People are going to call me an asshole.
I wanted to write about my feelings and experiences with the phrase DNF. Some people think DNF is a dirty word in the running and/or ultra-running world. Some people think it means someone is weak. Some people believe it means the runner "did nothing fatal." After a post about a DNF on social media you will often see scores of compliments, accolades and encouragement. Some people are very embarassed about the fact that they DNF'ed. Some see it as a badge of honor. Someone I deeply admire once told me that you know you have arrived as an ultra runner when you 1) finish a 100 mile race; 2) DNF a 100 mile race; and 3) throw up during a 100 mile race, and still finish. So what is a "DNF"? At its simplest level it is an acronym for a very simple phrase:
Did not finish.
If you run ultramarathons long enough there is a very good chance you will at one point or another fail to finish a race. If you start a race and fail to finish a race it is a DNF. Period. (and if you just doubted this "BUT....." please know...everything after the "BUT" is bullshit).
I'm going to state the obvious. Running Ultramarathons is hard. A lot can go wrong. The race may last a half of a day or several days. It may be 31 miles or hundreds of miles. During the course of these events many people routinely: get lost; stop having fun; feel immense amounts of pain; get stuck in snow/rain/extreme cold/extreme heat/extreme humidity/rain storms/hail/sleet etc. Moreover, people get Injured (meaning they suffer an objective and identifiable trauma to their body that generally requires medical attention)(i.e. took a header and are gushing blood). Or sometimes they get "Injured" (meaning something hurts in the moment which is generally normal when you run for ultramarathon distances but no medical attention needed)(i.e. "my knee issue started acting up"). We also get tired. We give up. We quit on ourselves. We get sick. We decide "we're not having fun anymore" We get pulled from the course by race officials for taking too long or appearing to be injured.
If you run ultramarathons long enough you will experience one or more of these phenomena. Depending on how you feel on any given day you might seccumb to these and make the decision to stop running. Conversely, you might fight through them and continue and hopefully finish the race. A race official could make the decision for you and pull you. Each and every one of these can result in exactly the following outcome:
You did not finish.
I've DNF'ed twice. Once I was a complete wimp, didn't respect the distance and gave up on myself. (KM 100). In the other, I broke my toe (Farmdale 50). In both instances I did not finish. Neither felt good. One felt humiliating. Life went on.
I can promise you that if you run for a very long distance a voice in your head might try to convince you to give up. That voice can be extremely convincing. What might seem like a soreness can turn into a "possible stress fracture." It's not hard to decide that you "don't want to jeopardize the rest of your racing season." If you run long enough every single adverse condition listed above will hit you. Whether or not someone seccumbs to them and DNF's is a personal decision.
Nonetheless, know this. If you get on the start line and attempt to run an ultramarathon you are attempting to do something most people can never imagine doing and that is admirable. You are, to some extent a badass. If you DNF you aren't a wimp, or a loser, or a failure. You're no better or worse than anyone else. You just couldn't finish today. There's no better reason. Don't try to justify it. Just take it for what it is:
You did not finish.