When to Quit (DNF'ing) Both Serious and Humorous


Experience From -
Larry Miller , Jay Hodde , Rich Schick , Blade Norman , Geri Kilgraff , William Turrentine , Guy LeVan , Gillian Robinson , Dan Baglione ,

M. Williams , Roy Morita , Dr. DoRun , Scott McQueeney , John Morelock ,


Larry Miller

Where is that limit where one goes from pain that you push through and causes no damage to where one continues and damn near kills themselves?

Jay Hodde

Good question! I don't think I've ever come close to killing myself out there because I'm willing to DNF if I ever sense that I'm getting that close. The *quality* of the pain is different.

Pushing through muscle soreness or tendon injury is different from pushing through a pain that is not easily ascribed to a source.

You will find, as you run your first 100, that you will have muscle and joint soreness. That's common, and is a frequent cause of dropping out.

Generally, with problems that are related to body homeostasis (read: life), there is fair warning that things are getting severely out of order -- before much damage occurs. Some warning signs:

I think I can probably think of some more with a little time, but that's a good start.

At Coldfoot, I stopped running at mile 72. Prior to the event I told Damon Lease, my crew and guide (THANKS, DAMON!) that there were 3 acceptable reasons for a DNF, and only 3: 1)If I was unable to maintain my body heat or if I began to shake uncontrollably, I was not allowed another step. 2) If I had blood in my urine, I would have to track it and reevaluate the next time I had to pee. 3) If A severe musculo-skeletal injury prevented me from running and I had to walk, I was going to stop (it was too cold for a sustained walk).

I told him that I would want to quit, and that I would beg to ride to the finish. His mission was to make sure that I didn't quit without a good reason.

Well, I wanted to stop at mile 60, and he "forced" :-) me to continue to 72. We tried everything to keep me going, but once I could no longer maintain my body heat, we called it a night.

I guess what I'm trying to illustrate is that if you listen to your body AND hear what it is telling you, then you will know the difference between pushing the boundary and overstepping it.

The problem we face is this: We are too often controlled by our brain and not our body. We can trick our brains into believing almost anything, so if we use our brain as a measure of when to push or when to quit, we risk making the wrong decision.

The body is smarter than our brains think it is.

Rich Schick

This topic is a difficult one. How hard should we push, how hard is too hard? What is worth "it" and what isn't? Some tough questions and ones that for the most part only the individual can answer for themselves. Personally I don't feel any race is worth incurring a long term or permanent injury no less dying - but who am I?

Even with this attitude I've gotten into some real trouble a couple times over the years. The things that get us into trouble, hypo/hyperthermia, electrolyte imbalances, dehydration etc. all impair our ability to think and make sound decisions, and often before we realize we're in trouble. Many times the person involved will be the first to agree that some of their decisions were none to smart after the fact. Other times they were perfectly aware that they were in trouble, but they felt risk was worth it to succeed at what they were trying to do. The most another person can say it that situation is that they personally would not have taken that risk.

I think it is productive to review these incidents on the list to help educate other runners about potential risks. I do not think anything is accomplished by criticizing others for the risks they choose to take, unless they violate the rules or other parameters established by the RD.

Blade Norman

I would be curious to hear opinions to the following question. "What is the most common reason for a runner DNF'ing at races from the marathon distance or further?"

would it be...

  1. Going out too fast.
  2. Lack of adequate training going into the race.
  3. Lingering injury or illness.
  4. Traumatic injury during the event. (such as tripping and spraining an ankle)
  5. Other reasons not listed.

Geri Kilgraff

Deciding that it's just not worth it anymore.

William Turrentine

How about:

  1. Not handling environmental conditions (dehydration etc.)
  2. Missing time cut-offs
  3. Mentally quitting

Guy LeVan

With regard to DNF'ing, I can only speak from the perspective of a mid to back of the packer. My experience within this subset is that most runners DNF only after consideration of some sort of risk/reward ratio. And, usually it centers around some type of measurement to determine if a finish is worth a longer term injury problem. I have seen ultra runners that I have paced DNF from injury, even though they were well under the cutoff times, and I have paced a runner whose injury caused him to miss a cutoff time. Both runners were forced to decide if it was worth continuing, and one had the decision made for him, and the other had to make the hard decision. Slow pokes like me generally DNF for medical or cutoff reasons.

Claude Sinclair

It's Mental!!! At least for me. In some races I start feeling bad and say, "why in the hell am I beating myself up like this"? The majority of runners quit because of the same reasons. And you can find 100 excuses. There have been 50 milers which I have run and before the run I will tell my wife that unless I die, I will finish. And I finish because I am not ready for death. Then at J.F.K. a few years ago I finished the mountain trail part and saw my wife. I went over to her and said, "Let's do some sightseeing" and I quit. No real reason. I just wanted to go over to Harpers Ferry and to the Sharpsburg Battlefield. At least I have never dropped out of a race because I could not win the race. I have seen many elite marathon runners do that.

Gillian Robinson

I think injury is a major cause of dropping, and it's not the pain of the injury during the race, it's the fear that the injury will do damage that lasts... for how long? You can put up with not running for a few days, for a week, maybe two weeks, but if you have to stop for two months or a year or maybe even forever? Then it's not worth it. Pain doesn't matter until the fear sets in.

The trouble is, after you've been off with an injury, the fear is always there. Any pain causes doubt.

Dan Baglione

Challenging yourself beyond your limits

M. Williams

How about:

  1. Being a crybaby punk
  2. Pacer didn't b*&%@ slap yah
  3. Poop in pants caused chafing
  4. I thougt this was a 10k

Roy Morita

Okay. Here is a little twist on the issue. What will FORCE you to drop out of a race?

  1. Your crew tells you your family member or pet just died.
  2. You remember you forgot to feed your dog.
  3. You get told that your house is on fire.
  4. Your pacemaker is starting to act up.
  5. All of the above.
Has anyone ever been forced to pull out of a race because of an unforeseen or unexpected circumstance?
Dr. DoRun

My handler/crew threatened me with a divorce unless I DNFed!

Scott McQueeney

If you DNF it's because of:

  1. Poor trail marking
  2. Improper Pacer/motivational speaker
  3. Aid station volunteers improperly filled your water bottles.
  4. RD chose bad course/date to hold race on.
  5. The list gave you poor advice on how to use your 5 to 1 watch.
Bottom line is it's got to be someone else's fault.

Me...I just got lost...

John Morelock

Runner, Runnerette, or Runneree was unable to finish. That has been the cause of every dnf I have ever heard of.