A bit of a tough topic today, is it ever okay to DNF? And if so, when?
The idea of not completing a race is a bit taboo in the world of triathlon and particularly in the realm of Ironman, which prides itself on the message of 'overcoming' and 'never quit' and other short, marketable catch phrases. But is that attitude right? Should you push through at all costs?
Well, like all good tough questions, in my opinion the answer is not yes or no, but somewhere in between. Really it comes down to the reason for stopping.
Straight up I think it should be a no brainer that if you are causing yourself harm then you need to stop. If you have an injury that you are aggravating, or you have caused yourself an injury or you are doing yourself harm in anyway then the smart thing is to pull out and save yourself for another day. That is very easy to say, but when the blood is up it can often be quite hard to make the right call. I have seen countless people race past the point where they should have stopped and instead pushed on and put themselves into a long period of post race recovery or rehab. Numerous people at Busso Ironman recently are a good example. I came into T2 with Braden Currie at Challenge Iskar Puteri in 2016 when he was very clearly ill (food poisoning) and the only thing that stopped him heading out on the run was a whole bunch of people telling him not to. It was a brutal run and I shudder to think what would have happened to him out there. The list of occurrences of people racing when they probably shouldn't have is a long one. The 'finish at any cost' attitude around Ironman and similar events doesn't help this, but I also think it is in the nature of the average long course triathlete to push through, it sort of comes with the territory. Anyway for me an injury or some other form of physical harm is an obvious reason to pull out of a race.
Beyond that though and the reasoning becomes a bit more grey. Long course triathlon is an event that by its very nature will push a person right to their limit and perhaps a little bit over it. That is kind of the point. I know people who pride themselves on never DNFing a race, unless properly injured. No matter how hard it gets, they push through. I think that is quite an admirable quality. You look at the number of fans that Frodeno won at Kona by refusing to quit, even though he was obviously in considerable pain and his day was going badly. I respect that attitude a lot. In my book, stopping 'because it is hard' is not a good enough reason. Long course triathlon is hard, some days go to plan, some do not, that is what you signed up for. The fact that the race isn't what you wanted and it is hurting rather a lot isn't a good reason for a DNF.
It is very hard to make the right call during a race though. The human mind is a funny thing. When you are in the middle of a race it can be very hard to think clearly. Decisions that would seem obvious outside a race become much harder during the event. These decisions include whether or not you should stop. Sometimes a race may be very hard and your brain is looking for excuses to give you a way out. Other times you may be limping along and your brain is pushing for you to get to the finish line, despite the fact that you are obviously in pain. In the end, if you are thinking of pulling the pin in a race, try and give yourself a bit of time to think it through. This can be very hard during a race, but try not to make the decision too quickly. If you are riding perhaps slow down a bit and see if you improve. If you are running, perhaps take a bit of a walk and see if that helps. By all means if it is an injury make the call, but try not to rush the decision. In the end, once you pull the pin you can't take it back, so you want to be very sure before you make that decision.
I have DNFed from two races and one I regret to this day and the other I have never had a second doubt about. Sometimes pulling out really is the right choice, but you want to be sure before you make the decision.