A DNF Can be a Win

Didn't Finish Can Be a Wise Decision

Heart Breaker Half Marathon Medal
Heart Breaker Half Marathon Medal. Wendy Bumgardner © 2014

DNS: Did Not Start

DLF: Dead Last Finish

DNF: Did Not Finish

As a marathon/half marathon walker, only the "Did Not Start" is a failure. Coming in dead last, or even having to cut the course short and not finish, are still wins.

I use marathons and half marathons as motivational incentives. When the days are dreary, I do my long distance training walks because I have to in order to be ready for those races.

Without that event on the calendar, I might just stay on the couch huddled over a bowl of popcorn. The actual event is my reward for all of the training time.

In 2013 and 2014, I walked the local Heart Breaker Half Marathon, which is held on the February weekend closest to Valentine's Day. That's a challenging time of year for the Pacific Northwest, weather-wise. It could be rainy, icy, or relatively balmy.

The course is laid out as a lollipop - a mile out from the start/finish, then a big loop that you do twice before you head back to the finish line on that mile long "stick." It's through the farming countryside with hills and views on two-lane roads. I love that kind of course and scenery.

The weather in 2013 included mild rain showers. I felt pretty good after the first loop, so at the 7-mile mark I kept going. It's a small race with under 500 runners and walkers. I could see only a handful of walkers ahead of me and behind me.

But they kept the course open for us slowpokes and I even passed one walker, saving me from the DLF - Dead Last Finish.

The only drawback was that, even though we were under the time limit, they were literally taking down the finish line when I finished. The band had gone home and they had folded up the post-race refreshment/food tables.

The vendors I thought I'd visit when I finished were loading their stuff into their vans to go home.

I pondered this for 2014 but I registered anyway. I liked the course, and I had been putting in 9 mile workouts regularly. The next half marathons are in April and I was antsy to do one.

The morning was unexpectedly gorgeous, with sun and temperatures into the 50's. I felt fantastic and the countryside was beautiful, with spring green wheat sprouting in the fields. But as I passed the first water stop near mile 2, I didn't see the promised porta-johns. I noticed my fellow walkers looking concerned. There aren't any businesses with restrooms on the route, and bushes along the side of the road are also rare. More: What to do when there are no toilets

Second water stop at mile 4 -- no porta-johns. Two gals ahead of me were actively searching for a place to discreetly take a "natural break" as they call it in the Tour de France. I knew something had gone wrong for the race organizers, as they had porta-johns at each water stop the prior year and promised them in the pre-race instructions for this year.

Mile 6 water stop - no porta-johns. Luckily I didn't yet need one, but that left a big problem for doing the second loop.

If I headed back to the finish at the end of the loop, I'd have walked almost nine miles without a restroom break, which is quite a feat for me. If I continued, I was certain to need one before the finish line at 13.1 miles. I have a history of problems with runner's trots, which can strike without much warning, especially after an energy snack.

I am not bold enough to drop trou at the side of the road without cover as they do on walks in Europe. In this location, passersby were bound to be distant relatives or old schoolmates. They wouldn't understand that this is just something that marathoners do without shame.

Even worse, the police patrolling the course might arrest me for indecent exposure and I'd labeled a sex offender for the rest of my life.

Were I a runner bent on setting a personal record or a newbie achieving my first half marathon finish, I might have continued anyway. But I'm a seasoned walker with well over 100 half marathoners under my belt. There will be another finish line soon enough - I'm already registered for nine more this year. I decided that nine miles was enough today. I headed back to the finish line after the first loop.

I felt guilty as runners passed me by, often telling me, "good work!" I figured they thought I was one of the 10K walkers finishing is a really slow time. Runners are wonderful people. I definitely didn't want to cross the finish line and have my time recorded, possibly even rating an age group award for the half marathon. Instead, I skirted around the finish line and on to the restrooms and post-race area.

I briefly thought about doing a loop out and back to put in more mileage. But the wind had picked up and showers were spitting rain. Besides, I wanted to actually hear the band this year. I picked up my strawberry shortcake, took a chance with the door prize numbers and enjoyed the band.

I was DNF - Did Not Finish. No time showed up on the Results for me. But it was a win. I burned off 1000 calories according to my Polar Beat app. I enjoyed the band. I learned that my rain pants were not the right gear to wear, even if it was raining (they stuck to my knees uncomfortably). I learned that my waterproof Brooks Ghost shoes were OK for longer distance but not ideal (not enough cushioning.)

I messaged the race organizers about the porta-john situation. They were apologetic -- the johns had been ordered and confirmed and then just weren't delivered. As a former race director myself, I've been there. We had shuttle buses not show up and had to re-route an entire walking event. I sympathized and help put the word out to others on their Facebook page so there was less fall-out.

A win is what you choose to make a win. I had a great walking day. I wasn't broken hearted that I didn't finish all of the Heart Breaker Half. Whether you are DLF or DNF, it's all a big win over DNS - Did Not Start.

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