Taking the purposeful DNF

I took my first triathlon DNF this season.  Pretty much on purpose, but still, my first DNF. 

I went into my last race knowing that I was doing it for ‘fun’ and that there was no pressure.  Which is probably the best way to go into any race.  Many people going into a race just would not show up and just bail.  I went in with a niggling hip issue and said I’d race anyways.  I had a plan, take each segment as it came. 

I arrived down in Bournemouth in the early hours for the Olympic distance race, a quick setup in transition and ZERO toilets.  Who puts on any race with no toilets?!  I would like to apologize to the person’s garden I used.  Anyways, walked down the sea front and noticed that we would be running up a 1km uphill zig zag to transition, fun (rolls eyes).

It was a sunny day in Bournemouth and couldn’t have asked for nicer weather.  The sea swim was absolute nicest swim I’ve done in the UK.  Pretty calm, clear green water…ideal for me.  I relished in each stroke and soaked it up. 

I exited the swim and clambered up the switchbacks to transition, many walked but I felt good enough to run up it. So many this hip issue wouldn’t rear it’s ugly head.

Running onto the bike I was ready for a rolling 25 mile ride.  Rolling was right, there were not any flats and we were on a dual carriageway.  Okay, not so nice.  Then it all started to fall apart.  Things were starting to hurt and I just didn’t feel right.  I pushed through the hurt locker and got to T2 and told myself ‘I am not running’.  I must take the DNF. 

Well…I didn’t.  I thought, ‘I’ll just start the run’ then I told myself ‘but your coach said don’t run, expect to DNF.’  Hard-headed me then pushed on.  The first half mile was down a steep hill, toes were numb from the cold, but I kept going.  I hit the flat sea front (which was beautiful by the way) and ran.  I started at just over an 8min/mile run.  At 1 mile I really fell apart.  I stopped to stretch and just couldn’t release the pain in the hip flexor. My times slowed and the pain increased.  Okay, should have stopped at T2.

I ended up turning around and heading back towards the finish line.  This run course was an out and back, so there really wasn’t a good bailout point. Yeah, except just not starting the damn run as planned.  I ran back feeling absolutely horrible.  People were cheering me on, but I wasn’t running the full 10k and I certainly wasn’t going to finish. 

When I neared the finishing chute I turned off and ran to the side and found a marshal and said that I needed to DNF. I felt really bad running towards the finish, but purposefully didn’t cross the line and pulled out as soon as I saw a marshal.

The second marshal that pulled me over to officially take me out asked me why I hadn’t crossed the finish line. Um…I didn’t actually complete the race? I felt the honorable thing to do was to not cross the line. 

I went into that day knowing I needed to DNF on purpose.  I still got to take part in a great race but I walked away upset.  While my run was not where I had planned, I ended up running 6km of the 10km run, pacing at 8:50min/mile. Not where I was planning, but actually for running injured, not bad.  I thought ‘it was just another 4km, maybe I should have suffered through it?’  It wasn’t worth it. Looking at my age group results, I would have fought for 1st and would have nailed an easy 2nd place. 

I have seen many athletes face injuries or just use a race as a training session.  I tend to aim to do the entire distances usually, but to actually DNF on purpose?  Race simulation is something that you cannot do on your own no matter how hard you try.  I have known people to sign up for a marathon and bail at 20 miles.  Or even a triathlon but not do the run.  We want to simulate race day, test out our transitions, our nutrition and our kit.

When racing Ironman Austria my friend Mark only completed the swim and half the bike after coming back from ankle surgery, but he used the rest of the day to support his wife.  I respect that.

Even when planned, I felt a little off walking away from a race not finished.  My coach would tell me to look at the bigger picture, what were my goals?  He’s right.  I was just doing it for fun, I had already completed my ‘A’ race for the season and my rehab was our focus now. 

Going forward I would probably struggle to do take a planned DNF unless there is a really good reason.  Sometimes we have to remember to ‘race smart’ and as my dad would say, ‘live to fight another day.’

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