The Dreaded DNF

Watching my friends race Ironman China yesterday was really painful. The heat index reached 115 which is a combination of temperature plus humidity. It was an unbelievably hot and humid day on Hainan Island and for the 500+ racers, it was a nightmare.
One of my buddies DNF-ed. He was feeling blurry eyed in the heat, not able to take down any nutrition at all. Even dumping ice water on himself didn’t do enough to get his body out of this heat trauma. Add to that the nausea of almost throwing up really made him wonder about the reality of finishing. Reaching T2 where inside the changing tent it was 100+ degrees, he wandered over to the medical tent and called it quits.
In a painful email to me, he relayed to me how he felt. Although I haven’t DNF-ed yet, I could definitely relate.
Often times, I have wondered whether I would stop during a race, either due to injury or the body just calling it quits under the conditions. Under any circumstances, Ironman is extreme and you never know how your body is truly going to be on race day, even after physically preparing for it for months before. But I just can’t imagine stopping….ever.
The image of Julie Moss crawling across the finish line, never calling it quits no matter what, has always inspired me. I saw the spirit of Ironman embodied in that crawl and resolved to never quit in Ironman no way no how no matter what. In my first Ironman, my call to arms was “Stopping is not an option.” It kept me going even when I almost stopped and my resolve just fizzled.
However, sometimes our resolve and desire to reach the finish line aren’t enough. If our bodies just aren’t up to finishing the race for whatever reason, there is nothing we can do. Whether we are not able to take down nutrition and keep throwing up, we got sick right before the race, we’re not acclimatized enough to the heat, or if the weather is so bad that we cannot continue safely, we have to stop because dying in an Ironman is probably not worth it.
But man it feels like shit.
You just spent the last 6 months preparing for this event. You’ve used every weekend going out and riding for hours, beat up your body on long runs and swims. All that time and mental energy spent preparing for the race, only to reach race day and not make it to the finish line.
Where is “Stopping is not an option?” Julie Moss didn’t quit; how could I?
All that time and energy just wasted. Down the tubes. No finish line, no medal, not even a damn finisher’s t-shirt. All that money wasted on the plane tickets and hotel. Food. Time off from work. Fuckin’ A.
Even knowing all that, I know that someday, at some race, I too will DNF. Probability says that it will happen the more I race. I’ve been lucky so far, racing in pretty decent conditions and my body never letting me down….yet.
So as painful as it is, I mentally prepare now. I say to myself, “Someday I will DNF. It will suck. I will hate myself. I will feel like shit.” Then I go out and race. Somehow, repeating this to myself makes me feel better about DNF-ing, if it happens. Or so goes my theory. Let you know the day after I really do DNF….