Learn How to Conquer the DNF Blues.

In the running world, nothing is more frustrating, disappointing or depressing than a (Did Not Finish) DNF. Just thinking about it gives me the heebie jeebies. 

When we set our race goals at the beginning of a race season the one steadfast goal is to finish. Most of us who've been racing long enough have suffered at least one DNF.

A DNF is not selective to novice runners. Many an elite athlete has bowed out of a race. In the 2007 Chicago Marathon, 10,934 runners DNF'd. So, join the club and learn how to conquer the DNF blues. 

  1. The first rule of DNF club is...wallow in your self pity but for no longer than 24 hours. 
  2. The second rule of DNF club is...come to terms with the WHY.
  3. The third rule of DNF club is...shake the monkey off your back. 

Wallow in Self Pity

No matter the reason for a DNF, it absolutely sucks. Allow yourself to mourn the race that wasn't meant to be. But after 24 hours of wallowing in self pity, move on. It's just a race and there are many more race days in your future. 

Come to Terms with the WHY

To move on from a DNF, it can help to come to terms with the WHY.

There are instances when a DNF is not your choice such as a mid-race cancellation. This happened to one of our runners when her marathon was cancelled due to lightning when she was at mile seventeen. In this case, be thankful someone is watching your crazy back. Because if it was up to you, you'd probably keep racing whilst dodging thunderbolts. 

Oftentimes, the WHY is due to clear injury, pain or illness. Pat yourself on the back for listening to your body. Rest, recover and seek treatment. 

Sometimes though, the WHY is a little more complicated. What if after the race you feel fine? You might wonder if it was "all in your head." Go back to your run log or think back to how you felt mentally and physically during the training season, the week leading up to the race, at warm-up/start line and during the race mile by mile.

  • Were you anxious about this race?
  • Were your goals too lofty?
  • Were you battling injury, illnesses, or extraordinary stress in other aspects of your life? 

No matter how great your health, training season, race conditions, mental state...sometimes, it just" isn't your day." Bowing out to save yourself for another race is a personal and valid decision.

Shake the Monkey OFF

One of the best ways to shake off the DNF monkey is to plan your next race and race again as soon as you are physically and mentally ready. There are many factors to consider and it is different for each person. Your coach can help you determine the best plan of action. 

You may be able to race as early as one to three weeks from your DNF depending upon the pace and distance completed. Keep in mind a novice runner may need more time to regroup than an experienced runner.

In the case of the lightning example, the runner ran at goal pace for 17 miles and is a relatively experienced so physically speaking she could race three to four weeks later. But, perhaps she is overwhelmed with frustration and needs to recover from the disappointment. It might be better for her to wait until next season. 

In the event of illness, take time to recover from that illness. In the event of injury, get evaluation and treatment of that injury before commencing training let alone racing.

If a mental block was the culprit, a simple pep talk may be all that you need and if it's more involved, you can work out a solution with your coach. 

No matter what don't give up after a DNF. Stand up, dust yourself and hit the pavement. You got this!