How to Deal with a DNF

Weakness and failure are my two biggest fears.


Both happened to me this past Saturday.


I was supposed to run the Ogden Marathon in Utah.  It was supposed to be my 8th state, 10th marathon, and 3rd so far this year.  It was supposed to be gorgeous and kickoff my week of vacation and downtime before beginning to train for the Chicago Marathon this fall.  It was supposed to be a fun, great race.


Supposed to be.


I flew out there Friday in high spirits, awestruck by the beauty of the mountains and giddy about my starting vacation.  Picked up mine and Jansen’s packets at the expo and had a fantastic one-on-one chat with Bart Yasso, who was just chilling at his booth alone (I guess people in Utah don’t know who he is??).  Checked into the hotel, had dinner, prepped my outfit and gear check bag, got Jansen from the airport, and was ready to run.

How pretty is this view?!


Pretty chill expo, easy to get everything and lots of vendors
Pretty chill expo, easy to get everything and lots of vendors


The alarm went off early Saturday morning and with bleary eyes checked the weather.  Cold.  High winds.  With a lot of rain moving our way (In Fat Bastard’s voice: Greaaaaaat).  I piled on my outfit and throw away clothes and headed to the car.  We had to drive into Ogden to catch the bus that would take us up into the mountains and to the start.  The rain wasn’t too bad yet as we climbed onto the school bus and drove about 50 minutes away.  We waited around in a field, huddled around fire barrels to keep us warm.



It was colder than I thought- cold enough to see my breath- but the rain was still manageable at this point.  I had on pants, a long sleeve and my Cary Half Marathon jacket, plus a hat, gloves, and Heatsheet from a past marathon.  I had the Heatsheet up over my head to act as a hood and keep my head from getting too wet and cold. We chatted excitedly with other runners around the fire, I drank my UCAN, stretched a bit, used the porta potties a few times, and tried to check the weather to see how close the heavy rain was but I didn’t have cell service.  As we lined up for the start, I shed my pants and long sleeve (it wasn’t a tech shirt), but decided to keep the Cary jacket on as an extra layer.  I also tried to tie the Heatsheet around myself for another layer, and definitely kept my gloves on.


The start line
The start line


The Race

The first few miles were great.  I felt relaxed and didn’t feel out of breath like I had worried I would running at elevation.  However, minutes after we started, the wind picked up and my Heatsheet was blowing around too much.  I thought it was creating unnecessary drag so I ditched it around mile 3.  The rain quickly followed, a cold relentless rain that soon drenched my jacket (found out pretty quickly the jacket was neither warm nor waterproof like I had anticipated).  The high 25-35mph wind gusts made the mid-40 degree temperatures feel like 30s.  My drenched clothes clung to my body trapping in the cold.  Still, I was on an okay pace

Splits (miles 1-9): 7:20, 7:25, 7:10, 7:06, 7:15, 7:21, 7:15, 7:20, 7:37

By mile 10 I couldn’t feel my feet or my hands.  My right hand cramped in an awkward claw position, preventing me from grabbing my packet of Honeystingers with enough dexterity to get them from my pocket into my mouth, and good luck trying to get them past my chattering teeth.  I watched half the packet fall to the ground.  A little past mile 14, I went to reach for water at the aid station and couldn’t grab the cup.  I stopped and tried to grab it again, but then my body started shaking and the volunteer took one look at me and said, “Nope, you’re done.”  She wrapped me in a Heatsheet and hurried me over to a heater, which I ended up knocking over with my shaking, so then she shoved me into the back of her car, cranked her heat to max, and draped a winter coat around me.

Splits: 10-end

7:32, 7:50, 7:51, 8:14, 8:52, 15:45 (I forgot to stop my watch)



I was devastated that I DNFed the race (for those non runners, DNF = did not finish).  I felt weak, I felt like a failure, and I began to sob uncontrollably alone in the backseat of this strangers car for an hour as I waited for the SAG Wagon (SAG = support and gear, the vehicle that transports injured, dropped out, or too slow runners to the finish).  Of course the weather started to calm down as I was waiting, and by the time I arrived at the finish line it was sunny and warmer.  What a slap in the face.  I got my gear check bag and cleaned myself up in the bathroom before meeting Jansen, who had already finished the race.   I was crushed.


Fast forward almost a week later and thankfully the feelings of failure, weakness, embarrassment, disappointment, basically EVERY SINGLE negative feeling imaginable, have subdued.  LUCKILY, I was not physically injured during the race.  Yes, I was achy because my muscles were sore from being tense and shaking, but I didn’t pull a muscle, tear a ligament, break a bone, or run myself to total body shut down.  All the lasting effects of the DNF I felt were purely emotional.  I hope that no one ever has to drop out of a race, but if you do here’s how to deal with a DNF, or at least what helped me:


1. Let It Out.

As a rule, I don’t let others see me cry.  The whole fear of weakness thing.  So I held it together for the rest of Saturday but by Sunday all the negative feelings were eating away at me and I found myself crying on the phone to my mom.  My pity party was pretty huge.

