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Beginner’s Luck: When to Soldier on … And When to Call It a Day

Beginner's Luck author Meredith Atwood on navigating the tough moments of a race.

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In last week’s Beginner’s Luck installment, the topic touched on the fact that sometimes, the DNS (Did Not Start) may be a great plan for a race. But when should we, relentlessly, pursue on? What about the art of the DNQ (Did Not Quit)? In the middle of the hurt locker, when we truly don’t know how we can go one step further, how do we know when to soldier on, or call it a day?

Take a Breath, and Laugh

One of the first things that I recommend to folks who start triathlon is to maintain their sense of humor, no matter what. This is also a good idea on race day. Remember to laugh a little through the tears, smile through the pain, and move forward with a sense of joy.

Enjoy the Pain

From a starting point, one must also understand that pain and suffering is a large part of our glorious sport. At some point during every race, there will likely be a large pain factor associated with the activity going on at present. Accept it, breathe it in, and allow the pain to be a part of the process. Of course, we don’t want to hurt beyond injury, but you know what I mean. Don’t quit because it hurts—because you know what? The pain will stop when you stop … so you might as well keep going until you get the finish.

Tell Your Head to Shut It

Our minds will lie lie lie to us during a race. Our heads will tell us that we are going to die. Our minds will tell us that we see dead people. Do not listen to the voice in your head during a race, unless it is saying helpful, inspiring and happy things. Before and after the race, you can listen to other voices—but during the race, the head is just full of nonsense. And like my momma always told me, unless you are saying something nice, don’t say anything. If my head isn’t saying nice things, then I just don’t listen.

Envision the Success

One of the single greatest tools to many finishes and no (as of yet) DNQs comes from this small tip: I envision the finish line and what I am going to eat afterwards. Simple enough, but the carrot of the finisher’s medal and a post-race “treat” meal goes a very long way during the suffering. When the road and the race gets difficult, remember how hard you worked and how much you are going to enjoy that amazing meal with your friends and family afterwards. I never knew that a salty pile of handcut French fries was something that could get my butt moving. But truth.

Absent a really gnarly injury, crash, accident or illness on a race course, I would think it’s best to solider on during a race. Maybe you won’t walk away with the PR you wanted, or the race you “deserved.” But I do believe that the regret of quitting for a less-than-major reason tends to yield far greater regrets than that of not starting, or not finishing within the race cutoff. Like I always say: just keep moving forward. Oftentimes, you might be surprised where it takes you.

How do you navigate through the tough moments of a race? Tweet us at @Swimbikemom and @Triathletemag.