Running is like many activities in which people denote their membership to it by an excessive use of acronyms – PR, BQ, LSD (don’t worry, this one is drug-free, but could still induce hallucinations!), HR, ITB, RR*, etc. But for me, the most dreaded of all is DNF. Nope, it’s not dirty nasty feet (although that is a close second!) but Did Not Finish. Ugh, the worst.

At the Olympics this year, 3 of the 6 US marathoners added a DNF next to their names.  Despite sharing the same number of letters, this is not nearly as enjoyable as adding PhD or MSW or DDS. Shalane Flanagan, Kara Goucher and Meb Keflezighi (who was AMAZING! my love for him grows and grows!) made it out alive, but the other 3, Desi Davila, Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman were not so lucky. Ryan Hall looked and sounded downright dazed during his interview just after the drop.

Ryan Hall, trying to make sense of what just happened.

Which brings me to my topic du jour – at what point does it make sense to drop? Obviously, if you are at risk of injuring yourself further, the smart thing to do would be to bag it. But no one ever said runners were smart, and I am dopey card-carrying member of the “Never, never, never, never, maybe a little more time passed and you reassess and…. nope, still never, never quit” club. We are a proud but dumb bunch.

As I sat and watched the elites drop out of their respective races, I had to assume that as professionals they were making the best decision for themselves. I wondered if I were in their position and relied on my legs for a living, what I would do? Because I know what the mid-packer Kashi of this reality would do – run until I literally could not run any more. And then I would probably walk. And then likely crawl. Because it is the OLYMPICS! Racing in that event is like being hand-woven into the fabric of humanity, taking part in a time-honored tradition that only a select few get to be cross-stiched into.

Perhaps they thought – “well, maybe not this time, I’ll try again in 4 years”.  But 4 years is sooooo long and so much can happen – in August of 2008, I had yet to even meet GD, much less marry his adorable self, I still lived in Ocean City and I had not yet earned my masters degree. In this reality, the Olympics would seem like a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and one that I would sorely want to finish when I started.

But what if in another reality, I did not feel that way? That I was Kashi, the elite runner, and knew the risk of running on an injury and what that might mean for my long-term career? I would have coaches, handlers, fans, family and friends all vying for attention to get their voices heard. As dangerous and pointless as it might be, I think a part of me would still hope that a little voice inside my elite head would say “but it’s the Olympics and you are going to finish this sucker! Now, go!”.

What do you all think? Do you think that elites make the right decision by dropping out of races they have no chance of winning/medaling/PR-ing and could risk further injury? Or should they take a note from some of the ultra runners (whose sport still has a bit of a wild-west cowboy feel to it) and press on despite every indication that they should stop?

Am I being too hard on the elites? I really do respect them very much!

Have you ever dropped out of a race? Was it the right decision or did you later regret it?

* For the newbies, PR = personal record, BQ = Boston qualifier, ie a marathon time that qualifies you for the Boston Marathon, LSD = long slow distance, ie your long run of the week when training for a marathon and the kind of run that is meant to build endurance, HR = heart rate, ITB = illiotibial band, a sometimes pesky band of tissue that can cause runners pain around their knees, RR= race report. And now you are part of the club! Acronym away to your heart’s content!


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9 responses to “DNF

  1. Bel

    Thank you for the vocabulary appendix, haha! I had figured PR wasn’t Puerto Rico, but a lot of the others were lost on me 🙂

    Don’t shoot/hate me, but I don’t watch the Olympics at all. That’s another conversation for another time entirely. But I am with you in thinking that IT’S THE OLYMPICS! Why would you hold back? Isn’t this what you are training for and wouldn’t you want to give it your all?

    But I have no idea what I’m talking about! So that’s just what I think for now.

  2. Linda Kisiel

    I too have the heart of a champion, just not the legs and endurance. I am a lot like Kashi. My mindset for the 1/2 last year was finish even if I’m dead. that’s right, I am Chris’ mom. I would keep going. It’s the Olympics. I know injuries are bad for a pro, but I would finish, no matter what. So, no, I don’t think you are too hard on the elite runners.

  3. Meg

    Gosh, that is so hard. I would say to keep going…unless you are going to do yourself harm. I CANNOT believe folks DNF. That has got to hurt! All that training. All those years. They must have been at risk of injury, I would think.

    (Your mom called you Kashi. :D)

    • that’s how i feel – “really? just gonna walk away?” it;s not helping that I am reading Scott Jurek’s book – he’s a world renowed ultra runner who has run 100 and 100+ mi runs on broken toes and torn ligaments. and that wasn’t even in the olympics!!

    • that’s how i feel – “really? just gonna walk away?” it;s not helping that I am reading Scott Jurek’s book – he’s a world renowed ultra runner who has run 100 and 100+ mi runs on broken toes and torn ligaments. and that wasn’t even in the olympics!!
      And I noticed the Kashi too “)

  4. I guess if it’s something where you know for sure that you were going to seriously injure something, and you made your living off of race appearance fees (as Hall is racing NYC), it would make sense to stop racing hard. I can completely agree with their decisions, especially if a sign of injury is getting rapidly worse mid race. But what I would have done, at least, is jog along to the finish or walk out the rest of the course. Yeah, it would not have been a great day, but I’m sure the support would have been incredible anyway!

    • I agree! It is such a tough call bc it is their livelihood… but the runner in me has a hard time letting that “it’s the Olympics!!” mindset go! And people love the whole “never quit” attitude, esp during the oly, so they could have probably gotten on a Wheaties box or something just for having heart!

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