But you know what?  That’s ok. When you deal with a DNF let out your frustration.   Cry.  Scream.  Vent.  When you DNF, you’re bound to feel the way I did, especially after putting in the hard work of training and not achieving your expectations.   Just don’t go overboard.  I gave myself one hour to wallow after hanging up with my mom, but after 20 minutes I was done.  So onto step 2.


2. Get Out.

After the race that Saturday, part of what helped me keep it all in was that we went exploring and hiking around Antelope Island and Salt Lake City.  It was beautiful.  Then during my pity party on Sunday, while on the phone with my mom she said, “Becca, you’re in fucking Utah and you’re sitting in your car crying and having a pity party.  Are you insane?”  

Ok, she didn’t exactly say it that way, but the message was loud and clear.  So what did I do?  I went exploring and lost myself in nature.  Utah is pretty beautiful.  Like the kind of beautiful that makes you giggle because you can’t believe how beautiful it is.  That Sunday I did a 3.5 mile hike up to the Living Room and was rewarded with breathtaking panoramas of the city.  The following day I went for a sunrise hike up in the foothills with no destination except for “up” in mind.  Again, it was great.  And the best part?  I wasn’t thinking of the race at all!

So if you ever need to deal with a DNF, get out and do something that will distract you from dwelling on negative thoughts.

Antelope Island... flats are not good hiking shoes.
Antelope Island… flats are not good hiking shoes.
Hello SLC.
Hello SLC.



Sunrise hike
Sunrise hike


3. Reach Out.

Again, for a girl who hates feelings, this was hard.  My first instinct was to hide the DNF from everyone.  But, if this showed me anything, it’s proven that I have the best friends and family.  Some who had been tracking me reached out to see if I was ok, and others I reached out to for advice on how to deal with the DNF and also just for support.  I was feeling so vulnerable and they immediately built me back up and gave me the words of running wisdom that I needed to hear.  If you’re dealing with a DNF, reach out to your running community for support.  I hope these can help:

* Thanks for helping me realize that dropping out was the smart thing to do physically for my body*

“When I dnfed I was mostly irritated that I “gave up” but there’s plenty of evidence of my “toughness,” it’s the same for you so ignore the negative and realize you’re still tough.  In both our cases, persevering may have meant a setback of MONTHS and that’s a bigger failure.  Knowing when to quit at something is harder than being gritty sometimes.” – Annabelle

“Our bodies tell us things and we should listen.  Even if it is incredibly frustrating when we can’t do what we want to do.” – Careen

“Would you rather have finished the race to get medal and check off another state, but have injured yourself in the process and need to take weeks or months off of running?  Or would you rather have made the smart decision, which ya did, and realize it wasn’t your day and now turn your focus to something else?” – Robyn



* Thanks for the reality check*


“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it even happens to the elites.  There will be more marathons and more races to come.” – Mike

“You know you can finish a marathon with flying colors.  DNFs happen.” – Crystal

“Know that you are stronger than just this one result.  Shitty days happen just like good days do.” – Kevin

“You’re bound to have a bad race everyone in a while… brush it off because you know you can do better and I know you will do better.” – Jon


stronger quote


* Thanks to these guys for making me laugh about it*


“Change all your captions on your pictures from WOOtah to BOOtah.” – Jon

“Both you know and I know that you are an incredible runner.  More importantly… how was the ice cream?!?” – Kelly L.






In response, that ice cream was pretty epic.



So yeah. I had to drop out of the Ogden Marathon.  It was a miserable experience, but one that I’m glad I had.  It’ll make the next race even sweeter.  If you find yourself needing to know how to deal with a DNF, I hope these tips can help.  Take time to heal, physically and mentally, and get ready to attack the next one.


Happy running,





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6 Comments on "How to Deal with a DNF"

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Dallas Fischer
I have officially joined the DNF club. All these quotes are great and really helpful. I am still greatly disappointed as I’ve put in everything I had training 6 months for this race and making this one of my top two priorities (getting Married was the other one!) . I should be happy I have a 100k buckle which is an amazing accomplishment on its own, but I really wanted that Kettle. Most of my crying happened on a bench facing a field in the dark with my headlamp on sitting next to Matt. I was happy I wasn’t alone… Read more »

yes, yes, yes.

Nancy Cooney

Your advice is spot-on and your friends are pretty special.
Failing is not a bad word- it gives us an opportunity to get stronger, get more focused and a chance to be humbled. What courage you had to face your fears- and do the right thing!
I’m so proud you listened to your body and had the strength to stop even when you feared stopping. You are made of some absolutely wonderful courage, passion and heart! Don’t ever lose that!
Oh… and your mom sounds pretty cool too! LOL- love you!

Pete B

Wise decision on stopping when you did! There will be lots more marathons in your future!

Sharon Narrod
Becca, I was really drawn in by your description of the race, your preparation and the less than desired outcome. You are a really terrific writer. I also think that your process for moving on can be applied to many situations where the DNF relates to an unanticipated outcome in one’s life. It had me thinking about Molly and her apartment fire. The aftermath has been a steady stream of phone calls, walking into that shell of an apartment to retrieve belongings that can be salvaged and reordering your life when you have no permanent place to live. I can’t… Read more »