No one wants to DNF (Did Not finish) I’ve had my fair share, whether it was because I was advised to by the medical team on the day or if I my 'heart' just wasn’t in it. No athlete from amateur to Pro is exempt from this and I would argue that by having the experience of a DNF on your resume makes you a better athlete.
The lessons learned from a DNF can be more valuable than your perfect race.
But when should we, relentlessly keep going? What about the art of the DNQ (Did Not Quit)? In the middle of the hurt locker, when we truly don’t know how we can go one step further, how do we know when to tough it out, or call it a day?
Breath, and Laugh
One of the first things that I recommend to athletes who start triathlon is to maintain their sense of humour, no matter what. This is also a good idea on race day. Remember to laugh a little through the tears, smile through the pain, and move forward with a sense of joy.
Embrace the Pain
From a starting point, you need understand that pain and suffering is a large part of our amazing sport. If it were easy then everyone would be down it, right? At some point during every race, there will likely be a large pain factor associated with the activity going on in that present moment. Accept it, breathe it in, and allow the pain to be a part of the process. Of course, we don’t want to hurt beyond injury, but you know the difference. Don’t quit because it hurts, the pain will stop when you stop … so you might as well keep going until you get the finish.
Quieten your mind
Our minds will lie to us during a race. Our heads will tell us that we are going to die. Our minds will tell us that we see dead people. Do not listen to the voice in your head during a race, unless it is saying helpful, inspiring and happy things. Before and after the race, you can listen to other voices—but during the race, the head is just full of nonsense. And like my mum always told me, unless you are saying something nice, don’t say anything. If my head isn’t saying nice things, then I don’t listen.
Imagine the Success
One of the best single tools to many finishes and no (as of yet) DNQs comes from this small tip: I imagine the finish line and what I am going to eat afterwards. Simple enough, but the carrot of the finisher’s medal and a post-race “treat” meal goes a very long way during the suffering. When the road and the race gets difficult, remember how hard you worked and how much you are going to enjoy that amazing meal with your friends and family afterwards. I never knew that a pretzel was something that could keep me going.
Absent a really bad injury, crash, accident or illness on a race course, I would think it’s best to solider on during a race. Maybe you won’t walk away with the PB you wanted, or the race you think you “deserved.” But I do believe that the regret of quitting for a less-than-major reason tends to yield far greater regrets than that of not starting, or not finishing within the race cutoff.
Like I always say: just keep moving forward. Oftentimes, you might be surprised where it takes you.