Thursday, March 31, 2011

DNF: Not an obstacle but an opportunity

There is a Scottish Proverb that says, “Open confession is good for the soul.” On that note, I have three confessions. First, I am a bit of a perfectionist (others may argue that “a bit” is an understatement). Second, I am insanely competitive, and that is not an understatement. And third, I got a DNF (Did Not Finish) at my last race. Whew… my soul feels better already.

I’ve run and finished 45 races in my lifetime. Being a perfectionist and very competitive I’ve always prided myself in not being a quitter. I’ve been injured at many races, sick at a few, but I always finished. That is until yesterday, at race #46, where I had to drop out at mile 11. It was an intense 25K (15.5 miles) trail run. The first 6 miles were delightful, and then the direct descendant of E. Coli and Montezuma’s Revenge stopped me dead in my tracks. My body and mind duked it out for the next 3 miles and after round 3, my body won. I still had 2 miles to go till the next aid station, which I swear they kept moving farther and farther away.

Sick, dehydrated, and with a massively bruised ego I trudged those final 2 miles to announce to the race directors that I was QUITTING. I’m not familiar with saying that word so I had to practice saying it out loud a few times. That way it would be comprehendible when I uttered it in a weak whisper. Come to find out the kind people at the aid station didn’t need to understand what I said, runners who had passed me had notified them that there was a dying victim on the race course headed their way. I must have fit the description because as soon as they saw me they came to my rescue with warm blankets, a Pulse Oximeter (the little dealy they clip onto the tip of your finger to take your pulse), and Sprite. A few saltine crackers and I would have called them “Mom”. A few minutes of being “checked over” and it was confirmed. I was definitely sick, very dehydrated, and should not continue. So I DNF’d.

Some Sprite, Propel, and rest got me to feeling like myself again however, healing my bruised ego was not going to be that simple. Thornton Wilder said, “Without your wounds where would your power be?” I am in complete agreement with that statement. I firmly believe that obstacles even failure is what allows us to learn, grow, become stronger, and help or encourage others. Author Brennan Manning writes, “The apparent frustrations of circumstances, seen or unforeseen, of illness, or misunderstanding, even our own struggles does not thwart the final fulfillment of our lives.”

Like me, you probably have a goal that has been thwarted; your own personal DNF. Maybe you’ve been sick, or injured, or gone through surgery, or had other circumstances come into your life that have kept you from your goal. I want you to know there is no shame or stigma in not finishing, as long as you learn from the experience, and GET BACK UP AND TRY AGAIN! Sometimes knowing when to admit defeat allows you to come back bigger, badder, and stronger than you were before.

This is true on every level; physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. I’m going to focus on the physical aspect though. If you’ve been injured, don’t just give up. It’s time to take care of yourself, and work hard to recover so you can come back stronger. There is always an alternative to staying active in a new way while you work to “bounce back” from a set-back. These could include swimming, biking, walking, water aerobics, Yoga, Pilates, or weight lifting. Maybe you’ve had a DNF when it comes to your attempt to eat healthy or lose weight. Don’t give up! One failure does not equal complete failure. Refocus your efforts then design a “come-back” plan. You can still succeed! Winning comes from persistent trying. We’re all human and we’re all bound to DNF at some point. The only time that DNF becomes a hindrance in our progress is when we allow it to hold us down and keep us from getting back up and trying again.

So, you know that disappointment, or injury, or lack of motivation, or busy schedule that has caused you to drop out of your own personal race? Well it’s time to stop letting it hold you back. It’s easier to let defeat win but that only leads to complacency, never to true satisfaction.

Like you, race #46 likes to wreak havoc in my brain and beat down my confidence. But I refuse to let that one DNF hold me back. Every race, goal, or venture in life is a learning opportunity. I’ll let race #46 teach me something new about myself and my running. Then I’ll go out there and smash the next race. I’m going to leave you with 2 quotes: “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” - Sir Winston Churchill. “If there exists no possibility of failure, then victory is meaningless.” - Robert H. Schuller. Now, get back up and go again!


  1. wow, what a race. I am so sorry to hear about your DNF but I have to say that your outlook is so amazing and positive. Thank you!

  2. Thanks! I can't say it was super positive in the middle of the race but it definately improved :-)