Beginner’s Luck: The Art of the DNS (Did Not Start)

Four ways to know that sleeping in on race day might be the best race plan of all.

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Four ways to know that sleeping in on race day might be the best race plan of all.

Heading into Ironman Louisville in 2015, I was extremely positive and hoping to redeem myself from the horrific race (albeit a finish) that was my Ironman Lake Placid a few months earlier. I was feeling hopeful, and ready to race. Then I went on a bike ride about 12 weeks prior to race day and I crashed, landing on the same hip that already dealt with labreal tear issues—the result of the crash? I couldn’t lift my leg to get onto my bike. Small detail. (“Well, get on the other side!” Not that easy. Couldn’t really stand on it single-legged either. Quite a quandary.) Still, I pushed on and I was about 50% better. With less than four weeks until race day, I had finally pushed my riding mileage up to what would be somewhat of an acceptable “Hail Mary” ride distance pre-Ironman, and *WHAM*—my car was t-boned at 55 mph by a driver running a red light. On top of that, we had a death in the family. It was pretty easy to look down the line four weeks and say, “Yeah, I am not going to even show up to Ironman Lou.”

But I showed up that day. I raced, and it went down as the Best Race Ever for me. At least, that was the hashtag I used, and honestly, it was a really great race. Most of all, I enjoyed it.

So, in light of those circumstances, how did I know that showing up and racing was the “right” call? In circumstances like this, with the looming question of “should I start this race or not,” I like to ask myself these questions:

How undertrained am I?

I would pose the question of “did I train enough?—but that is a rabbit-hole type question. I mean, do we ever train perfectly? What about “that one” workout we missed? Asking if we did “enough” is such a loaded question that I like to frame it in another way. By asking how much I am undertrained, I am considering if I am rested from recovering from workouts, or rested from sheer missing of workouts. I am considering my base fitness. In the cast of my Ironman Louisville pre-race debacles, I considered that I had a substantial base of fitness under me from racing Lake Placid only three months earlier, and of course, the training that led up to it. If we are slightly undertrained, that’s okay. If we didn’t bother to show up to the vast majority of our workouts, then that’s a factor to consider.

Is my heart on FIRE for this race?

Undertraining might be (ever so slightly) overcome by the desire to do the race, and the mental fortitude and burning fire in the soul to finish. Notice that I said “undertraining,” not “no training whatsoever.” So if you had a tough run of it, like I did leading up to Louisville, but your heart is on fire and you are determined to make it happen, this is a pretty big plus. However, if the circumstances leading up to the race have taken the air out of your balloon, then maybe it’s not the right time.

What is the worst-case scenario?

With this question, I try to keep out the “really bad” worst case. I think more along the lines of surface-level worst case: I will need to quit at the next aid station. I will have to do some walking on the run. If the damage or potential worst case is relatively “minor,” then it might be something to overcome. However, being injured and risking further injury, missing out of a big family life-event, being undertrained and having no business tackling a race of that distance … those are all valid reasons for considering a DNS.

Will this race make me better, in some way, shape or form?

Will racing improve my fitness, emotional state, heart or soul? If the answer is “no” to any of the foregoing, then it’s likely a prime candidate for a DNS. After all, we do this sport for the love, the benefits and the memories. If none of those are good, then what’s the point in showing up? Save the money and sleep in (this time).

What race did you NOT start, and you know it was the right thing to do? Share your stories and tag @Swimbikemom and @Triathletemag.

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