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Guest Blog: Surviving a DNF


Posted by Chris Stetler of Never Trade under Duathlon on 2 November 2012 at 12:00 AM

Chris S has been a runner since 2007 and has started lookig into multi-sports, here's her article about her experience of DNF in a duathlon earlier this year:

Chris Stetler Tribesports ProfileWhether you are a competitive elite athlete or an amateur, not finishing a race is a blow to the ego. Months of training, preparation (mental and physical), and sweat all build up on race day and it’s not easy to let go the disappointment of not crossing the finish line.

In June 2011 I started, but did not finish the Keystone Warrior duathlon. I trained for approximately three and a half months for the cycling portion and having been a runner since 2007, I continued with short runs to keep my stamina up knowing I had the running ability to pull it off. The cycling training took center stage, quickly followed by brick training. I had never run then cycled or cycled then ran. This was a skill I needed to perfect.

In the month leading up to my first half marathon in February 2011, I decided to compete in the Keystone Warrior duathlon. I chose the duathlon over the triathlon because at the time I had no access to a pool, but I knew I could run and I had a bike (a 20 year old hand-me-down, but a bike). I started training the second I got my bike back from the shop with new tires and a tune-up (March 2011).  By May I was doing bricks of run/cycle or cycle/run during the week and on weekends doing a full duathlon training sessions – run/bike/run.

Chris S entering transitions  

Come race day, I felt I was ready. I was surprisingly not nervous. The first run was a three mile trail run, which I had not realized before.

Chris S entering trail

I didn’t train to run on a trail. I came into the transition area last. I thought this would be the case, but it was slightly disheartening. I got on the road with my bike and realized there was no one ahead of me, though the other racers were sweet and yelled out encouragement from the other side of the street. I rode.
Chris S riding in the DuathlonAnd then I rode right past the turn-around because the cone indicating the turn had been removed. Eventually a truck came up and the driver told me I had gone too far. I turned around and headed back. The ride back was trying, the emotions and the physical battling it out. I knew a police officer was at the turn back into the transition area, he was there as I exited. By the time I got back, he had left and no indication of the turn point was left. I proceeded to pass the turn. The truck found me and the driver again told me to turn around. This is where the DNF was decided. I put my head on my handlebars and cried. I made the fateful decision to get back to the transition area and drop out. The emotions were too high.

I entered the transition area, put the bike up, and found the coordinator. I informed the race officials I was out and turned in my timing chip. I was both angry at the race and at myself. I packed my gear up and headed back to the car. It was disappointing and embarrassing. Months of training turned into this. My first DNF.

At the time, I didn’t know whether I would do another; the feelings of the moment strongly saying no. Why would I want to put myself through that again? What made me believe I would finish one if I couldn’t finish this one?

Chris S Atlantic City half marathonSince June 2011 I have run two half marathons, five 5ks, one 8k, one 5 miler, and two 10ks (and completed them). Not finishing the duathlon made me question my athletic abilities, but not my running one. I knew I could continue to train and run races. It did make me feel my overall athletic skills were lacking. This did not make me feel any better about myself and that DNF. I wondered if I just wasn’t good enough, strong enough to do a multi-sport event.

But with time comes perspective. Some people know immediately a course of action. I did not. I wanted to say I would I wanted it to be a bucket list kinda thing. But, I’m slightly competitive. Not necessarily with others, but with myself. I suppose the vast majority of us amateur athletes are. Over the last year and a half, time has healed some of the anger and has made me start to wonder if I can do it, made me want to prove to myself I can do it. 

To anyone who has a DNF on their athletic resume, I understand your pain. But, as I am realizing, it does not define me as an athlete. I do that. I can hold my head high whether I choose to do another duathlon or not. Every athlete has that one race, whether it’s a did not start, did not finish, injury, or fill in the blank that haunts them. I’m sure Ryan Hall felt these emotions when he dropped out of the Olympic marathon in London 2012.

As athletes, it is easy to internalize these feelings, but as I learnt life throws curve balls and it is our choice to be hit by the ball or hit it out of the park.

  • Encourage

    encouraged this.



    Thank you for sharing your experiences Chris, you were in there having a go, trying your best, that is all you can ask of yourself. You have to put yourself out there, challenge yourself to grow, both in physical and mental strength. You have built resilience, and your strength of character will see you through many more races, whatever the outcome.

    Ian L encouraged this.


    I love this quote: “Sport is not about winning gold medals. It’s about self-esteem, learning to compete and learning how hard you have to work in order to achieve your goals.” Jackie Joyner-Kersee

    encouraged this.


    Thank you for sharing Chris. I had to give up a race this year due to injury and it was a bitter experience having to admit to myself I couldn't participate. And the disappointment is not about winning or losing since I have no expectation of ever winning a race. It's just the disappointment of not getting a chance to try. You raced your heart out and it wasn't your day, but you haven't let it get to you and next time, you'll be awesome! Wishing you the best in your training and your upcoming races.

    Ian L encouraged this.


    Thank you for your kind words on my post and DNF. It's never a good experience, but it's one (hopefully) one can learn from. Jamie, my husband has had two DNSs this year and while it wasn't me, I can understand the frustration of it. I hope you heal quickly and can get back at it soon!

    Ian L and Jamie L encouraged this.


    I had to give up a race today Chris due to injury it was to be my longest run to date 16 miles and watching all the other guys running round the course and friends running 16 miles for the first time made it harder to take but it has made me more determind to get fit again and give it my best shot next time, glad to hear you are back on target and thanks for sharing..

    Jamie L encouraged this.


    Thank your for your words, Chris. I know the feeling when you can't do something you want. I tried to run a half (my first) like 3 months ago, but three weeks before I had a knee injury for overtraining so I couldn't compete. It's really frustrating, but after that kind of situations you learn that you can follow even further than you have imagined.

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