Rick vs The Dreaded DNS (Did Not Start)

OR: When race weekends go Awry! (Part 2)

If you read my previous article, "Race Report: GroundHog Midnight Run", then you know I experienced my first DNF (did not finish) this past weekend at the GroundHog Marathon weekend in Grand Rapids. A hard decision but one I believe was the best given the circumstances.

But the Saturday night race wasn't the only issue I had to deal with that weekend. There was the issue of the second race of that race weekend, the Half Marathon, that I was scheduled to run Sunday morning at 8AM. Having decided not to complete the one loop race on Saturday, was I going to run the Half?

When I came back to the hotel from the Midnight Run, and after consuming that delicious Cobb Salad, I decided to call Team Captain Vicky, and ask her to help me work through my feelings. I was already feeling down about DNFing the short 4.4 mile race, and the thought of my first DNS (did not start) being on Sunday's race was even more depressing.  I mean, I had driven 250 miles in 5 hours to get to Grand Rapids for this race weekend.  Am I seriously going to 'wuss out' and skip the Half as well? Then drive 250 more miles home that Sunday with no medals to show for the time and money I invested in this weekend?

That team motto, that sounded supportive for DNFing the Midnight Run, wasn't as encouraging when I applied it to this question.  I mean "Did Not Finish is far better than Did Not Start" was not exactly supporting a decision to not run the race at all.  Now to be fair, I understand that the motto is supporting the choice of "getting off your butt and trying" rather than "sitting on your butt and doing nothing at all" because you are lazy or afraid of trying. I get that. But at the moment, that term "DNS" just felt like the lowest of the low, especially for someone like me who has embraced "the try".

Once again, that male macho 'ego' was raising its ugly head, sending messages to my brain saying that I should at least 'toe the line' on Sunday. Give it a try one more time. Maybe it will be different in the daytime. Maybe if I start at the back of the pack, the other 499 runners will pack down that snow and make the path more easily navigated. Maybe the race director will go out with snowmobiles overnight and try to pack it down some. Yeah yeah yeah. My brain was filled with them.

But Vicky was there to let me vent and talk through all of those maybes. We discussed the 'other' maybes. Maybe I will get injured. Maybe the extra 1-2 inches of snow that was forecast to fall overnight would make things even more unstable. Maybe it would take me so long to finish that I would not get home in time for the SuperBowl (I was having a small party with friends to watch the game). Maybe, just maybe, this whole debate was more about my ego and not about the race at all!

Two things became clear to me. First, I know that if I toed the line at the start, it would feel twice as bad if I decided to DNF a second time. I think that would affect my psyche more than the DNS decision. And, I knew that my competitive nature would force me to keep at it, perhaps longer than I should because of the DNF the night before.

The second thing was even more obvious. The risk of injury would be even higher. The combination of additional snow, the other 499 runners sharing the course, and the slightly cooler temp would not make things any easier. And if I was 'forcing things' too hard, it could be the recipe for disaster. Was this race worth all of that?

Thanks to Vicky, talking all these points out with me, I started to get more comfortable with the DNS decision. Then Vicky made a point that clinched it for me. She asked about my upcoming race in Los Angeles and if running this race would complement my preparations for it. And I had to answer, "No, not really." I realized the most important thing was to get the training miles in this weekend. I picked this race because it looked fun, AND, the mileage fit into my overall training plan. It was the mileage and not the race, that was the important goal for this weekend! Vicky then suggested that I should just go run 13.1 miles at the hotel! Brilliant!!! (That is why Vicky is the Team Captain).

So we talked about my "Alternative Long Run" strategy. I figured I would do my long run on a treadmill in the hotel's fitness center (which I hadn't actually seen yet) and I would start at 8AM -- the same as the race start time. Then I could get in my training miles, having plenty of time to drive home and share the SuperBowl with my family and friends. So we finished up our videochat and I went downstairs to check out the fitness center. But it was closed for the night. Oh well, I would head down there in the morning.

FAIL! When I got up on Sunday morning and went down to the fitness center, it was terrible! One treadmill that looked 20 years old, a couple of older bikes and stair stepper, and a mounted wall fan that was broken. So, I packed up, checked out, and drove back home so I could run my 13.1 miles at LifeTime Fitness. So while watching Galaxy Quest and The Spirit of the Marathon movies on my iPad, I was able to complete my training miles!

At this point, I have to say that I have some amazing, wise, and thoughtful friends. I am very lucky to be so blessed! Thank you all for all your support and great advice! One friend reminded me that even the elite runners have DNF and DNS entries on their resumes.  Another friend knew someone who DNFed the GroundHog Marathon after two loops -- that person is running in Antarctica two weeks from now and didn't want to jeopardize that. So I figure I was in good company!

I took a look at the results today and found that only 382 of the 500 participants finished the Half or Full that Sunday. I congratulate all who were able to finish that race because that is truly a feat to be appreciated.

But I am very pleased that I focused on what was important for me that weekend, and made decisions that in the long term will prove to be much more beneficial for me than bringing home a cool Groundhog medal.

At one point or another along our journey towards better health, better races, and better lifestyles, we will face bumps along the way.  We will face difficulties.  We will face hard decisions and minor (or even major) setbacks.  I share this story today because these things WILL happen.  You will fail to finish a race, or fail a test, or disappoint someone you care for.  It is how we face these difficulties and move forward from them towards something positive, fulfilling, and restorative that will define us.  We live, we learn, and we persevere.

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