What to do about the lingering DNF you just can’t seem to shake?

Some DNFs sting more than others. Some seem part of the process, but others linger. For the ones that linger, what are your strategies to move past them? You know, the ones where you know your mental toughness just gave out. The ones you approached with high confidence prior and the DNF was rather self exposing (and maybe socially too).

Waiting it out? Repeat the event, successfully, as the antidote? Hair-shirt and self-flogging?

Sooner or later we all go there. So how to get it not just “in the past” but also more out of your [shower time] thoughts?

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Meh, I have marathon DNF that lingers because is was the direct result of an injury I just can’t shake, if I want to run 35+ miles in the same week. I bought a bike shortly thereafter.

:man_shrugging:What are you gonna do?

do it again


Get right back after it. Tomorrow.


It goes away eventually. Sort of. I quit Hampshire 100 back in 2015. Got a flat at mike 3 & fought the thing for 70 more miles. It was laps that year so I was back at start/finish & de used not to go out for the last lap. Cracked a beer, went to the timing tent & dropped out. I didn’t have it that day as I’d lost about a month of riding to a hematoma of the urethra I earned going OTB in an XC race earlier in the summer. Quitting haunted me for awhile but finishing SM100 this year but it off the radar.

Do t very yourself up too bad about it bits not worth it.

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No. I’m good.

3-10 miles of running per week, rarely even, is enough for me. The condition lingers but I’ve done the “try harder” shit and that IS shit. My life isn’t negatively impacted by riding and or rowing for cardio, and running for cross training while traveling. Gimping around because I
want (ed) to run 25 miles a week does affect my normal comfort and just wasn’t worth it.

I haven’t run once a month since who knows when? and I just ran a TM TT short run pretty well. I have confidence that I can do what I need to in my work, in my daily life, and in any doomsday scenario. I mean, running the US Army 2 mile run and scoring in the 90s on a few runs here an there… Yeah, I’ll HTFU and shoot for a perfect 13:00 (for the juniors) at the risk of long term health and daily comfort. Insert motivational GIF here.

Sometimes “work harder” means “recover harder” … sometimes “work harder” means “train smarter”.

Sometimes “nobody cares” means if you come to an anonymous message board looking to get a pep talk because you just weren’t up to it because you didn’t work hard enough, smart enough, weren’t gritty enough or didn’t pay attention to recovery… it means “nobody cares” - because nothing anyone says here is going to you feel better about the fact that you weren’t up to it.

I have DNF’d races, been pulled from others with two laps to go, gotten dropped 20 miles from the end of a race I thought I would win and watched a peloton ride away from me on a hill I’d trained a year to nail. And the only thing that works (spoiler alert: it’s not banal platitudes from strangers on a message board) is going back down into the well and doing the work to get better…learning, testing…but working.

You want to feel better? Put your shoulder to the wheel…even if it’s at 65% of FTP and you barely break a sweat. That would be smart (sometimes) wouldn’t it?

Good luck :metal:


Time will heal it up but if you feel socially showed out, best thing to do is just eat it. Don’t give excuses just tell the truth when it comes up. “I wasn’t mentally strong and I quit. And I still feel shitty about it”. Also don’t forget that everyone is wrapped up in their own world and won’t think much of what’s a big thing to you.

One year I quit the downer ave p12 race in Milwaukee back in the day when it was 100k. Just found myself in a why am I doing this moment and gave in. There were crashes and Instead of taking a free lap I just quit. Felt terrible after 2 minutes and it lingered and lingered.

The next year I got there early and parked my car in a spot where it couldn’t be moved until the race was over. So the whole race I thought even if I quit I’ll have to stick around, may as well keep going. It worked and I finished the thing.

I went back to the scene of the crime and buried the hatchet with myself. You’ll find this works for you too.

It might help to step back and take stock of where you and your DNF fits in the grand scheme of things.
Some people are out getting their limbs shot off and eyes shot out winning Medals of Honor.
You are hamstrung by a recreational athletic activity result.
Let that be your shower thought for a couple of days, and it probably will resolve.

Maybe you just had a bad day.

If you care about the event, think about what went wrong, and do it again. Maybe find someone to help or coach you if you can’t figure it out.

Or maybe the event just isn’t for you. Not everybody has to be hard as nails. Just find something that works for you.

Can’t shake it?

Just gotta try harder.

Here’s some inspiration:

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First is to realise there is no social shame. Everybody who has raced has at some point had a DNF or at least a very bad day where they’ve seriously considered DNFing. Anybody who doesn’t race is a DNS which ranks a lot lower than a DNF :wink:. So basically the shame is just in your head, anybody who does comment on it is likely doing so in a good natured way, and anybody who actually takes serious issue with it is a dick who you don’t need in your life and should ignore.

So it’s really just about your own self esteem. Which I find comes back pretty quickly from the next race or even hard group ride when you return to your normal performance level. If the DNF wasn’t a one off and your performance level doesn’t come back then it’s probably a symptom of a more deep seated issue e.g. You’re over trained and need a break.

