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Race-Day Reasoning: You Can’t Not Finish What You Don’t Start, Right?

race finish

FBG Kristen and her BFF, Jami. Friendship and accountability for the win!

Nobody likes a DNF—Did Not Finish—in a race. Especially one you’ve trained really, really hard for. I haven’t had that happen to me yet, but as I continue to push myself and sign up for longer races, I know it’s a real possibility. Between equipment malfunctions, extreme heat and the enormous number of possible injuries one could sustain, there’s a decent chance that one day, I’ll start a race and have to pull out before I cross that finish line.

But there’s another reason one might not finish a long-anticipated race, and this one, I’m guilty of—the DNS, or Did Not Start. My friend Heather Barmore wrote about her DNS experience over at Curvy Girl Guide, admitting that, over the past three years, she’s signed up for three half marathons…and although she’s trained hard, she hasn’t gone to any of them.

I can relate—a year and a half ago, I was signed up for a 15K. I trained really, really hard all winter for it. I completed all my long training runs and even worked some 6- and 7-milers in during the week, which has historically been a challenge for me. But, come race day, I ended up running the 5K. Additionally, just this summer, I was signed up for a sprint triathlon in June. I totally bailed.

Heather always had great excuses for ditching her races; namely, work, although she readily says that she fully allowed work to become an excuse because it was easier than admitting she was afraid of failing. My excuses were a little weaker, mainly revolving around travel plans changing and the logistics of getting to the race becoming a bit muddied. And, to be honest, I just wasn’t excited for them, which is a huge bummer—I love getting super geeked for a big race. But was there an element of fear, and of worrying that I wouldn’t finish in a time that made me happy? Of course.

But you know what? Turns out, on both occasions I felt waaaay crappier about not doing the race I’d planned than I would have if I’d participated, even if I’d been among the last people in. Finishing a race feels good. Finishing a race you’ve really, really trained for feels awesome. It’s all too easy to forget how fantastic that feels, but maybe that’s why this community is so great—we get to remind each other exactly how good it feels and encourage each other to keep pushing. Sometimes you have to push hard to get to the finish line, but sometimes you have to push even harder to get to the start.

Have you ever skipped a race you’d signed up for? How do you keep yourself motivated to follow through on a race you’re training for? —Kristen

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5 Comments
  1. Janine says:

    Soooo true. I DNS two races I signed up for this summer – mostly out of laziness – I was prepared to run them, and probably would have done well, but something better came along and I just didn’t make the drive to the town that the race was in… my next race is a mud run in just under 3 weeks. I have a lot of friends doing it with me, so that should make it easier to stick to!

  2. While I’ve never DNS or DNF, I was so incredibly nervous about an Olympic tri this past July that I simply couldn’t think about it in the weeks leading up to race day. Denial wasn’t great for training or race day mentality either.

  3. Joy says:

    My hubby doesn’t get it, he says we always look miserable when running. And it is hard work. But you hit the nail on the head, finishing a challenging race you trained hard for feels amazing. I just finished my first half marathon yesterday, and though I’m a little stiff and sore today, I am psyched! And it wasn’t even the main event, just a stepping stone on the way to what I’m REALLY training for – the full marathon in November. That said, I have bailed on a couple of races. The first was a long time ago, when I was running in fits and starts, and not especially dedicated. I’d signed up for a 5K and not really trained, then the weather looked gross. So I went back to sleep. More recently I skipped one race in a series, which I had a legit excuse for (class for my masters degree ended up being at the same time). I did make 2 of the 3 in the series though. Apparently I’m still a more dedicated runner than student. Oops! At this stage, I think it would feel really crummy to skip a race. I’m pretty sure I would rather drop out due to injury or something than not even start, because at least then I know I really tried. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I suppose as you say, it’s realistic to realize that it might.

  4. Alyse says:

    So true. And I think this sentiment doesn’t just apply to race days, but to any fitness goals – whether it’s fitting in a run today, or making it to yoga three times a week. Whatever our excuses for not starting, it’s always worse to not go than to go and face whatever it is you’re avoiding. Just like you never regret a workout, I doubt you ever regret a race, even if it’s not your best showing.

  5. Heidi says:

    Most unfortunately, I am a total flake on races. I love the training for runs and bike races but within weeks of the race I have either become injured or my job has exhausted/overwhelmed me and I miss several days of training. Regardless, today is the 3rd race I’ve bailed on in 3 years and it’s just disturbing! While there are always other factors involved I can push through, I actually think the fear of failure is just so overwhelming that I become paralyzed. My husband is the most dedicated, fantastic athlete and can’t understand how terrifying it is for me to not feel prepared and fall short of my own expectations. Even today’s event was a ride, not a race but because timing chips were given out it added that extra degree of stress I didn’t need. Does anyone have tips on how to get over this? I simply won’t attend a race/ride if I don’t think I will do moderately well….