My First DNS

I wish that my run this morning went so well and so painlessly that instead of writing the following post, I was writing a race preview for Big Basin Marathon.  Unfortunately, after 6 days off from running, multiple sessions of strength/rolling/stretching, daily icing, continued cross-training, and even a couple of strips of KT tape, I could not ignore the feeling of a nagging ache in my right hip as I finished 4 easy miles on the treadmill.

This morning’s run wasn’t all bad, though.  (Happy National Running Day, BTW.)  My left hip/glute and right hamstring stayed relatively quiet, which was a big #WIN in my book.  Unfortunately, in their place, an ache started in my right glute and spread though my hip joint to my TFL/hip flexor area.  It didn’t bug me until the very end of my run, so I was hopeful that it would just go away.  However, as I stepped off the treadmill, I felt the same piercing pain that had bugged me 2.5 weeks ago at Lake Chabot (a.k.a. the first installment of the traveling pain).

I knew this was a very, very bad sign for Big Basin.  For a couple of hours, I was in denial, thinking about how I could push through the pain on Sunday and still finish my first trail marathon.  Looking for advice, I texted KP, who is also signed up for Big Basin, to tell her the mixed results from my run this morning.  I mentioned that, despite the 99% chance of pain, I might start the race and see how I feel.  Because she is a good friend and a wise runner, she responded, “Why do you want to run if you will be in pain the whole time?”  Touché!

I took a hard look at the reasons why I wanted to run this race, which included:

  • it would be my first trail marathon.
  • I was excited about racing with KP. (Also I felt guilty about making her sign up in the first place.)
  • I was excited about running through Big Basin Park.
  • I was looking forward to meeting the other Jen, with whom I’ve been commiserating re: our injuries.
  • I had already paid (but I could get a partial refund). (1/2 reason)
  • it would qualify me for Marathon Maniacs. (1/4 reason)

Then, there were the arguments against racing:

  • pain… for many, many hours.  The pain was certain; the only question was where would it show up?  (Note re: pain — sure, I could take a ton of ibuprofen, but I promised myself a long time ago that I would never, ever do that just to get through a race.  It’s not worth it to me to mask the pain and risk getting a serious injury…)
  • possibly injuring myself further
  • not enjoying it, due to the above pain and injury
  • prolonging the recovery period (or basically, starting all over again)
  • if I DNF’ed (DNF = did not finish), I’d have to wait around for the aid station volunteers to finish up and hope that one of them would take me to the finish
  • a DNF is listed on your race results forever, whereas no one has to know about a DNS (DNS = did not start) … except when you write about it on your blog – ha!

Really, it boiled down to one word: REGRET.  What would I regret more, running and hurting myself, or not running at all?  Since Big Basin hadn’t entered my radar until 5 weeks ago, the regret factor was relatively easy — this was NOT a goal race, and I’d much rather get healthy and finish my first trail marathon strong and smiling instead of limping and wincing.  Not to mention, there’s the immediate future to consider — a 10 day trip to the East Coast in mid-June and the San Francisco Half Marathon (1st half) at the end of July.  I would hate to still be recovering from an injury for those occasions.  The fact that I could still get a partial refund was pretty sweet (actually, it’s race credit towards any Coastal race in the next 12 months, but it’s still better than nothing!).  And finally, getting KP’s blessing to DNS sealed the deal.

The other way you know when you’ve made the right decision is when things click into place and you just feel so much better.  When I was still thinking of running on Sunday, I was filled with doubt and trepidation.  Many of the runners that I know well and trust advised me not to run, and I stubbornly ignored them, even though I knew they were right.  Once I made the decision to DNS, I felt great.  A weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I felt extremely relieved.

So, what’s next??  I’m not sure, except that there will be no running in my immediate future as I continue to do strengthening exercises.  And when I do start feeling strong enough, I’ll start with very short runs and slowly build up mileage (like a smart person), especially now that I’m not pressured to run a marathon anytime soon.  With this recent injury rollercoaster, I have to admit to feeling a little bit sad and frustrated, like I’ll never run long distances again, but I just have to remember to be patient and keep on working.  Hopefully, I’ll be back before I know it.

Have you ever DNF’ed and/or DNS’ed?  If you’ve done both, which was worse and why?


Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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Posted in Injuries
26 comments on “My First DNS
  1. Cathryn says:

    I’m so sorry that you’re not running but I totally think it’s the right decision. Better to rest now and race later than DNF AND not be able to run for ages. It sounds like you know you made the right call too and I’m really glad you’re peaceful about the decision. Pick a Coastal race in the Autumn and I’ll race it too 🙂

    I DNFd that trail half in Pacifica when I hurt my ankle for the third time in two months. Totally don’t regret it. Went on to PR in the 10k and Half Marathon in the next few months and my ankle’s not given me any trouble since (touch wood). I think DNS and DNF (in the right situations) are wise decisions!!!

  2. I’ve said this before, but DNF is waaaaaaay worse than DNS. I’ve actually DNS’d 3-4 races. One was due to food poisoning the night before (and same situation as you, I had convinced a friend to run), and another was I decided it wasn’t worth the cost of flight+hotel. It’s actually why I’m hesitant to sign up for races so far in advance nowadays, because I may just change my mind, or like your case, I’m just not physically ready to run. These days I prefer to sign up last minute, though prices are higher. In fact, both Oakland Full and Livermore Half this past March, I signed up for the day before. I have commitment issues, clearly (=

    But once I start a race, you literally have to wheel me out on a stretcher before I’ll give up. Here’s my rationale: once you DNF once, I think the bar gets lower to DNF again. I liken it to walking in a marathon… once you walk once, you lose that edge, and you don’t feel the need to push yourself to keep running without having to walk again. I never walk just once in a marathon. It’s either a number of times, or none at all. And I think DNF is the same way. If I do it even once, I feel like I’m going to keep doing it if the going gets bad (and trust me, the going gets bad A LOT for me).

