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DNF or DNS Race: How to Decide + Tips to Recover

Ending up with a DNF or a DNS race is never what any runner has in mind. Just about every runner begins a training plan with the bets of intentions. We dream of hitting our goals, nailing PRs and conquering new distances.

However, sometimes training can be unpredictable. Injuries arise, illness or life events can derail training. Whether key workouts were missed, there was an overall lack of consistency, or just a terrible pre-race day – things can go wrong at the last possible second.

What does DNS mean in running?

DNS stands for “did not start” in running. This means that a runner either didn’t show up at all, or planned to run but ended up not crossing the start line on race morning.

Ending training with a DNS race can be devastating. Usually, runners recognize that they won’t be able to show up on race day well beforehand. However, when a DNS occurs due to unforeseen circumstances, it is a huge let down.

Whether it is expected or occurs due to a surprise injury, illness, or life circumstance, a DNS is never the outcome any runner desires.

What does DNF mean in running?

DNF stands for “did not finish”. This means that a runner crossed the starting line of a race, but walked off the course sometime during the run and never crossed the finish line.

Perhaps even more devastating than a DNS, a DNF usually implies that the runner had the hopes and intentions of finishing, but wasn’t able to complete the distance.

A DNF can occur due to a variety of reasons – whether the runner go injured during the race, wound up dehydrated, ill, had digestive distress, or any other unpredictable circumstance. Deciding to DNF a race can be one of the most challenging decisions a runner has to make.

Should you push through in a race?

This is the ultimate question that so many runners grapple with. Finding the fine line between taking your body seriously and responding to its warning signals versus looking for an excuse to give up is difficult. In most cases, runners tend to push through pain and discomfort to cross the finish line.

Runners are a type that seem to associate “failure” with quitting, regardless of the circumstance. However, there are many situations where a DNF or DNS would be a smarter decision than pushing through.

Ending up with a DNF or DNS race can be devastating. Here are a few tips to make the right decision, plus how to recover afterwards.

How to Decide Whether to DNF or DNS a Race

In a few instances, it might be best to push through and continue running. Most races are not always pleasant, regardless of how well you’ve trained. Whether you’re running a long distance race or aiming for a new PR, there’s bound to be some discomfort.

However, learning how to decide whether that discomfort is normal and expected or is a sign of something more serious is key to staying safe and healthy. Here are a few things to consider when deciding whether you should DNS a race.

  • Have you been inconsistent with training?
  • Are you dealing with a prolonged illness?
  • Have you had a fever or high temperature in the days before the race?
  • Did you miss significant runs/workouts during training?
  • Have you been stressed/not feeling like yourself?
  • Are you dealing with consistent, recurring pain?
  • Do you have sharp, isolated pain when you run?

If you answer yes to any of these, it is likely a smart decision to DNS. Starting a race when dealing with a budding injury or illness will only exasperate the symptoms and greatly delay healing. If training has been inconsistent, the race will likely be incredibly challenging for your body.

If you do decide to start, it still might be smart to walk away with a DNF. Here are a few ideas to consider when deciding whether or not to DNF the race.

  • Is the issue you’re dealing with recurring or is this the first time? –> Recurring = DNF
  • Does quitting just sound like an easy way out? –> If no, DNF
  • Have you experienced any issues like this before? –> If no, DNF
  • Do you have another race coming up to try again? –> If yes, DNF

What to Do After a DNF or DNS Race

After months, or even just weeks, of training and dedicated effort, deciding to DNF or DNS a race can be incredibly difficult to recover from. Many runners feel like a failure for not pushing through in attempts to reach their goals.

In the days and weeks following a DNF/DNS race, it’s important to give yourself grace. Remind yourself that you did what was best for your body and mind – and that there will be other races. Here are a few tips to recover from the missed race.

Write it down

Some of the best lessons come from the times when we don’t meet our goals. This DNS or DNF race is a great opportunity to analyze what went wrong, and come up with a plan to prevent it in the future.

Take the time to write out your experience, go over the details, and pinpoint a few things to change for the next training season.

Recover

Regardless of whether you ran one mile of the race or decided not to start, you probably still underwent a significant portion of the training. It’s important not to lessen the amount of work your body put in, even without a medal to show for at the end.

Take time to recover as if you had run the race. Give yourself a few days off, focus on resting, reducing mileage or intensity, and getting in some active recovery.

Set new goals

One of the best ways to shift your mindset and focus on future excitement as opposed to present disappointment is to set new goals. Brainstorm what goals you might have for the future – whether it’s a second attempt at the same goals, a new distance, PR or anything in between.

Share your experience

If you’re feeling exceptionally bummed by a DNF or DNS race, it’s important to remember that this is normal. Let yourself be sad. Take the time to process what happened. Write it down, or talk it out with someone you trust.

Regardless of the reason, not accomplishing a goal after weeks or months of training is a major letdown. However, as much as we don’t want to accept it, these things happen and are a normal part of running.

Remember that there will be other races in the future, and do your best to use this experience as an opportunity to grow. It won’t be long before you’re knocking these goals out of the park.

More tips for a DNF or DNS: