DNF. These three letters represent different things to different people.
The letters of course stand for ‘Did Not Finish’, but the real meaning behind them can vary depending on your outlook.
In running and in life, not finishing something can happen because of one or more of the following three reasons:
1) We were presented with an insurmountable obstacle
2) We changed our plans
3) We gave up
I believe it is very important to make up your mind before starting something, what your philosophy on Not Finishing is.
For friends of mine that are very competitive runners, a DNF can be a strategic choice. One which happens as a result of ‘reason 2’ (above). They may develop an injury mid-race or something goes wrong, and pushing through to the end will have a negative impact on their ability to perform well in their next race. Strategically they drop, get a DNF and save themselves for another battle.
If you are driven by race results, this is likely to be a wise choice.
‘Reason 1 and 3’ may seem to be one and the same… If you are presented with an insurmountable obstacle you are then forced to give up, right? I’m not convinced.
Something being insurmountable is relative to what we believe is possible.
If you break your leg, obviously it is impossible to complete a race. That is until you hear about someone that fell from a cliff, broke their leg and limped/crawled 50km to find help.
You might reach your absolute limit of physical exhaustion and simply fall flat on your face, surely that should end your race? Then you read a story about someone who gets lost in the wilderness without food or water and against all odd keeps going for days after everyone else gave up hope.
My philosophy on ‘Reason 1’ is that the only insurmountable obstacle is death.
I’ve come close to getting a DNF recently when I was badly injured and almost missed a cut off time at a checkpoint in a 100 mile mountain race. If the race officials told me that I wasn’t going to be allowed to continue, my plan was to continue on as a non-competitor anyway. For me, my motivation is the fear of regret. The regret of not finishing something and not knowing if I possibly could have with enough determination.
Some may see this as potentially self-destructive, especially when it may mean serious damage could be done in the process. Unfortunately, I’m not willing to compromise my philosophy on this, as it would contradict my whole approach to life. Not sure I could look myself in the mirror if I knew I hadn’t done everything I could to get over that line.
What about ‘Reason 3’? The more you give up on things, the easier it gets to find a reason to give up on things. If you decide early on that giving up is not a possibility, it doesn’t become one. When asked by non distance runners how I can run so far, I just say that I’m really bad a quitting. Over time I’ve managed to convince myself of this.
So, what is a valid reason for giving up?
I haven’t found one yet.