This Runner's Trials

What would it take for you to drop out of a race?

Posted by runnerstrials

Show of hands: How many of you have been in a race and it started going so badly that you wanted to quit?

Since I can't see through the internet, I'm guessing most of you raised your hands.

Another show of hands: How many of you actually stopped and got a D(id) N(ot) F(inish) in said crappy race?

I'm guessing not very many of you. We all know I raised my hand though (see my infamous marathon DNF story.)


Why is this? Why do we keep on trucking when a race isn't going well?

For one, we dedicate a lot of time, energy, and money to prep for- and travel to- a race. So we don't want to give up. Many of us equate quitting with failure. I disagree, but I know some people view it that way.

Second, the why matters. As in the reason why you determined that your race is going poorly. I believe most whys fall into 3 categories:

1. You won't PR or meet your goal. Often, our minds get set that we're having a bad race once we realize we're not going to PR or meet our race goals. Our legs may feel heavy, the course may be hilly, the weather may suck, or it just might not be our day. I'm guessing you're going to power through and finish even though your time is not what you desired. Correct? Pro athletes may drop out to save their legs for another upcoming race. Though non-pros sometimes think this way too; one of the reasons I was cool with my DNF was because I knew I could run another marathon 2 weeks later.


Yay, a finish line!

2. You panic. This may be more of a triathlon thing, though I'm sure nerves and fear have gotten the best of many runners. During my first Olympic tri, I cried on the bike because I was terrified. The ridiculously hilly course, the trucks flying by me at 60 mph, and the fact that I was alone made me fear for my life. I wanted to get off my bike and sob on the side of the road, but I also wanted to finish so, so badly to show my fear who was boss. When I finally finished the bike course, I was elated. I was never so happy to run, and despite being exhausted, I ran a 48:48 minute 10k. Not too shabby. Many triathletes have stories like this and are always glad they finished and conquered their fear.


Delighted to be heading into T2 post scary bike ride.

3. You're hurt or sick. Now this is the gray area. Most of us would run through stomach problems, leg cramps, blisters and other "minor" issues. But when do problems become "major"?

I DNF'd the marathon because I couldn't eat or drink anything, so I knew it was the smart decision.

But I'm not always so wise. Last year, I collapsed at a finish line. Luckily, after downing 4 bottles of Gatorade I was as good as new. More than 5 years ago, I had knee pain the two weeks leading up to my first half marathon. I had an MRI Friday, foolishly ran and finished the half in tons of pain on Saturday, and found out on Monday I had a torn meniscus. I couldn't walk for a month and I couldn't run for three months. I wish I didn't finish- or even start- that race. You live, you learn.

This issue is fresh on my mind because my husband did a half Ironman yesterday. The race should have taken him about 5 hours. It should have been no big deal. He should finished without looking like death.


Perhaps I should have seen this coming since he looked like this pre-race.

However, that's not what happened. When he crossed the finish line, his face was a color I had never seen before (I don't even have a finish line picture because I was shocked by his appearance). He was pretty sick and had been the entire second half of the race. But the thought of not finishing never crossed his mind…


Dear baby boy in my belly, it's not always best to be like daddy.

He is disappointed by his performance, yet he doesn't regret finishing the race. I wish he DNF'd. He made it to the medical tent before he went from vertical to horizontal, but that could have easily happened out on the course. He is fine now, though I definitely woke up a few times last night to check his pulse.

Sometimes finishing a race is dangerous or downright stupid. But how do we know when to stop? How hurt or sick would you have to be to drop out of a race?