts. Most runners are creatures of habit and getting back to a routine you’re used to can help get you back in the saddle. 

I changed my laptop background to a photo of my spring running goal

Look to the future! Pick a new goal, whether it’s a running vacation (mine!) or another race or another attempt at the original goal, it’s great to have something to look forward to.


Have you ever DNF’d? How did you get over it and back out there?

Trail and 100 mile ultra runner who still loves a good road marathon every now and then. Lifetime Northeast Ohio resident that dreams of the mountains out west, but loves CLE too much. Sometimes a vegan, sometimes does yoga, always loves a good craft beer and post race donuts.

Leave a Reply to Salty Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. I’m so sorry about the DNF! What a horrible experience after all of your training!

    I had my first DNF earlier this year during the Minneapolis Marathon this Spring. Stomach pyrotechnics between 16-19. Enough said. I agree on the feeling embarrassed, also for me, ashamed.

    Looking back now, I would add two things to your list for recovery. 1.) Remember that no one else is judging you or thinks less of you. Your friends and supporters know you aren’t a sissy and everyone else is amazed you can run 23 miles. 2.) As much as I agree with rest, setting a small race goal soon(ish) after to get your mojo back is helpful. My 4 mile race PR was pretty sad, so I went and destroyed it to make myself feel better. It worked.

    1. I totally agree with setting a small race goal. I have three more races in November that were already scheduled, but to be completely honest, with the way the last month has gone, I’m way nervous about how they’ll go!

  2. I DNF’d the Akron Marathon in 2009. It really sucked. I wasn’t injured, but I felt off from the start. I got to mile 15 hurting already and bagged it when I saw my husband. I felt pretty awful about the experience, but dusted myself off, extended my taper and jumped in the Towpath Marathon 2 weeks later with the goal of finishing, no matter what. I didn’t run the time I had hoped that fall, but by jumping in the next marathon with lower expectations, it really helped me move forward. Sometimes, DNF’ing is the right thing to do and there’s no shame in making a good decision for yourself!

  3. Congrats on reaching a milestone in the life if every runner who races! A DNF! I strongly believe every competitive (remember my definition of competitive) runner needs three acronyms before they are legit: DNF, DNS, DFL, as long as you don’t make a habit if ant if them! The DNF shows you took a risk and set an incredible goal. It’s ok to fall short and you can take pride in having the guts to go for it. The DNS is a reminder that you always have to be adaptable and fosters gratitude toward racing opportunities. If we’re healthy and able to start every race we plan on, it’s easy to take racing for granted. DFL, stands for dead friggin last. Ok, no one likes the pity clap, but you don’t get better/stronger/ tougher by staying in your comfort zone. You get better by putting yourself out there and taking chances. So, Coriander, wear your DNF badge with pride, for you had the courage to attack a goal that many would never consider. And once your it band heals, you’ll be ready for the next challenge!

    1. I love this and I think it’s s true!!! I’m glad I got my DFL out of the way in 2003 in my first ever full-length (it was 4k for us) high school cross-country race… hearing that guy on the bike ticking along slowly behind me was pretty sad 🙂

    2. Thanks Rosemary! I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but in the end, it was going to happen at some point and all I can do now is learn from the experience and plan for the next challenge!

  4. Coriander, I am so sorry to hear about your DNF! I had one a few years ago where I had to sit in a cop car during a half and then ride the sag wagon in… and then spend the rest of the weekend with my friends who had finished. I literally just didn’t think I could/should run another step due to a knee issue. I remember feeling at the time (and this was even pre-FB) that it was so embarrassing and that everyone would think less of me. Really, I didn’t handle it well that weekend (lots of crying), but at the end of the day, I’m sure no one cares or remembers! In the longer run, I coped by taking a full two weeks off and then easing back into training before choosing a next running goal.

  5. I had my first DNF today – Rough Stuff! Thank you for the post it made me feel not so alone. Not having to talk about it is great advice and also not going to try to make up for everything tomorrow I didn’t accomplish today. I pulled out because I was injured and rest is going to correct that, not soothing my bruised ego. Thank you again!

  6. i havent DNF yet, but my first marathon is coming up in 2 weeks and my longest run is 15 miles and that was almost 2 months ago. i had some personal problems get tossed at me and allowed what was going on around me to affect and interrupt my training. but i still want to show up as embarrassing as it will be i want to show up and run and walk as much as i can. is it crazy to want to see my failure through to the end?