Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on my first DNF (did not finish) and the glory of finally finishing my second marathon, I’m ready to share some lessons from my first DNF. Having to pull out of a race for any reason is a devastating thing — after all the training and all the hard work, it feels like such a letdown. Here are a few things I learned after my first DNF and hopefully you won’t need these tips, but I thought I’d share anyway!
- Acknowledge your feelings. Whatever you are feeling, acknowledge it. Most likely you are feeling a range of emotions and it can be tempting to try and push them down. You may have friends running the race that you had to pull out of and that may lead you to want to bury your feelings – don’t do this. Of course, you don’t want to ruin anyone’s day simply because you had a bad race, but don’t pretend you are feeling up for a post race party if all you really want to do is go home and sulk. When I DNF’ed Shamrock, I was poised to stay at the beach for one more night and celebrate before returning home to DC. However, my BRF Mar was heading back that afternoon and I was so upset that I just simply didn’t want to stay at the beach and have visual reminders of my failure. So, hotel room be damned, I went home. It was the right decision (although I’ll say that a 6 hour car ride after running 17 miles ain’t fun).
- Take time to be upset. This goes along with #1. If you are feeling upset, and I can’t imagine you won’t be feeling upset, just own it. Give yourself time and give yourself permission to be pissed off. Don’t take it out on anyone else (ahem, speaking to myself here) but it is okay to be upset.
- Understand the why. Once you’ve given yourself time to be upset, think about why you didn’t finish. Were you undertrained? Did you try to run while injured? Did you try to run while sick (ahem)? Figure out what happened and that can help you with number 4…
- Figure out what’s next. Are you gonna run another race quickly while you are still trained (that’s what I did) or are you going to learn from this experience and move to the next thing on your list? I strongly believe that having another goal after a DNF is crucial. I chose to run another marathon because I simply couldn’t accept having trained all winter (in subfreezing temps, snow, ice and the like) without a finish line. Of course, you may be injured or unable to run, in which case your next step is most likely physical therapy. Whatever that next step is, figure it out so you can…
- Move on. Yes, DNFs suck. But they happen. Life happens. And you have to move on. You can’t dwell on it forever.
I hope these tips will never be needed by any of you dear readers. But if they are, I think they can help you get through a tough experience. I know doing all the things on this list (in order!) helped me.