I actually had an example last year which may help. Rolling 110km road race which I was really looking forward to as it suits me perfectly. I’ve got good W/kg and endurance but not a great sprint and not the best tactician. So I like the races which are long and punchy enough to thin out the field and let fitness rule the day. It just wasn’t my day though, had bad legs from the start. Every time there was a longer or steeper climb I was hanging on or getting gapped at the back of the pack where normally I’d be comfortable or even driving the pace. By halfway round I was in the third group, feeling like crap, and had had to bury myself chasing back on after being gapped on multiple occasions. The guys I would normally be competing with with were in the first and second group, the guys in my group were riders I would normally be highly confident of beating on this kind of course and instead I was struggling to stay with them. The only reason I kept going was because I had no phone with me, hadn’t seen a race car in a while, and the shortest route back to the start was along the race route. I can say with 100% certainty that if there’d been an option to get a car or cut the race short to pedal back I’d have taken it. As it was I got dropped again a couple more times, reached a point where I no longer even cared about it and soft pedalled the last 10km home chatting with one other guy. Spent most of the rest of the week taking it easy and sleeping a lot to get myself right, and feeling despondent at my performance. Following weekend I went out on a group ride with a bunch of people who had also raced including the winner and a lot of other guys who had finished ahead of me. Was a bit nervous and fully prepared to take some stick and then realised that actually they didn’t really care, or certainly not in a bad way - a few people commented that they’d been surprised to see my finish placing and asked if I’d been ill or injured. Everybody else just carried on as normal. My legs were back to normal. Two guys who are known as pretty hard core racers had actually DNFed early in that race as they were having a bad day too and decided to shut it down while still close enough to the start to cut it short rather than burying themselves for no good reason. And it made me realise that if my cycling buddies didn’t care that I’d had a bad day, racers I respect clearly saw no issue with DNFing, and my non cycling friends and family certainly didn’t care, then why was I beating myself up? Gave me some much needed perspective!


The social part comes from putting too much emphasis on the result; the DNF is our ultimate failure in that regard. The feelings it can leave are probably worse than the pain during the event, but there are valid reasons for pulling the plug just like there are invalid ones (mostly quitting because it’s clear you won’t get the desired results).

I have one that haunts me still, er I should say, I have DNF that I still consider whenever I think about a true endurance race. I had completed a very difficult long MTB race two weeks prior, I had done ok just missing the podium by a few spots - while it was a great ride for me, I had podium envy watching friends place higher than me was very difficult. One friend in particular placed high, and had been riding much shorter than I; I put a lot of stock into that. So, I needed a chance to redeem myself. And so a short two weeks later I entered what was to be an even more grueling race. 2/3rds of the way through I gave up; it was an 80+ mile race on very challenging terrain. When I quit I couldn’t do basic things like ride over a log, I was cramping - at that moment continuing wasn’t worth it. Looking back (literally, I had to pedal backwards through the field to bail) I realized I should have stuck it out; but maybe not. What I saw was many fast and fit people struggling like me, but my chances at placing as high as my ego thought I should were dashed.

It took me quite a long time to recover from that event, I almost quit racing. It probably took months to recover physically but probably a year mentally. I discovered that performing well at 7-10 hour mountain bike races takes an amount of sacrifice I was unwilling to give; I never wanted to just ride these events, I was seeking competition at the pointy end but I didn’t have the gift, or willingness to train like a pro.

When I chilled out I started focusing on short course racing again. I could train effectively for these events and learned that I’d rather train for these as they were more enjoyable and exploited a relative strength of mine versus crazy endurance events. I found an outlet more suited to me and the actual riding I enjoyed. Not saying people need to change direction or disciplines but that failure stuck with me and in the long term I used it to help guide me to a much healthier relationship with racing bikes. I can go into events now (in better shape) with a better mental outlooks and reasonable goal. Finding some success with shorter events helps me realize that even though endurance racing isn’t my strength, I can add them to my calendar and not sweat the results - I just don’t quit them now, results be dammed.


you can only live in the present and look forward through the windshield…don’t be staring in the review. it’s over, it’s history; admit that you failed, you learned from that failure it seems, so just keep moving on!

(many tactics like telling yourself you have 5 mins to complain about failure and then move on…google those!)

Good luck!


Here are the notes I recorded in TP after my last race:

“Rode hard. Got dropped. Time trialed until I was caught by a chase group. Got dropped again. Pedaled in solo like a fucking jackass. Not sure what the hell I’m doing on a bike. So discouraged right now. Finished 63rd out of 205 overall; and 12th out of 26th in my age group. I should’ve stayed home.”

The next day I was on the bike. Went out for a 3 hour recovery ride and crashed avoiding a jogger…my notes:

"My legs actually felt good today, but I couldn’t do a full 3 hours. Wanted/needed to get some family time in - so I did as much as I could. I rode part of this with my wife which is why it’s paced unevenly.

I crashed avoiding a jogger (I’m fine) to cap-off a fucking forgettable weekend of riding bikes."

I was back on the bike the next day. And the day after that. I had to constantly change bandages and buy a new helmet from the crash. And then I kept riding.

This is what I mean. Shit happens. Nobody cares. Work harder.

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I have one haunting DNF from a race in 6th grade gym class where I just flat out quit because i was getting beat (i’d been undefeated in that class up to that point). I knew that was wrong almost immediately and vowed never to do that again.

Since then I’ve had some DNFs but I never just flat out quit. As long as you don’t let yourself down and violate your own standards, a DNF is just a result like any other, even win. There are always lessons to learn whether you’re first or last. So just learn them and move on.

I feel like you just read my DNF post in another thread from the other day! :sweat_smile:

I went into a 70.3 pretty much maximum prep including taking a job near the course to practice during my commute, struggled with consistency in my training but went in on an all out attack, I was going to defeat this course, and ‘prove myself’ as a triathlete.

Long story short, it was too hot at 32°, I had a mechanical, I threw a few hissy fits, and walked off after the bike leg.

What did I do to get over it?

Went back to the same race, same course twelve weeks later, it was a freak cold and wet day (Garmin recorded 2°), I was told 70% of the field had quit by the first few km of the bike, I came in to T2 unable to feel my legs, way later than my summer time, and waded through the run course for three hours something…but I got my finisher medal :roll_eyes:

Am I over it now?

No, not really.

The whole season was a total waste! :joy:

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