Posted by Filed Under: Inspiration & Motivation, Running Injuries

There are thousands of anxiety-riddled runners this month signed up for a marathon. Hundreds of them will not make it, to the start or to the finish. Some will become sick and say, “That’s it.” Some will be overwhelmed by conditions or personal turmoil and decide, “There’s just no way.” Still others will limp to the nearest medical tent or pass out on the ambulance ride to the hospital.

These situations happen in any race, but the investments are deeper and the risks greater when running 26 miles or more as fast as you can. There are more uncontrollable variables on those long journeys through spectator-clogged city streets or spectacular countryside. Sometimes we can push through the pain and even run a personal best. And sometimes, we end up with a DNF (Did Not Finish). This, by the way, is significantly different than a DNS, where you Did Not Start, which can be disappointing too, but not nearly as much as when you decide to withdraw during an event.

Listening this month to a personal essay by newspaper columnist Jon Carroll on National Public Radio reminds us that failure has its merits. Success is boring, Carroll contends. “Failure is how we learn.” That’s a pretty bold statement, but it’s one some of us are old enough to appreciate as runners. No doubt failing to finish an endurance race—especially one in which your “village” assisted and that you personally hyped—is a humbling experience. But each of us ends up stronger, one way or another.

My first marathon, I cared only about beating the straggler bus at Mile 23. The second, I mainly feared being pulled from the course when a roving EMT recognized I was badly dehydrated. On and on it went, with me losing my shorts at one very high-profile race and leaking menstrual blood at another.

My mishaps piled up, but so did my medals. By my 12th, I’d grown smug and got my comeuppance 10 miles into an easy, scenic course when I fell victim to vomiting. A tougher contender could have run through it, I knew. Eight months later, I saw yet another DNF loom on the marathon front. But I stuck it out, even knowing it would be my slowest finish.

In the months that I sat out after that marathon, I began to see who I’d become: a woman who neglected to eat properly, run smartly and acknowledge her aging body. She loved to brag about how many marathons she’d done, but conveniently fail to mention very few were done well.

I’m now a different runner, and I can already tell my body likes this one better. I have my recent failure as a marathoner to thank for that.

About Anne

Anne’s been running for so long that when two paths diverge in the woods, not only she does she know to go for the one with the most foreboding weeds, swarms of bees and steep, rocky climbs, but she convinces everyone else to come along. Then, before people are done cursing and nursing insect bites, bloody knees and poison oak outbreaks, she’ll again run — away. She eschews a lot of the newfangled devices that are supposed to make you a better runner because she believes it’s what you put into your body, not on it, that really matters. (Footwear is the exception.) That includes proper nourishment of the mind, which we all know is what really makes the difference on the road…and the trail…and the track. At some point she started to realize that not everyone has run into an Alaskan grizzly bear, been pegged by police as a robber, lost her shorts in a major marathon, rubbed elbows with Olympians, mistaken movie stars for beach bums and watched a wildfire consume her suburb - yes, while she was on a long run. Whether it’s these unique situations, or the universal ones every recreational runner encounters, after she lives it, she loves nothing better than to write about it at Run DMZ.

  1. Jeanne on October 18th at 7:46 am

    Thanks for sharing this Anne. I guess everyone deals with a DNF (or a DNS) in their own way. But learning from it is probably the best way.

  2. Melissa on October 18th at 8:07 am

    Thank you for poting this. Excellent insight!

  3. david on October 18th at 5:43 pm

    As Roseannadannarosanna once said, “It’s always something.”

  4. 21stCenturyMom on October 18th at 5:49 pm

    Great post. I love Jon Carroll – he’s so smart. I’ve run 3 marathons, all of them slower than the last and I’ve learned that I’m not going to run another unless I think I can commit to running it well. Lessons learned.

  5. Mark Iocchelli on October 18th at 7:19 pm

    I’ve experienced a number of “failures” which I also prefer to think of as “learning experiences”.

    I fail a lot and am constantly amazed at the new ways in which I can fail. I’m a slow learner.

  6. Jack on October 19th at 1:31 am

    My marathon DNF in March was the best thing that ever happened to my running, I have had a fantastic running season ever since!

  7. Soozan on October 19th at 5:59 am

    Did you write this just for me?

  8. Juls on October 19th at 9:08 am

    Well said, well written. My thoughts exactly. I recently had a DNF at the San Jose Rock ‘N Roll after the onset of foot and ankle pain at MILE 3. It was so early in the race, that I knew something bad was going on. Another DNF was added to my list, and I got to enjoy seeing the race leaders finish before hobbling home.
    ~ Thanks Anne.