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Q: Last November, I trained for five months then ran a marathon – well, I started a marathon… Race day was freezing and looking back, I don’t think I fuelled well enough or wore enough. At mile 24, I half collapsed near a drinks station (luckily).
I was checked out by the medics and fine physically after resting for a day, but since November, I haven’t been able to a) put that awful day out of my head whenever I run, and b) enter another race for fear of it happening again.
How do you come back from a DNF (Did Not Finish)? Richard B
A: I’m really sorry to hear about your race experience last November. Well done, however, for entering the marathon, getting through the training and getting through most of the race. DNFs can result in huge initial disappointment, but there’s an effective strategy used by top sport psychologists that can help you turn things around …
This is a mind tool which helps you move on once you have experienced the disappointment post-race. Think constructively and simply move the goal posts, as there’s far too much onus on a single outcome (in this case, your marathon). Sure, you pick a race, and naturally focus your energy and training on this event, but it’s still just one event in the scheme of your running life. Turn your DNF into a journey and think about what you have achieved along the way. Chances are you ran a 5k, 10k and/or half marathon as part of your marathon training plan.
Okay, so you haven’t achieved a marathon the first time but you’ve achieved a lot along the way. A classic flaw we’re all guilty of at times is not smelling the roses. As cheesy as this sounds, it’s a good point. Get into the habit of celebrating every achievement (every training run, good session, even getting out in the rain is worth an acknowledgement!) because you’ll build a healthy perspective and boost your motivation. If I’m guessing correctly, you’ve talked more about your DNF this year rather than how well your training went in the lead up to the marathon, right?
There’s that human flaw again! We do something good and don’t even notice or acknowledge it – we do something bad and we talk about it for the rest of our lives!
You also need to rebuild your confidence so start by getting back into basic training. Then do a few parkruns and shorter races, building to your goal race which may be another marathon.
And ask yourself: ‘What am I going to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?’ You learn more from failure than you do from success. You mention fuel and kit, so you’ve already worked out what to do differently next time. Successful athletes and effective coaches all go by one rule – you learn from your mistakes, so make plenty of them in training!
Practising ‘what ifs?’ in training helps minimise the risk of things going wrong on the day and if they do go wrong, you are well prepared.
Perhaps you wore warmer kit in training or simply trained in warmer weather? So perhaps you weren’t on the ball with kit as it wasn’t part of your training remit.
DNFs aren’t pleasant – if you follow the above tips, however, that DNF will soon fade far and fast behind you, and you’ll be back to training for your next race in no time. And don’t forget to celebrate that!