What To Expect When You're DNFing

by Amy VanTassel

I came all this way and spent all this money! All my training was leading up to this race. This was my last chance to qualify, and now it’s gone! My family even traveled to support me...all for nothing.

There’s arguably no worse feeling than DNF-ing a major race. Perhaps it was the classic issue of not being able to run, thereby facing the awful decision of whether to walk it in or step off the course, or an uncontrollable like major mechanicals on the bike. Or maybe it was a “biomechanical,” like a wrecked knee/ankle/glute, heat stroke, or hypothermia. It can be dreadful to bear a DNF on race day and beyond, so what can we do to cope with the awful feeling? As someone who’s grappled with the sitch more than once, I’ve given it a ton of thought and rendered the following humble advice.

COPING WITH YOUR DNF ON RACE DAY

 CBCG Head Coach Chris Bagg down for the count

CBCG Head Coach Chris Bagg down for the count

1. Don’t even think about it for a nanosecond!

Distraction is paramount for the rest of the day, so every time that demon named Regret rears its head, think. “Squirrel!”  You basically have two options to distract you from going to the Dark Side: staying at or returning to the race scene, or partying with family and friends,

If you change out of your chamois and return to the scene, your new job is to become the best spectator evah.  If friends are competing, holler to them that you’re fine, and then go bananas spectating them. Maybe there’s still time to see what’s happening at the front of the race and assure your favorite pro that there’s no one behind her or him. Personally, my jam has always been cheerleading for the back of the pack, high fives and encouragement all-around. The last finishers are remarkably inspiring, especially midnight at a full, proving convenient since you should distract yourself right up ‘til bedtime (and even then you should read a Dostoyevsky novel or play Angry Birds until lights-out). 

There is a potential risk with spectating, though: seeing your own gender athletes whom you perceive to have been your close competitors. Sour grapes can be fierce, so in the spirit of distraction, I say turn around three times, and then look at the shoes of the next racer and decide if you like that color. 

If you’d rather flee the scene, you should bond with your friends or family. Are there go-kart around?  How about the beach?  Wine tasting? Or perhaps there’s a fascinating nautical museum in town. My preferred pastime would be watching a game at a brewery, which leads me to my next point...

 Go Karts are available just a few minutes walk from the famed race course in Penticton, B.C. Photo courtesy Penticton Herald News

Go Karts are available just a few minutes walk from the famed race course in Penticton, B.C. Photo courtesy Penticton Herald News

2. Go directly to #carbtown

You might be tempted to wallow in self-loathing restriction, especially if you dropped out early and didn’t get to burn all those pancakes, but you should treat yourself - think of it as coddling yourself - all day.

If it’s safe and not too heathenish for you, I recommend finding beer immediately if you don’t need to drive. If you don’t drink or don’t have a driver, I’m sure french fries are less than a block away, and ice cream is even closer. If you’re in Canada, now’s the time for poutine.

 In addition to hitting a brewery, avail yourself of local #carbtown delicacies, such as Canada’s poutine

In addition to hitting a brewery, avail yourself of local #carbtown delicacies, such as Canada’s poutine

3. Make zero decisions. 

I recognize my cardinal rule of distraction is easier said than done. I bet the moment you knew you were going to DNF you considered your racing future. What now? Register for another race ASAP? Never race this stupid sport again?  I’ll tell you “what now?”...nuthin’. Put a moratorium on any judgments, decisions, or plans, and see below for how long. 

4. Ugh! The money I spent!

Regarding the inevitability of negative thoughts creeping in, it will likely occur to you sooner than later that you spent a shit-ton of coin on race entry, travel, and, well, everything leading up to your race. Allow that sucky thought to surface, but remember how much you lived and learned a lot during all your training. And you still got to hang out in a cool place and maybe can tomorrow. More esoterically speaking, consider the cost of the race is more like an entry fee for being a triathlete in general. OK, that last idea was weaksauce, but seriously you got to go to Couer d’Alene, or wherever. 

5. Nuh-uh...no social media, fool

If you need to tell the world you’re OK, I urge you to just text a few key people. Even if you think you can handle checking your accounts, risking seeing race-related garbage, I promise you you’d glimpse some little post that will make you feel regretful or envious. And for the love of God, please no “Not my day...” race reports, IMHO. 

 CBCG Athlete Doris Steere spectating Heather Jackson like crazy at the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

CBCG Athlete Doris Steere spectating Heather Jackson like crazy at the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

COPING WITH YOUR DNF AFTER RACE WEEKEND 

1. Disappointment is mythical 

Nobody, I repeat, nobody is disappointed in you! I have personally cried, worrying my brother would see it as a waste to have traveled to Mexico for nothing. I’ve been anxious my coach would feel let down, or my husband would feel like we tossed all that coin down the toilet. (Imagine if your coach and husband were the same person.) 

Simple solution: envision yourself in their shoes...would you be disappointed?  True, you might feel disappointed in yourself depending on the race circumstances, in which case you should check out #4 below. 

2. Modify your social media. 

I know it’s radical, but I personally suggest not engaging in any race-related content after your DNF. The worst thing to do would be to check out results in an effort to guess where you would’ve finished. Um...point in that?  The two exceptions are congratulating friends who raced or giving shout-outs to your sponsors, but you know that feeling when you check out Instagram and you feel a little nauseated? I guarantee you get that pang if you travel down the rabbit hole of content specific to your race. And I know I covered this above, but it bears repeating: please spare the world from the “Not my day...” post?  Please?

3. No decisions for a week

When you catch up with your coach, I bet you a million bucks she or he will point to what actually went well that day. CBCG coaches certainly will postmortem everything you nailed leading up to the gun, and depending on how long you made it until you dropped out, your successes and takeaways from the first legs. 

I also bet you a million bucks your coach won’t be frantic with plans for your next race, especially if you’re thinking “replacement race.”  VT’s rule: no new decisions for a week. The only exception would be if race registration is time-sensitive alá and early race reg invite, or a race being at risk of selling out - but don’t do anything without your coach’s blessing. 

4. On to the next!

That being stated, when you get the next race on your calendar, or perhaps there already is another, try to transfer your regretful emotions from your DNF to motivation for your next. This rule might seem the most obvious, but I also find it to be the most effective coping mechanism of all.

 CBCG Athlete (and your author) Amy VT crashing out of a cyclocross race. Photo courtesy of Jenny Greeve

CBCG Athlete (and your author) Amy VT crashing out of a cyclocross race. Photo courtesy of Jenny Greeve

For a lighter take on DNF’s, check out my article about dropping out of a ‘cross race published on the Cyclocross Magazine site. Back to sparing the world from a “Not my day...” post, think about that pic of you in your go-kart race or demolishing some poutine.