A lot of folks have been talking on their blogs recently about mental toughness. I believe in order to be fully-prepared and demonstrate mental toughness that is appropriate on the race course (and not foolhardy), we need to think through all the possible scenarios. These especially include deciding on the worst-case problems which may cause us to DNF. It's better to decide in advance about what things would make it reasonable for you to drop out, because you may not be thinking very clearly on the day of the event.
What one person considers reasonable for a DNF often is NOT reasonable for another person. For example, some people consider it fairly routine to get an IV after a race; whereas I would consider that a failure in executing my nutrition, pacing, and hydration plan. Pushing myself physically to a point that my long-term health could be damaged is not something that I personally consider sensible or reasonable.
For me (someone who usually has no expectation of placing in the top ten in her age group), an appropriate DNF decision would happen if:
- I was injured during a race badly enough that severe pain kept me from continuing
- I aggravated an old injury badly enough that it would be worsened by continuing
- Severe or ongoing dizziness, disorientation, or severe headache
- Persistent chills, goose-bumps, cessation of sweating, or severe cramping
- Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
- Any type of life-threatening disorder that would be aggravated by continuing
- I felt totally exhausted to the extent that I simply could not go another step
- My bike was broken to the extent I couldn't walk it back nor fix it with the assistance of tech help
- Conditions of the race (surf, rip current, lightning, uncontrolled traffic, etc.) were dangerous to the point of making an accident or severe injury likely
- A race official told me to stop
For me, I would NOT consider it an appropriate DNF decision if:
- I was simply tired, angry, frustrated, or demoralized
- I was hungry
- I was held up temporarily on course by things beyond my control
- I felt hot, sweaty, crusty, smelly, and disgusting
- I felt worn out and defeated
- I had a minor accident, flat tire, or mechanical problem that was fixable on course
- I was wet
- I was last
- I wasn't going to make some preconceived time goal
- I wasn't going to make the official time cutoffs but I could still finish safely
For some highly competitive triathletes that have other prospective "A" races within the subsequent six weeks it makes competitive sense if the race is going badly to withdraw and save their energy for another day.
But to me, the ultimate in sportsmanship is shown when someone sets out to complete the course, and DOES it, despite hardships and obstacles and difficulties thrown in the way, and without whining and complaints and excuses.
Sometimes I hear people justify a DNF after the fact because "I might have injured myself". To me, that doesn't make much sense unless there is an imminent and highly probable likelihood of it. To me, that often sounds like a rationale developed to protect one's ego after simply quitting. Bailing out. Giving up.
What other reasons for a DNF would YOU consider reasonable?
In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I can recall having 2 DNFs: One when I was running on a metatarsal stress fracture and didn't know it (pulled out of 2002 Country Music Marathon with a lot of ankle pain at the halfway point, later spent 7 weeks in an aircast), and the other was 12 miles into a 20-mile trail run on a rocky, uneven surface that I thought might be further injuring my bad ankle. I have DNSd a few races that I didn't care much about when it was raining hard.