Did not finish

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Training for a race is your journey to the start. This starting line is something you've been waiting for. A goal that you've been wanting to accomplish. You hear the gunshot and you're off to your race. Not all races are meant to be finished though. The more you're racing the higher the possibility of not finishing one.

Have you ever thought about it? Or maybe it even happened to you? A DNF - "did not finish" - is very common but still something runners don't really like to talk about.

So, here is how I think you should handle it if a DNF ever happens to you and also some thoughts from my end on when it's time to quit a race or not.

DNF in running: What does it even mean?

A DNF in running means DID NOT FINISH. Meaning the runner wasn't able to finish the race. This may have many different reasons. Injury, health issues like stomach pain, dizziness, dehydration, or even just a weak mind (yes, we all know the mind is a strong tool, when it comes to running).

A did not finish in running can happen in every race from a 5K to a full marathon. The highest percentage of runners not finishing a race is during a full marathon though. Fun fact: The percentage of people finish the marathon varies from city to city obviously but can go as high as 97.9% in Boston.

This might be due to its uniquely high qualification requirement rectified out those that were likely to give up. Boston is a different world, right?

What happens to your mind after quitting a race? Mentally a DNF listed in the race results right behind your name might leave you frustrated, irritated and upset with yourself. Some runners are so disappointed about their failure that they will connect so much negativity with running which causes them to stop running completely for a while. But does it have to be that way? I don't think so. I truly believe that every DNF in running has a bigger meaning for the runner.

But before I'll get more into this thought I would like to discuss when it is time to quit a race and when you'll probably can or should work yourself through the risk of ending up with a DNF.

Should you quit a race?

Luckily it has never happened to me before that I had to quit a race. There were times when I ran a race in 98% humidity and felt so awful that all I thought about was stepping aside and just go back home. But this is why I always recommend to not only train your body to get ready for a race but also your mind.

The right mindset is the halfway to the finish. If you're heading to a marathon with the thought of not going to finish this thing, you'll probably won't. Same with struggling while running the race.

Once you're getting your mind right focus on why you feel like quitting right now. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before you'll quit the race.

Why are do you want to stop running? Is it pain? How bad is it? Are there any injuries that you know about and you're risking to get even more injured?

How long have you been training for this race - put the pain if you're feeling one on a scale next to the hard work of training. Is it worth it quitting? Is it your mind that is messing with you right now?

Once you've been running for a while you'll know your body very well and are also familiar with certain pains we may feel sometimes. So definitely take all of this awareness about yourself and your body into consideration before deciding to not finish a race. When you feel pain and you're not sure if you should quit or not, look for a medical tend. The doctors there know their business and can let you know what the right thing to do would be at that moment. Listen to them.

When to stay on the course

My wonderful friend Lunden Souza just ran and finished the Vienna Half Marathon 2018. Her time was almost 20 min slower than she was actually training for. Lunden did not quit the race even though she was struggling a lot. Some people aren't the quitter type of person.

"When my knee pain came at km 16 (mile 10) during my 4th half-marathon I was a little bit annoyed. This was the 2nd time in a row that knee pain got me during a race (NOT during my 4 months of training). I decided to keep going and power walk those last 5 km honestly because of my dad. He NEVER let me quit anything without finishing out the course, year, season or race my entire life.

But during this race I really thought to myself: it's just a race, there will be more races, at least I have legs and I can walk to the finish...and (truthfully!) it's a nice day and I am getting a great sun tan! When I crossed the finish line of the half marathon just as the female winner of the full marathon was finishing -- it was EPIC and I am super glad I was able to witness that. There will be more races and I won't stop running!"

Lunden's situation is a good example of how to assess your situation carefully. She decided to not quit the race but to slow down drastically to avoid any serious injuries. With that being said I think the best recommendation on how to know if you should quit a race or not is to listen to your body and never ever force yourself to finish a race only because you feel like you have to. There will be another one and another one and a race after that. It's not that serious after all.

Of course it is super disappointing to train so hard for a goal and then out of the sudden you're not able to make it. Health is wealth and it's better to come back stronger instead of hurting yourself.

Did not finish and how to benefit from it

Everything happens for a reason. A DNF is not the end of the world. Maybe it just wasn't meant to be. Stepping aside during a race and leave the course takes courage. Deciding to stop because of an injury is a smart move. It actually shows that you're taking care of your own health and are able to put your pride aside.

Not taking a medal home will leave a mark that's for sure. But you'll also know why this happened to you. So next time you'll be smarter about it and avoid mistakes you may have done that have lead you to the DNF. Meaning you'll come back stronger.

Have you experienced a DNF in running? Please leave your story in the comments.
Why you can trust Sabrina Wieser
Runningbrina is committed to bringing you unbiased ratings and information. Her editorial content is not influenced by advertisers. Sabrina uses data-driven methodologies to evaluate all products, so all brands are measured equally.
  • Most featured running blog, past 6 years
  • USATF certified running coach
  • Experienced endurance athlete
  • 7 marathons

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