top of page
  • Writer's picturecoachmk

#CoachThinks: DNF and DNS

A quick search through my email tells me that in the past I have alluded to my (strong) feelings on the DNs: DNF and DNS (Did not Finish and Did Not Start), and I want to flesh them out a bit more for you before I head to NYC. 

My race is on the 20th.  Check it out- they are calling for up to 8 inches of snow before noon.  Hail and strong, nor'easter winds, too. 

"But MK!  That's not trying!  It's the same as QUITTING!  It's throwing your goals away!"

Disagree.  That isn't true for every runner on every race day.  Sometimes DNs are absolutely in line with your goals. Let's unpack all of the assumptions made in the statement above.

Assumption #1: You should always start, no matter what

My take: not if you are clearly set up to fail.  Your ego will tell you it's fine, if your body disagrees listen to your body.

My clients that are chasing super-aggressive time goals like a NYC Qualification or elite status (I privately refer to them as my panthers because they tend to train solo and at exclusively at night) have heard this speech more than once.  It throws them the first time they hear it but over time it sinks in.  "If something is off or tangibly wrong- you're up all night vomiting or with diarrhea, you are NOT in PR mode.  Save your taper.  Go back to bed and fire up the B-race.  The chances of you being recovered and PR_ready for your B-race are much higher than running and hoping for the best.  Trying to force a PR or 'fight through it' is just stupid under those conditions, you could be out for longer than a few weeks and have to start from scratch."  All of you have heard some variation on this theme: don't fight biology, you will lose.  Fist-fighting tigers is also a losing proposition for humans.  Not wanting to do it doesn't make you a pussy.

Assumption #2: DNs means you didn't try

My take: DNs mean you took control of your training.  You kept perspective. You followed your priority and your goal instead of your ego.

To me, 'not trying' means 'not training'.  A million things can go wrong on race day.  If finishing the race is your priority, you don't need the day to be perfect.  You also don't need to have secret bullshit goals that set you up for failure.  (i.e. I throw my arms around you and say "CONGRATS" and you look at me with tears and say, "yeah, but I didn't lose the baby weight" or "yeah, but I didn't break 5 hours". That's just MEAN.  It's rude to me and unnecessarily mean to yourself).  If you trained, you tried.  If you have an aggressive time goal and it's hailing or pouring rain on race day, DNS.  Or try it, but if you aren't performing by the end of hour 1 (by a metric that you and I have established when we talked race strategy), DNF and save your taper.  Deciding not to start or saying, "this isn't working" and DNF early in the race is the opposite of 'not trying.'  

Assumption #3: It's the same as quitting

My Take: more people quit before race day than on race day.  If you quit on race day, there was probably a very good reason.

No one drops out of a race because they are bored or tired.  They drop because they are injured and shouldn't have started, they are undertrained and shouldn't have started, they are dehydrated or sick and shouldn't have started, just to name a few. The reasons usually end with, "...and I shouldn't have started."  I urge you instead of compulsively signing up for races, volunteer on the sag wagon for a few big ones.  Listen to the people you pick up discuss what went wrong.  None of them quit for bad reasons or just 'gave up."  The undertrained ones gave up on training, they let life get in the way and stay there and decided to run the race anyway because to them not racing is quitting. That is TERRIBLE logic but unfortunately very common in the current running environment. Once you talk to quitters instead of about them, you may learn a thing or two about quitting.  You might even come away with a new definition of quitting.

Assumption #3: It's throwing your goals away

My Take: it depends on what your goals were when the training cycle started.

A 16-week marathon training program contains 2 weeks of taper.  When you race, you use up your taper and your training.  Think of it like money in your savings account: you can spend it now and it's gone for another 16-18 weeks (recovery + restarting) or you can save it.  Coaches have all kinds of tricks to extend taper periods when things go wrong.  It's part of our jobs in general but especially with elites.  Look at how many DNs a professional runner will have in a given year.  You think they are losers?  You think their sponsors allow them to be quitters or throw their (often contractually set) goals away just 'cuz?  Nope.  Your average pro runner will DN at least twice in a calendar year.  Their job is to win, no matter what, and it's better to DN than finish poorly.  In their case, the DN is absolutely in line with their goals, they have to think bigger than just one race.

I bring all of this up because I spent most of February sick.  I hated it.  I hated every day I spent in bed, not running, missing time with you and with my beautiful babies who didn't understand why Mommy wouldn't play with them.  Cheyanne even cried and sang, "do you wanna build a snowman?" in front of my bedroom door!  AWFUL.  NYCHalf was always a nice option.  I had goals.  Those goals evaporated when I got sick.  I have A-races lined up, and super-aggressive goals I want to accomplish before we start trying for 4baby.  Those goals will drive my decision-making all year long, including Sunday morning. I will do whatever it takes to minimize the chances of having to give up my goals for the year.  Pneumonia could do it.  So could a fall on ice.  

I'm a cold-weather weenie, I freely admit it.  I fear and respect bad weather.  If the winds are bad, if the snow is heavy, if it is hailing or ice covers the roads, I will DNS. That's not quitting.  That's not giving up.  Running a throwaway option race under imperfect conditions could be tantamount to giving up my goals for the year, and I have no intention of doing that. 

So if you want to track me, go ahead. If I DNS I likely won't announce it on FB.  I will turn my phone off, and my husband's phone off, and we will spend the day together.  That's my B-goal, quiet time with my husband, our first weekend away since my birthday weekend in August 2014, 4 months after 2baby was born. That sounds a hell of a lot more compelling than struggling for a 2:15 finish in the middle of a nor'easter.

If you don't hear from me from Sat-Monday, you are still coached and loved I'm just busy.  Hubs has planned our entire Saturday with surprise fun and he never gets the best of me on weekends.  One weekend out of 52 isn't much for him to ask.

You are coached.  You are loved.  YOU ARE WELCOME.  52 weeks per year, even if you don't feel it.

Coach MK

94 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page