What If I Can’t Finish a Race?

nyc marathon

I’m sure most runners can tell you about at least DNF (Did Not Finish) race story. For me, it was a half marathon in Brooklyn.  I remember pulling my calf muscle at mile 3 and knowing that I was in way too much pain to continue. It was disappointing and frustrating to not cross the finish line, but I realized it wasn’t the end of the world – just something that comes with the territory when you’re a runner.

How to Avoid the DNF

Yes, it’s possible that you may not finish a race. And many runners, especially marathoners, have fears (and pre-race nightmares!) about not finishing a race they started. But, there’s a much greater likelihood that you will finish!  So, try not to be consumed with thoughts of not finishing. Focus on all the things that you can control – your race training, what you should be doing before the race, your race outfit, and your pre-race nutrition and hydration. Try to avoid making common racing mistakes, such as running too much the week of your race, trying something new on race day, or starting out too fast. Focus on doing relaxing activities and easing your pre-race anxiety.

If you’re worried about making the race cut-off time, make sure you’re not wasting time waiting in line for porta-potties during the race (get to the start early and go there!)  Overhydrating can also lead to frequent porta-potty stops, so make sure you’re not taking in more fluids than you need. Drink when you’re thirsty and don’t force yourself to drink water if you don’t really need it.

If you’re concerned about starting out too fast and having nothing left in the final miles, incorporate walk breaks from the beginning of your race. Race participants who use a run/walk strategy often find that they run a faster overall pace than if they tried to run the entire race.

If you’re dealing with an injury, weigh the pros and cons of doing the race. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about possible risks and whether it’s smart thing to do it.  It’s never an easy decision, but try to remember that there will always be other races.  And try some of these strategies to deal with the emotional impact of a running injury.

What If I Have to Drop Out of a Race?

There may be a time when you have to drop out of a race, so it’s always good to be prepared. Some large half marathons and marathons have sweep buses that move along the course and pick up runners and walkers who are injured or those behind the cut-off time pace.  The bus will pick you up and bring you to the finish area so you can meet up with your friends or family members.

If there’s no sweep bus, there still should be race officials on the course who can help get you to the finish area or let you use their phone to call someone to get you.  If you don’t see a race official near you, look for the closest water stop or medical aid station and see if one of the race volunteers can help you.

If you’re nervous about not finishing, you may want to carry your cell phone with you so you can easily get in touch with someone to pick you up. It also helps to carry a copy of the course map so that you can figure out where you are on the course and give directions to someone picking you up.

Don’t beat yourself up about not finishing!  It’s takes a lot of courage and commitment to get to the starting line – be proud of yourself for making the attempt.  Think about what went wrong and what you might change for next time. Then pick another race and focus on that!

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