>> Wednesday, August 11, 2010
If you’re out of the loop, “DNF” means “Did Not Finish.” It’s worse than DFL (“Dead F*cking Last”), but better than DNS (“Did Not Start”) - or at least in my mind.
Someone left a comment on Monday’s post just as “Melanie,” and she said this:
I love your blog and know that you have had your own DNF experience, but I was hoping that you and your readers could help me out. I had to DNF my first half ironman yesterday (my hands went totally numb on the bike and I had the worst headache of my life). I am dealing with the disappointment, but the worst part about yesterday was after I had made the decision to quit and was feeling so terrible, the spectators and race staff (even other racers) were so great, yelling "looking strong" or "keep it up", etc. I felt awkward knowing that I was quitting but didn't want to be rude. Hopefully this won't happen again, but maybe it could help other readers if you could solicit suggestions about this. Also, any advice about how to deal with post-DNF blues would be appreciated. Sorry for the long post and thanks!
I knew of an official 70.3 on Sunday, so I went to their site and searched the results. I found 2 Melanie’s, and 1 of them was a DNF. I found this person on Facebook, and we sent a few messages back-and-forth. (Man, this “social network” age can be a little freaky, huh? And I think I freaked out Melanie when I first sent her a FB message asking if she was the Melanie who had just commented on my blog 5 minutes earlier!)
If you’re a newer follower of my blog, you maybe don’t know about my marathon DNF from 2 years ago. Melanie had apparently found those posts on my blog. I went through similar things as she described. In fact, here’s a really zoomed in shot that Borsch took of me walking past spectators trying to hold back emotion as they were “yelling ‘looking strong’ or ‘keep it up’, etc” as Melaine had stated:
[....] That really stinks. I'm sorry your day was shot to hell. When I DNFed my first (and only) marathon, I was completely fine with it when it happened. I was hurting, I had thrown up, and things were going grey now-and-then (my eyesight was fading or I was getting close to fainting or something...).
It sounds cheesy and stupid, but I KNOW I learned something from it. I learned my limits. I learned how far my body can go. I learned I hadn't done the training that I THOUGHT I had.
After a few weeks, I started thinking "well, I could have FINISHED the race..." and I started beating myself up a little more. That was 2 years ago, and I still haven't tried another marathon. It still nags at me a little.
[....] I don't know if you saw my 2 posts (and comments) from my marathon DNF, but one person commented that they dropped out of an Ironman that same day I dropped out of my marathon. She said this: "When I did my first half iron, I met a guy in transition. He had done 15 ironman races and finished 9 of those. I've never forgotten the advice he gave me. #1 Ain't no shame in walking. #2 Sometimes a finish just isn't in the cards."
I hope you're feeling OK today. All my best,
Generic answers. I didn’t feel like I could help her much. I told her I’d post her story and her questions for my readers if she’d like that, and she sent me this final note:
Wow! Thanks so much for taking the time to write. I am feeling better today but like you I am questioning my decision and feel like maybe I could have stuck it out and tried to finish, but ultimately I know that I made the right decision by stopping and not digging myself into a deeper hole. I would be more than happy to share my story about what happened yesterday. As an FYI, his was my first attempt at the half iron distance after two sprints, two half marathons, and half a dozen 50+ mile training rides.
The week before the race had been stressful as I had ordered a rental wetsuit from Xterra wetsuits six weeks prior to the race. As the week went on I got more and more nervous but was hopeful the wetsuit would arrive. By Friday evening it hadn't arrived and I basically began freaking out. I know I'm not the fastest swimmer and was hoping for the time advantage of a wetsuit if nothing else. The wetsuit never did arrive (looking back now I'm thinking I should have taken this as a bad omen). However, I had done a swim at the reservoir a week before and knew the water temperature wasn't too cold. Nonetheless, standing at the beach before the start of the race I felt like literally the only person without a wetsuit and seriously began to question myself. As we headed down to the water the announcer said over the speakers "I know I will see each and every one of you at the finish line". In my head I was thinking, "I sure hope so". The start of the swim wasn't as bad as I thought it would be- I didn't get kicked or shoved, etc. The water actually felt refreshing and I just tried to enjoy the experience (being surrounded by the Rocky Mountains didn't hurt either). It felt like the swim took forever but around the turns I could see that I wasn't the last person in my wave, so that was a confidence booster. Coming out of the water I felt great and ready to tackle the bike. I ran into transition and was in and out. After getting on my bike, though, I knew something felt "off". My legs felt like lead, my helmet inexplicably felt like it was choking me, and my head was pounding. I tried to shake it off and just try to have fun. After only a mile or so, though, I was struggling. For some reason both of my hands went completely numb soon after getting on the bike (after logging hundreds of training miles leading up to the race and having never had this problem before, I have no idea what may have caused this). It seemed like the next 10 miles were a slow steady grind. I was constantly getting passed. The few racers who took the time to say "great job" or "keep it up Melanie" really were the highlight of my day. I was hoping that the pounding in my head would go away, but it started getting worse and worse. It got to the point that I was wincing at every crack and bump in the road. Every vibration felt like my head was going to explode. My hands were so numb that I was taking turns having one hand on the handlebars at a time, trying to shake the other one out to try and regain some sensation. As it was I was having a hard time keeping hold of the handlebars at all. At this point I knew I was done. It was both a blessing and curse that the course was two loops- it gave me an easy "out" after the first loop, but I knew that if it hadn't been looped I would have tried to hold on for the whole 56 and ended off in even worse shape. As I got to the end of the first loop I could either go straight or turn right to the finish. As I neared the turn a police officer was waving me through to go straight, and it was so hard to make that right turn and have to say "no, I'm done, I'm quitting". I was stopped by a race official who took my chip and called in my number on his walkie talkie. As I headed down the road back to transition, it was demoralizing to pass all the spectators cheering for me, knowing that I was quitting. I headed back to transition and went up to a volunteer to tell her I had quit the race and ask when I could take my bike out. She said "Eh, shit happens. Go on over to the beer garden, it'll be a while". I took some Advil I had in my transition bag and sat on the side of the road for an hour before I could get my bike out and go home. Of course as soon as I sat down my hands and head started to feel better and I was questioning my decision to pull out of the race. Ultimately I know it was a good decision to stop when I did. Had I decided to keep going on the second loop, I probably would have had to stop eventually and call for help.
Needless to say, I am feeling dejected. I hate having to say "I quit". I am wondering how other people got back on the horse, so to speak, after a DNF. I don't know why I was feeling so badly, and am gunshy now about doing another race lest this sort of situation repeat itself. I would love suggestions on how other people have conquered the feeling of "I'm a failure" after a DNF and stories of going back to conquer a race, distance, etc. My biggest concern is that since I have no idea why this happened, how do I sign up for another race and be confident it won't happen again?
Thanks again for your support,
[Bold added by me for emphasis.]
Looking at her note again, maybe Melanie was COMPLETELY ready for the race, but she just worked a little too hard in the swim. And maybe the water was just too cold, and that chilled her body (and head) too much to really recover. Those 2 things combined might have ended her day. But who knows...
Who has a DNF story / experience to share with Melanie? I know a lot of us have one, and I think we can help out Melanie by sharing our experiences and how we responded to them. Please, leave a note here for her! Good luck Melanie!
(Oh, and if you want to read about my DNF at the 2008 Grandmas Marathon, click here for the first part, and click here for the final part.)
p.s. If you have a question or an issue that you’d like me to help you with OR you’d like my readers to help you with, leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail. I might post it under the “Ask Steve” tag. I’m always glad to help!