One day, one marathon, three runners – no finishers. They might have been able to finish. They’ve all finished many marathons before. They would have missed Personal Records and Boston Qualifiers by miles. They would have surely needed months to recover. The entire racing season would be lost. With that realization and with their coach’s blessing they will live to race another day – sooner than those poor souls who held onto the false belief that they “had to” finish.
“DNF” – Did Not Finish. There is a stigma attached to DNFing. Some runners will persist with the misguided understanding that it is some sign of weakness not to finish a race. They would rather suffer mentally and physically in order to preserve some ideal in their minds. They would rather risk injury than to face the specter of DNF. They have what I call a trauma-drama thought pattern. If I don’t finish this race then of course this spells doom for me and all future races. Anytime things are tough I’m going to quit now.
If this is your stance, it is time to reevaluate
Elite runners know something that doesn’t get down to the everyday runner. The issue of finishing for the sake of finishing a marathon isn’t key. They know they could finish. The point is at what expense? If elite marathoners aren’t “in the money” they will often drop out (of course some refuse to). And here is why they do this.
One: They want to live to fight another day. It could be due to the course (slanted roads, etc.), your physiology (electrolyte imbalance, diarrhea, etc.) or your body talking to you (tightening lower back or calf muscles, side cramps, etc.). It doesn’t matter really. If the stars are not aligned for your “record attempt” it’s time to think twice about finishing.
Two: They always have Plan B and Plan C. They do not put all their eggs in one basket. They are not so singly focused that they do not have multiple avenues to get to there goals. You do not always control how you will feel on race day. It could just be a bad day. You do not ever control the weather on race day.
When you have a lot on the line – like running your Boston Qualifier, Olympic Trials Qualifier, setting the world record – then you need to have discretion over your attempt. If it is not in the cards for that day to run it – then you need to consider the DNF (or even a DNS – Did Not Start). There comes a point at which you must make an objective evaluation of the situation. You must determine – will you hit your goal? At what expense do I continue?
If you are running yourself into an injury; if you are running yourself into months of recovery; if you are running yourself into another “been-there-done-that-got-the-t-shirt” kind of run then you need to consider the DNF.
My word to those who tie emotional and psychological energy to not finishing something is this “GOI” – Get Over It. You are your own worst enemy. Mental toughness is not only about hanging in there it is also about coming back and fighting harder than ever on another day. One DNF does not beget another DNF.
The smart runner is the one who uses discretion with their running and racing. The best have learned this – so many others need to.