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Dealing with a DNF

Dragon's Back DNF

Dragon's Back DNFSo, how do you deal with a DNF. That’s a “Did Not Finish?” You’ve been focussing on a race for many months, maybe years. You are at the peak of your fitness and all of your hard effort is about to pay off. There are expectations from friends and family that you will do well, you have been really vocal about your challenge to raise as much money for a charity as possible. Then, come race day (or race week!) something goes horribly wrong. You can’t continue, you can’t finish and you have to go home. What happens next?

For me that’s pretty straight forward. You learn the lesson. Why did you fail? How can you avoid it next time? Then you move on. What is your next goal? Where is your next success going to come from?

For me this is a very personal issue as I have focussed on and trained really hard for the Dragon’s Back for the past 9 months, but frustratingly had to drop out of it after completing day 1. Sure it’s the toughest 5 day mountain race in the world, but I had prepared for it well and I had decent expectations. I had everything ready and a great strategy. Unfortunately on day one I took a hard fall on a fairly innocuous piece of trail, and damaged my right knee. I clawed my way through the remainder of the stage and finished, but the medics feared I had broken my knee cap and did not want me to continue. Rightly so. If you had seen the state of it you would have thought it might be broken too!

As usual, this being my blog, this is about how I deal with this DNF. If you can take anything positive away from that then it’s yours. Own it. Get over your own DNF. Look to the positives and move on.

That’s it for bad news, now it’s time for the good. My patella isn’t broken, so I wont have to go through months of rehab. My knee is sore, swollen and awkward to walk on, but it is getting better fast. I will be back to full speed in no time. Here are some more positives:

  • Thanks to all my lovely supporters I raised a nice chunk of money for Dartmoor Search & Rescue Team – Plymouth
  • I dealt with the injury well. When it happened I took stock, dug in and finished the stage. I didn’t give up. I didn’t consider giving up. I kept on moving. My mental strength did not crumble. I am very happy about that.
  • Instead of being totally mullered after 5 days of racing, requiring several weeks of rest, I will be able to get back into my training plan quickly. I will build on this fitness further to get ready for this years’ “B” race, now promoted to an “A” race: The North Downs Way 100 in August.
  • I learnt a lot on day 1 of Dragon’s Back. My nutrition strategy worked brilliantly. My gear was near perfect. My pacing and control were excellent. I had a couple of areas of weakness that I want to build on and will incorporate into my training.
  • The Dragon’s Back will run again in 2019. I will be on the start line. 2 years older, 2 years wiser, and fitter than ever before.

There is no point in dwelling what might have been. I am going to use this DNF to inform my future racing, so that I can do better next time.

Now for a rant: I get annoyed by people that claim to have never had a DNF. It sets unrealistic expectations, and frankly it’s bollocks. If it’s true then it means little, other than they haven’t yet pushed themselves hard enough. You will never know what you can achieve unless you are pushing your own limits. Unfortunately on occasion that means a failure or two. Learn from them and move on.

Genetically we are all different, with different abilities. We all have a different bar, a different level, that we are trying to achieve. There are many motivational quotes out there about failure, but the one I am liking most today is an old favourite delivered by Theodore Roosevelt from 1910. In this case for me, and perhaps for you, the worst and most severe critic is the one inside our own heads:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Look to the future learn from your mistake and come back better and stronger. Do not give up! BE IN THE ARENA!

Sorry. I got a bit shouty at the end 🙂

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