Every runner is familiar with those three letters, DNF. They either mean "Did Not Finish" or "Do Nothing Foolish." Whichever they represent in the given use, it's always serious, some would say always sad, but I don't think so, and I'm about to tell you why.
My daughter and I did a trail race on Sunday, the Croom Zoom, in one of our favorite locations. Race options were 25k, 50k, and 100k. Well, Wendy had completed her first 50k a few months ago, and had planned to do the 50k in this race, but at this time of year she ends up working lots of overtime. So, between holiday activities and overtime, she hadn't gotten in the requisite training. She decided to DNF, do nothing foolish, and registered for the 25k instead. She wanted to do that 50k sooooooo badly, but she knew it would be a mistake . . . and she was right. That was a victory of sorts, because she did the wise thing. .
Most often when we hear DNF the speaker means "Did Not Finish." Personally, I think most runners absolutely, positively, will do anything they can to finish a race. Runners tend NOT to be quitters.
If a person cares enough to enter a race, pay the registration fee, train for a race, and show up on race morning, then that person is not going to quit during the race unless there is a good reason. I would never call that person a loser or - as I've heard too often - a quitter. I'd say when anybody doesn't finish a race, they're plenty sorry they had to DNF on that day. Usually, it's because of an injury, and, sometimes, it's not because they can't finish, but rather because it's in their best judgement wiser to stop rather than do - or risk - further damage.
When someone stops - DNF's - for that reason, they are actually demonstrating restraint and wisdom, not weakness.
If that's ever you. If you are ever in a race and you need to stop because of an injury, I say do it, and do not feel like a quitter. You did your best, and by stopping you may preserve the future of your running career. We run for our health, but if we get a serious injury and become sidelined for a while, we won't be running at all.
Sometimes the greatest restraint is in the Do Nothing Foolish DNF category. A few months ago, I had planned to do the Spacecoast Marathon, but I ended up postponing it and registered for the Jacksonville Bank Marathon in December.
Well, business was booming for me, which was great, but as a result, and also due to other events in my life, my marathon training was less than stellar. In particular, my long runs didn't happen as planned. I was still in great shape and running well, but I knew that my training hadn't been optimal for a marathon. It was a bitter pill, but I decided to postpone my marathon yet again.
Then, about ten days before the race, my race confirmation and race number arrived in my email box.
Oh, boy, did I ever want to do that race. I contemplated it for days. I certainly could do it, and I just might have a great race. Hadn't that happened to me before? Hadn't I had the best 5k of my life on a day when everything else seemed to indicate that I would not have a good race?
Hadn't I just PR'd in a half marathon by six minutes the day after a near PR in a 5k?
Yes, I might have a good marathon, but, I am a coach, and I knew if I was one of my clients, I would strongly advise me not to do it.
I decided to listen to my own advice and let that one go by, too.
What we want to do, and what we should do are often two very different things. We run with our hearts, and I don't mean our hearts pumping life-giving, energy providing blood; that's obvious.
I mean we run with passion. It may be the hardest thing in the world to DNF, but you may be able to tap this well of wisdom by looking at the big picture and realizing that doing something foolish may jeopardize your running for weeks to come.
Doing something that is physically challenging requires great character; veteran runners will find that doing nothing foolish requires just as much.
So, I think when we DNF, whether it's because we did not finish or because we did nothing foolish, it's a victory of common sense, a victory of wisdom over desire. In such cases, finishing the race or doing something foolish would have been the easier choice and the wrong one.
Runners worry a lot about being able to run fast and far; I would argue that wisdom trumps speed and distance every time.