    I do feel it’s the right decision to DNS. The thing about trail marathons… there are very few checkpoints. On a regular road race, if you need assistance, you’re rarely more than a few hundred meters from someone who can lend you help. But in a trail marathon, 99% of the time, you’re on your own (unless you’re sticking with another runner / friend). You can probably count the number of spectators on your fingers. Help is not always nearby. And cellphone reception is usually spotty at best. So a trail race is not the best type of race to run at less than 90-100%.

    So yes, you’re doing the right thing (=

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, Dennis. I agree with your point about lowering the bar in regards to DNFs. It’s like, once you decide you *can* quit, it’s so much easier to keep doing that. I know that’s definitely true with walking during a marathon (nice analogy, BTW).

      Also, good point about trail races not being as well-supported as road races. Late last week, I actually emailed the RD and made sure that I could DNF at the aid stations… which screams Red Flag #1, but I thought I was being responsible. 😉

      • If you needed further reinforcement you made the right decision, my friend ran it. She said there was 9 miles between the 3rd and 4th aid station, and with 90ºF temps, you can imagine it being pretty brutal out there.

        • Jen says:

          Yep. My friend Kate told me the same thing… plus they ran out of water at the first 2 aid stations! She ended up power walking 18 miles due to constant overheating.

  3. Dan says:

    Given how much you love running and racing, it must have taken a lot of deep, meditative contemplation (or just ass tons of pain) to get you to DNS. Runners are a stubborn bunch and will often run through injuries just for the sake of pride, or in my stupid case, hitting arbitrary training numbers that a.) don’t mean anything and b.) no one cares about.

    As someone who has DNF’d once, I’m sure the feeling is similar. It sucks, plain and simple. You feel like you put in a ton of work for no payoff, that you probably weren’t cut out for the sport, and that your next healthy step is months away. But then you figure out what needs tweaking and everything starts falling into place.

    By opting out of Big Basin, you’re making that comeback so much easier. Trust me, I’ve tried to run through injuries and all it does it set you back farther. Good thing there are plenty of other races out there, calling your name, hoping to shoulder the inevitable long-distance vindication.

    • Jen says:

      Yes, you’re right — I agonized this over this decision for a while, long after the rational side of me had already decided it would be really, really stupid to run a trail marathon with my symptoms. A runner’s pride/addiction/stubbornness is not something that should be underestimated! But I know I made the right decision, and seeing everyone’s supportive comments just reinforces that. Now, I just have to figure out what needs tweaking and fix it! Thanks, Dan.

  4. Kate says:

    Jen, you totally made the right decision, and not just because I told you too 🙂 I also think that if you go into a race thinking that DNF is an option, you are far more likely to actually use that option.And then you’d have us both sitting around at an aid station in the middle of the redwoods without any real food or beer while we waited for a transport vehicle. Because you don’t think I’d actually leave you during a race that we planned to run together the whole way, do you?

    • Jen says:

      Hahaha, thanks Kate! I didn’t think you’d run with me — if I had known, I would’ve decided to DNS a long time ago! I couldn’t bear to make you slog and wait with me. Thanks again for talking some sense into me, and good luck on Sunday!

  5. Amy says:

    This is such a smart decision, and if there has to be one DNS on your record, at least it wasn’t on a goal race, or even one that you had been anticipating for months ahead of time. And partial refund??? That is a gift, my friend. And of course you will run distance again! Heal up, enjoy your weightless shoulders, and you’ll be a Maniac in no time!

    • Jen says:

      Well, now that you’ve put it that way… yes, I have a lot to be thankful despite the DNS. It could definitely be worse! Thanks for the positivity! 🙂

  6. I agree with everyone else that says this is a smart decision. Get all healed up!

  7. Dominick S. says:

    Im glad you still possess common sense.

  8. Mike says:

    Forget “Did Not Start”… veteran runners know DNS really stands for “Did Nothing Stupid”. Good call on Big Basin!

  9. Grace says:

    You did the smart thing – gives your body time to heal! After all, you want to be able to run for a long, long time to come. (It’s a *really* long game.) I’ve DNSed and DNFed. DNF is worse. With the former at least you get more sleep…

  10. Good for you – I think you made the right decision. Sorry about the DNS but it’s far better to not run now so you can run later. Speaking of…heading the East Coast anytime soon?

    • Jen says:

      Thanks, Kate. I’m flying out to the East Coast next Sunday — I’ll be in the Outer Banks for almost a week and then in the DC/MD area for 5 days. Do you have any plans to be in the mid-Atlantic?

  11. Jan says:

    Sorry you weren’t able to start, but it sounds like a very smart decision. Your friend’s advice was dead on–it probably wouldn’t have been fun even if you did force yourself to do it! You are young and there are LOTS of races in your future still! Hugs to you!

  12. […] you received? This is a hard one… I think I have to go with those of you who encouraged me to skip the Big Basin Trail Marathon.  I’m positive that I would’ve been sidelined a lot longer with my ambiguous hip […]

  13. […] was supposed to run my first trail marathon last year, but DNS’d due to a hip/glute injury. It felt right to reach this milestone before tackling my first […]

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