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#MyTri: I DNFed All My Races. Here’s Why I’m Coming Back

Despite her big goals for the 2021 race season, Melissa Rudolph didn't cross a single finish line. But her story isn't over yet - not even close.

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You couldn’t have had a more perfect weather day for Ironman Maryland in September of 2021. I was admiring the scenery from the boat riding back to the swim start because I was picked up and officially leaving the first leg as a DNF.


Not finishing races was the theme of that year. I had trained through COVID-19, when the races I signed up for were all canceled. Eagleman 70.3 in June was my first attempt at a live triathlon of any distance. I made it through the swim, but was too slow on the bike. At one point I passed an older gentleman stopped along the side of the road helping to move a turtle. He came back to pass me a few minutes later.

I missed the bike cutoff by about 10 minutes at mile 46. I went back to the YMCA where I had camped the night before, cried in the shower, then packed up my tent and drove home.

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My “A” race was next: Ironman Lake Placid. A high five from Mike Reilly at the swim start solidified my excitement for the day. But while I was on the swim, something worked its way into my inner ear – what, I’m not sure. As I approached the first aid station, I asked a medic and the volunteers if they had any rubbing alcohol or something I could use to get whatever it was out because I was feeling dizzy. “We don’t have anything that would help with that. But, have you done the Keene Descent yet?”

“No, this is my first loop,” I responded, eager to get back on my way.

“I don’t think you should continue,” the medic answered. “It’s not safe for you to go down if you have the least bit of dizziness.” I worked on my ear a few more minutes and thought about all that time and training and how disappointing it was to consider that this would be the end of the day for me. But, he was right. I borrowed a volunteer’s phone to call my husband John.

Later, my family and I drove part of the bike course. “You rode up this hill? John asked incredulously.”


“And this one?”

“Yes. I got UP the hills, it just wasn’t safe to go down them.”

I figured all of the hard work shouldn’t be wasted, so I signed up for Ironman Maryland in September as a chance for redemption, and – well, you know what happened there. I can blame the jellyfish, I can blame feeling overheated in my wetsuit, but I was really just drained. I didn’t have it in me mentally to do that race, even though the conditions were perfect.

What I learned from a year of DNFs

At first I was embarrassed to tell my friends and family that I had failed all those times. But most of them were astonished that I had even attempted long distance triathlon. None of the training was a waste. The work put me in remission from chronic illness and has given me the strength to handle physical and mental life challenges. I have endurance when it matters most.

I took a year to scale back, as suggested by my coaches and family. I went to a local Olympic distance race. It was hillier than I expected, and it rained.  I couldn’t believe it when I got off the bike and went to transition two: “I’m actually running!” I yelled. I hadn’t made it to the last leg in any other races. Still in the rain, I plodded along and was surprised to see John under an umbrella at the last aid station, handing me my cup of water.

“I’ll see you at the finish line,” he said. And, I finally finished. I was the last runner, so they gave me three whole pizzas.

But, the long course still calls to me. The discipline of training is truly what I love the most. This year,  I will head back to Maryland in September to tri again. May this be the year I finish!

RELATED: What Happens At The Back Of The Pack?

Melissa Rudolph is the author of The Year I Didn’t Finish. She lives in Maryland and is a pastor,  wife, and mother of seven. She is also a black belt in taekwondo, which took her 27 years to accomplish.

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