The DNF & Why It’s Not So Bad…


“Without Risk No Great Rewards Will Ever Be Gained”


dnfOver the past couple of days post Vermont I have surfed the social media world and seen many different opinions of the recent Spartan Race World Championships and the Ultra Beast. Many finished and achieved new personal bests, conquering fears, overcoming adversity and crossing the finish line a new person. On the flip side I have also seen a stream of posts about people who Did Not Finish or DNF. This post is not for those who finished the race, whether it took you under 4 hours or you struggled to cross the finish line after 12 or 13 hours of racing, I congratulate you, own your finish own your achievement. No, this post is for those who fell short and forever will have a DNF next to their name.


First off a DNF is not as bad as you think it is! If it’s your first DNF it’s a tough sting to take, hard to tell friends and loved ones that your best just wasn’t enough. Hard to swallow the bitter pill after spending months and sometimes years training for that one moment in time. Don’t get me wrong a DNF sucks, but a the end of the day it’s not that bad! Yeah you don’t have the shiny new medal to show off at the water cooler or hang on the wall, but you were still there and you still did it (well part of it).


When I first experienced a DNF it was World’s Toughest Mudder in 2011, it was devastating, and soul crushing. After racing I spoke with many more experienced athletes they gave me much needed insight during a tough time. My favorite person who has helped me greatly during some of my failures is Michelle Roy, her experience and honesty has helped me more than one or two times. Below is part of a greater blog she wrote on DNF’ing and one I encourage you to read… DNF aka Don’t Be That Person

If  a race has at least one finisher and its not you… well… you don’t really have an excuse for why it wasn’t you… other than you did not finish..

Why do we have to feel so embarrassed by our failures that we need to tell our friends and often times perfect strangers all these reasons for the fact that we did not finish?  

I say lets embrace our DNF’s
it is a DNF not a DNS
you my friend started the race…
and that is more than half the battle…

When you don’t finish a race
don’t waste your breath with the million and one excuses why…
own your DNF
its yours and it means something
if you are at all cognizant of the world around you well then your DNF has probably taught you a valuable lesson
learn from it 
and say:

I did not finish…
but you know what?
I will be back to try again

A note about Michelle, she is an experienced Ultra Runner who has attempted the Peak 500 (yes 500 mile running race the last two years in a row) and is known on the east coast to race back to back ultras in a weekend. It is from her experience in Ultra Running I learned about how to deal with DNF’s. Guess what in the world of Ultra’s DNF’s happen and happen to even the best. 


What most people don’t realize about a DNF is it is a perfect learning opportunity. It is a chance to find out your strengths and your weaknesses. It teaches us that we need to work harder to achieve the goal next time. In our world today where “everyone is a winner” mentality a DNF can actually be a powerful tool to make us better people. Because in reality, we aren’t meant to succeed all the time. Sometimes our good is not good enough no matter how hard we try. Maybe you weren’t trained enough, maybe you jumped up in distance too fast, maybe you didn’t pace correctly, maybe your nutrition failed you, maybe you just weren’t prepared, whatever it was your best was not good enough THAT DAY. Maybe tomorrow the outcome would have been different but not that day, so move on. If in the case of Vermont you didn’t finish, use it as motivation to get after training come back to Vermont next year and finish what you started, if you are determined enough you will find a way to succeed next time. Delayed gratification is not a bad thing.


I was disheartened when I read a few comments basically saying they DNF’ed the Beast but felt they should get a medal for all they did do, sorry but no you don’t get a medal you didn’t finish, go home, train harder, come back next year and really earn it. If your only motivation was to get a medal or get one that glows in the dark, then it might be time to look at the reasons why you are racing.


I heard several times on the course on Sunday, “I want that glow in the dark medal”. Medals are cool but a few years from now they will be tarnished and probably in a box or closet, twenty years from now they may have gone to the recycling bin or donated away. It’s not the medal that should be the motivation for racing, but the people you race against and the places you are able to go. I looked around several times while racing on Sunday and just took in where I was, how I was healthy enough to even make 13 miles of the course, after spending most of June and part of July on crutches. For the weekend warrior, just getting out on the course might be an achievement.


487972_10152246943704778_1065296968_nAs Michelle said, own your DNF, I have learned more from my DNF’s than I have from my finishes often times. Also a DNF allows you to respect the race more, respect it’s difficulty. And when you go back and finish the race next year it will be that much more meaningful to you. Just ask Dirt in Your Skirt’s Heather Cammarata who was pulled after missing a time cut-off on the Ultra Beast in 2012 then came back this year to race the Beast and Ultra Beast finishing 5th for women on Sunday. Her smile at the finish line and sense of accomplishment was palpable.


Own your success, own your failure, learn from both and move forward…

Margaret Schlachter

About Margaret Schlachter

Margaret Schlachter is Founder of She has been part of the OCR Community since 2010. When not working on the next article she can be found running from race-to-race. She is Editor-in-Chief of She authored the book Obstacle Race Training.
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One Response to The DNF & Why It’s Not So Bad…

  1. AndyThom says:

    Great post again, Margaret! I’ve had a few DNFs and they usually tend to light a fire under my ass. This summer I DNF’d at a 100 mile race due to trenchfoot. I made it 75 miles and had to stop. I got nothing, no medal or record saying that I accomplished what I did. There was a 50 mile option in the race and everyone who signed up for that and finished got an award. Yet I went further and got a DNF. In no way am I complaining. In fact, I think it was completely fair and shouldn’t have been handled any other way. Just trying to illustrate another type of stinging DNF to add to the list. But, you can bet your ass I’ll be hitting the same race again in 2014 and looking for different results.

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