DEFINING MOMENT: What is Real Meaning of ‘DNF’?

DNF is an acronym for “Did Not Finish.”

In regards to running, it’s unceremoniously placed next to the names of the people who never crossed the finish line of a particular race. You can usually find this unflattering distinction on the race web site and/or buried in the results of the local newspaper.

There are probably thousands and thousands of people who have unintentionally joined this infamous club.

Well, I am NOT proud to say that I’m now an official card-carrying member.

At mile 24 of the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, I walked off the course and into the medical tent. I didn’t take one more step towards completing my third marathon.

My only glimpse of the finish line was through the ambulance window. I was being transported to a Nashville hospital for dehydration. (Symptoms: Severe cramps, nausea, light-headedness, wounded pride.)

No cheering crowds during the last .2 miles.

No sense of accomplishment.

No medal around my neck.

It wasn’t until I was discharged from the hospital – three hours and two bags of saline later – when the wave of emotions hit me. (It was like someone wearing out my soul with a baseball bat.)

I was calling friends and family to let them know that I was fine. (Very tired, very sore, extremely hungry – but fine.)

While I was on the phone with my mom, I just started to cry.

All I could think about was “DNF” – not the actual meaning and/or the fact that it would be next to my name forever in the Archived Results on the Marathon web site.

I just couldn’t stop thinking about what it represented:

• All my hard work over the last 16 weeks was for nothing.

• I set a goal and I was unable to reach it. (Probably the hardest thing to swallow.)

My emotions generated unnerving questions:

• Could I have kept going? (It was ONLY two more miles!!!!)

• Did I quit?

• Did I sell myself short?

• What did I do wrong? (Training? Diet? The way I approached the race?)

I played back every mile of the race, which kept the questions flowing:

• Too fast in mile 7 (WHY?)

• Let the long hill at mile 12 get into my head (WHY?)

• Not enough fluids after mile 13 (WHY?)

• Mile 16…I actually said to myself, “I’m in trouble.” (WHY?)

• Mile 17…started to cramp (WHY?)

• Mile 20…started to have doubts (WHY?)

• Mile 24….”Sir, are you OK?”…. “I don’t think so.” (WHY DID I SAY THAT?)

This was going to be my last marathon. My plan was to break the 4-hour barrier and switch to half marathons, adventure races, and triathlons. The training had taken its toll, and my love of lacing up my sneakers and hitting the pavement was bruised.

I had decided that Nashville was going to be the last time my legs carried me 26.2 miles.

Not finishing EVER crossed my mind, though.

As the warm tears cut through the salt residue on my cheeks, I realized that I HAD to run one more. I couldn’t finish my brief “marathon career” with a DNF.

Since I accidentally left my confidence in the back of that ambulance, my doubt made me cry harder. I kept asking myself, “Can I do it again? Can I do it again?”

Well, it’s been 32 hours since I uttered those four pride-piercing words (“I don’t think so”) to the marathon medical staff.

Believe it or not it, the healing process has already started. (All the encouraging messages I received AND writing this blog post have helped considerably, but the fact that I’ve stopped feeling sorry myself and I’m now pissed off has changed my focus.)

I am more motivated than I have EVER been.I’ve already decided that I am running the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in San Antonio on November 15th. (I start training the second week of August…IN THE HEAT.)

I WILL FINISH.

I WILL BREAK 4 HOURS.I WILL MAKE GOOD ON ALL THE FINANCIAL SUPPORT THAT I RECEIVED FOR NASHVILLE (donations to Back on My Feet).

As we were packing up to come home from Nashville, I almost threw away my race number. I didn’t want to be reminded about that race in any shape, form, or fashion.

Then I remembered what Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the Blue Devils got rolled in the ACC Tournament one year (109-66 loss to Virginia).

After the embarrassing loss, one of his staff members said with good intentions, “…here’s to forgetting tonight ever happened.”Coach K quickly interjected, “Here’s to never forgetting tonight happened. Not ever.”

I must never forget about the 10th Annual Country Music Marathon. In the long run, this actually may be the race that ends up defining me.

I whole-heartedly support an organization (Back on My Feet) that helps individuals pick themselves up when they stumble, encourages them to dust themselves off, and most importantly inspires them to keep fighting.If I felt sorry for myself for one more second (or remained embarrassed and/or defeated), I would be a hypocrite.

I didn’t finish the 2009 Nashville Marathon. I’m not proud of that reality, but I’ve accepted it.

That DNF next to my name stands for “Do Not Forget.”

I won’t. It’s time to get back on my feet and fight.

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