coaching / commentary

How To Bounce Back From A DNF

Deciding to turn your bib over to the RD and step off the trail is a tough call for any runner to make in a race. Be it injury, illness, or just a loss of willpower – it can take a lot to come back from.

I float around on Reddit, under the name ‘wingedling’ (surprise surprise) and recently there was a thread asking for advice on how to come back from the dreaded DNF.

The response to my comment was overwhelmingly positive so I decided to repost it here.

Everyone goes through dark places on a run, regardless of distance or ability. You have to keep moving; inch by inch, step by step. Sometimes you need to pause for moment…To breathe, come to center, and dig deep. Sometimes it’s do or die and you push through, beyond your doubts, through the darkness, out of the shadows.

If you give in you can get lost in the shadows, in the darkness, in the doubt. It’s cold there, and you can’t stay for long. At some point you have to tell yourself it’s time to move again, inch by inch, step by step.

It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting, sad and defeated on the side of the trail, 18 miles from the finish, or in front of your computer hovering over the “sign up” button.

You just have to do it.

Get up and keep moving, out of the darkness, out of the doubt.

You can see the whole thread here on Reddit.


Road To Recovery From A DNF

Need a plan?

Here’s a few steps to get you back to taking a lot of steps:

1. Rest, Recover, Re-center

Injury and illness are no joke. Talk to your medical providers, take the time you need, and be good to your body. Start with low impact, like swimming, cycling, or even some weight routines till you’re back in fighting shape. For physical and mental DNF’s, both will require some soul searching. Accept what happened as a lesson learned, and an adventure all in itself. You will persevere.

2. Pick a date for redemption

Once you know your physical healing schedule, are back from your mental vacation, and are ready to hit the trail again, pick a race and sign up. 

Without trying to sound too vague – be reasonable and realistic.

If you DNF’d your first 50 Miler, don’t sign up for a 200 miler. If you DNF’d a 100 miler because you broke your toe and had to stop running for a month, don’t sign up for another 100 in just 5 weeks.

Take any training lessons you learned the last time, consider your training needs for the distance and go for it, sign on the dotted line.

3. Plan it out

Following up from number 2, plan your training out. Mark it on the calendar, schedule it out and become invested in the process.

4. Forget the first week

Now that you’ve planned with all the neuroticism of a road runner, forget the next few days.

Head to your favorite trail, forget the GPS, your phone, the distance and pace. Just start walking and breathe in the air, smell the trees and the soil. Remember why you love to do this in the first place. Run as hard as you want up the tallest peak near you or run at sunset on a beach till you grin from ear to ear.

Be smart and make sure you’re prepared for emergencies, and if that means bringing a GPS or a phone, OK, but remember the point is to forget about the stressful aspects of training, and reconnect with the spirit and feeling of it all.

5. Stay the course

Enjoy it and keep moving forward. Don’t over-train, tell your friends so you stay accountable (if that works for you), post a selfie on Instagram, log it in Strava, tell everyone you meet, or quietly internalize it while you run your morning miles:

“I’m back.”

You’ll be crossing that finish before you know it.


See you at the starting line,
Winged Ling

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