The DNF Decision
Updated: Apr 2
by David Bauerle
I will never DNF!
Well, maybe you should….
Here’s a look at when to make the call to step off the course.
Endurance athletes typically have the type of personality and wiring to believe that having a DNF (Did NOT Finish) on their Athlinks account will have a pernicious effect on their lives! If an athlete is training for any event, having the attitude and belief that he or she will reach the finish line is very important.
Imagine having the lackadaisical attitude that a DNF is just fine. When race day comes, that person is more likely to struggle mentally when the going gets tough.
In competitive situations many thoughts go thru our heads, and it's not unusual for those to include “I am stopping" or “I am done.” So when is it ok to drop out of a race or event and take that DNF? Regardless of race distance, it is vital to know when to stop. This is something to think about before the situation arises, so you are prepared to make the best decision in the moment.
A case in point is a sprint duathlon I raced in a few years back. My right plantar fascia tendon began to tighten and was painful. Finishing the race was not a problem, I knew I could ice it and rest it leading up to another race the following weekend.
One week later was the sprint triathlon, and although my foot was still sore I was determined to race. After all I had already paid the entry fee! I was passed on the bike by an age group rival and although he was a bit faster than me on the bike, I was confident I could catch him on the run. My foot was hurting but I kept pushing so that I could settle in behind him just long enough to gather myself and sprint past him. When the time was right, I took off as hard as I could to go around him. As soon as I did, I felt a pop and excruciating pain in the bottom of my foot. The finish line was very close so I made the regretful decision to keep going. As a reward for ‘toughing it out’, I earned a podium spot and NO RUNNING for the next 9 months, including 2 months in a boot. The pop I felt was my Plantar Fascia tendon tearing, as confirmed by an MRI. Obviously this was a perfect example of when to take a DNF. I certainly wish I had.
So, when should you settle for that DNF? There are many factors that should be considered when deciding if you should stop in a race.
Are you risking death by continuing?
If yes, then stop
Are you risking a permanent injury from which you will never recover?
If yes, then you should stop.
Are you risking an injury that will take a long time to heal?
If the race is a long endurance race like an Ironman or an Ultra-marathon that takes a year or two to prepare for, as long as you are not risking death or permanent injury, then you may want to keep pushing. It’s a judgment call at this point.
If it is a shorter race which you can repeat relatively easily, then you should stop. Even though a DNF is hard to take. Being out with an injury for an extended period of time and losing all of the fitness you have worked hard for is not worth it.
Are you tired, sore, and just feel bad but with a little rest you can be back on your feet?
Let’s face it, during an endurance event something is going to go wrong and something is going to hurt. If a couple of weeks rest will heal whatever is hurting, then keep going, push through the struggle.
The above criteria are difficult to judge when you’re in the middle of a race. It’s hard to be objective when the adrenaline if flowing and you are in the event you trained for. The main thing to remember is to live to fight another day. If you must lose the battle (DNF) to win the war (achieve your goals), then a DNF might be the right thing to do.