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So You DNFed (Did Not Finish), Now What?

Some use the phrase “death before DNF,” but there is absolutely no shame in a DNF. There are many reasons to drop from a race, ranging from a legitimate health concern to just not being mentally invested. Regardless of the reason, a DNF can be a valuable learning experience to carry with you into your next training and racing. Here is an approach to process a DNF.


1. Diagnose the Cause


The cause of a DNF might be very clear. A sudden illness, injury, or larger health concern is a clear cause for a DNF. A sudden lack of will to continue without any glaring physical issue might also be another clear cause. Often the reason for a DNF though falls in the messy gray zone of a combination of body and mind. For example, a DNF due to a feeling of total depletion or an aching body might be due to a combination of issues. Maybe there is a physical or mental health issue that needs to be explored. Maybe it was a nutrition or hydration issue. Or maybe the stress of other parts of life added to the effort of racing. If the true cause(s) of a DNF are unclear, it could be worth reflecting on the cause with someone. Depending on the issue, this might be a close caring friend, or a healthcare professional.


2. Identify and Accept the Areas of Control


Some causes of DNFs are absolutely out of your control such as a trip and fall, an ankle roll, or random sudden illness. But, many times, even for the more physical causes, there are some areas that were within your control. Maybe it was the signs of illness or other health issues ignored during training. Maybe it was falling off of the hydration or nutrition plan, a lack of proper gear, or having an unclear “why” for racing. Be honest with yourself, but not hard on yourself. Identify the cause(s) of your DNF, but just as importantly, the areas of control within the cause(s, will help in the last phase of reflection and planning.


3. Create an Action Plan


Create a plan to address these areas that are within your control. Plan how to address these issues in training, account for these issues on race day planning and execution, or seek additional guidance. Your action plan should be strategic and focussed, so don’t be afraid to seek out resources for help.


With a powerful “why”, the body can withstand more than most think. Self doubt though can also be a powerful influential force on the body. Establishing your “why” early on is training helps your consistency of training, but also to quiet down the self doubt that comes to say hello. Focus on your why, train intelligently, plan and execute tactfully. Seen as a learning experience for growth, DNFs can be some of the most powerful parts of a runner's racing journey.


A coach is a dependable resource to help you through all the aspects of preparation and execution that are within your control. Reach out to us to hear more about the individualized and wide encompassing approach of our coaching and how we can help you step up to the start line, set up for success!


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