How to Recover from a DNF: Riding the Emotional Rollercoaster

By Michele Dillon, Choose Mountains Ambassador

About a month ago, I wrote a blog for Choose Mountains about the process of training for my first race over 50 miles (you can read that here). I never thought it was going to be easy, I actually picked it because it wouldn’t be. It was an extreme challenge for me to choose this race {Georgia Death Race} as my first attempt at the 100k distance. I was absolutely going for it though and I had every belief in myself that I could do it with the hard work and training that I had put in.

Well, if the title didn't already spoil it for you, I Did Not Finish (DNF). Of the 72 miles and 14,000 feet of vertical gain, I climbed 12,000 feet and ran 45 miles before just narrowly missing the cutoff to continue. 7,000k of that gain was in the first 21 miles. It was the hardest thing I had ever done and I didn't get the chance to finish it. Naturally, I was pretty devastated to see my dream fall apart right in front of me.

It has since been a little over 2 weeks since the race and I've had a lot of time to absorb all of my thoughts. For those of you that have ever dealt or will ever deal with the after effects of a DNF, I wanted to share my words of wisdom from those days of reflection.

 Taking a Fireball shot at the 45 mile cutoff point. Races in the South entail alcohol being offered to you at every aid station. It was much needed at this point. Image by: Chris Kumm (@iliketrails)

Taking a Fireball shot at the 45 mile cutoff point. Races in the South entail alcohol being offered to you at every aid station. It was much needed at this point. Image by: Chris Kumm (@iliketrails)

Wear Sweatpants

For the most part, this had a lot to do with just pure comfort. My sweatpants were the most comfortable thing for me to have on my body after the race. Then after 4 straight days of wearing them, I turned into a bit of a running joke on my Instagram stories; "taking my sweatpants to the movies", "taking my sweatpants to lunch". It morphed into something that was cheering me up because it was so ridiculous how many days I had been wearing them and had absolutely no shame about wearing them in public (and it had the added bonus of making everyone laugh). You obviously don't have to wear sweatpants specifically, but find the thing that makes you feel comfortable and don't be ashamed about wearing them forever…or in my case, until you have to go back to work.

 Rocking my 4 day sweatpants and $10 Walgreens sandals on a hike post race

Rocking my 4 day sweatpants and $10 Walgreens sandals on a hike post race

Talk About It

The last thing you're going to want to do is relive the experience and talk about how you "failed". But this is the singular thing that you can do in order to make peace with the situation and even though you may not think so at the time, ultimately feel better. The people that love and support you are always going to be proud of you when you've gone out there and tried your best. What I also found was that it allowed me to view my DNF and my feelings of failure in a different light. Initially my thoughts were, I still had 27 miles to go! Even though I was close, I was nowhere near close to finishing! However, after seeing people's responses, they were just impressed and proud of me for getting as far as I did. Those 45 miles were something that a lot of them couldn't even fathom doing. They were the hardest part of the race and to them it was amazing what I had accomplished. It allowed my perspective to shift and it felt good to know that no one was disappointed in me; although I am not sure as to why I was so worried about that in the first place!

Be Proud of Your Effort

…but allow yourself to feel the pain of disappointment. You are permitted to simultaneously be happy for going out there and giving it your all and also feel the emotions that come along with not achieving your expected outcome. This is human.

In the attempt of trying to make you feel better, or simply not knowing what to say, you will hear a lot of "don't be sad" or "it's not a big deal". Appreciate the fact that it's coming from a good place, but only you can decide how you feel about your DNF. Very likely those feelings will change on a daily basis and that's OK! Allow yourself to feel each emotion as they come and don't be so hard on yourself for feeling them.

Don't Let It Stop You

You may initially think that because you didn't achieve this goal, that means that you dreamt too big and it's out of your reach. Don't. If something is important to you and you work hard for it, it can only be temporarily unattainable. Eventually you will get there. Keep dreaming big. Keep challenging yourself. Keep digging deep to find your limits and then don't let them stop you.

 Don't give up, don't give up, don't give up, no no no. Image by: We Run Huntsville

Don't give up, don't give up, don't give up, no no no. Image by: We Run Huntsville

Fuel Your Fire

Think really hard about why this specific goal was important to you and whether it still is. Challenge your perspective. Don't think simply just because you didn't finish, that means you have to go back to prove yourself. You don't need to prove yourself to anyone. There has to be a deeper reason and desire or it will very likely continue to be an unattainable goal. Find the deeper meaning. Find your fire and FUEL IT.

This Doesn’t Define You

This doesn't define you as a runner and it doesn’t define your abilities as a runner. Finish lines are never the definition of who you are. Your goals, your dreams and your passions are. Every time you put yourself on the line and try something, especially something that is not certain, you are defining who you are. You are strong, you are resilient and you will not be broken.

Allow Yourself to Move On

Don't put a time limit on your post DNF feelings, but do be aware that there will eventually be a time they need to dissipate. It's incredibly strong to let yourself be vulnerable and not ignore your emotions, but it's even stronger to realize when it's time to let them go and move on.

 


CONTRIBUTOR:

AMBASSADOR MICHELE DILLON

michelle dillon avatar.png

Follow her adventures on Instagram or Facebook