Reflections on the Run #7: DNF – Did Not Finish, but Did Not Fail

Photo: Marvin Pfeiffer, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

This past Sunday I recorded a first for me as a runner. No, it was not a PR (personal record) or a BQ (Boston qualifier) as I had hoped. It’s a  much less flattering acronym.

DNF: did not finish.

I suppose if you run long enough, it’s bound to happen eventually. The wind and the rain made for challenging conditions, but around mile 12 as I ran around a puddled corner I felt an odd slide/twist/pop in my right foot. “Hmm, that’s weird,” I thought. It didn’t feel great, but it also wasn’t a stabbing pain. So I continued on for another mile and realized it was starting to hurt worse. And I was only halfway through with my race. Just short of mile 14 I limped into a medical tent. Had this happened at mile 22 I might have gimped my way through to the finish, but the prospect of running another 13 miles in the cold rain with this pain on my right heel was not particularly appealing. I don’t know if my brain was waterlogged or what, but I barely even remember making this as a conscious decision. My body just went…straight into the medical tent.

Limping into the tent was only the start of it. The shuttle that was to take me back to the main medical tent could not find its way around the all the road closures, and so I shivered in the back of the van for a good 45 minutes. Come to find out, you aren’t supposed to just walk off a marathon course. They have to drop you at a particular place to register your DNF so they’re not out there looking for a lost runner. After I got warmed up in the main medical tent near the finish area, I limped my way back to gear check and managed to get my dry clothes. By this point my pride hurt worse than my foot.

Those first 13 miles were right on pace. I enjoyed the company of a few friends I ran into along the course, and other friends who braved the rain to cheer us on. I look at the splits and the numbers told me I was doing great. But that was only half the distance.

I came back home, tried to shake the cold with a hot shower, and drifted off into a defeated deep sleep.

One of my running buddies went on to win the whole dang race. Despite the wind and rain he ran a 2:36-something and out-sprinted the first place runner in the last 100 meters. My friend and training parter went on to run a PR despite the conditions as well. I, on the other hand, now have to figure out how to bounce back after my first DNF. I’m happy for them, but frustrated at my result.

Today I went to the physical therapist (AIRROSTI) to figure out how badly injured I was. As it turns out, they think it is a combination of scar tissue and micro-tears on my plantar fascia…in short, nothing as bad as it could have been. They did their usual torture and taping and gave me stretches and exercises to convalesce. I can try some easy recovery runs later this week.

In the meantime, I’m trying to redefine the meaning of my DNF. And I’ve decided that my DNF can also mean Did Not Fail. I have not failed because I haven’t given up. More training and more marathons to come. I’m not done with Boston yet.

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2 thoughts on “Reflections on the Run #7: DNF – Did Not Finish, but Did Not Fail

  1. Congratulations on listening to your body’s reason, making the smart call and giving yourself the chance to run another day… embodying a mindset of growth is a more valuable and lasting accomplishment than crossing the finish line in one marathon! Did Not Finish also means you’re not done yet! 🙂

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