DNF, to the uninitiated, means Did Not Finish. There’s always a few DNFs (or DNSs: Did Not Starts) at the end of triathlon results lists. I’m one of them now, because I failed to complete the defence of my Scottish Middle Distance Tri Champion title at Aberfeldy yesterday. This has left me frustrated and sad, but has probably given me more valuable racing experience than many of my completed triathlons.
So, two days before the triathlon I got attacked by a sickness bug not dissimilar to the feisty fellow below. Though only wee he left me with nausea, aching skin, no appetite and a strange rattling brain feeling. Given my usual voracious appetite I know I’m properly sick when I don’t want to or can’t eat. Friday’s food intake was a bowl of porridge, and Saturday’s was 2 slices of bread and a few spoonfuls of plain pasta (plus energy and rehydration drinks). Further confirmation of my being less than 100% was my turning down macaroni cheese at the pre-race pasta party (yes, we triathletes know how to have a good time). MACARONI CHEESE!!!! I know.
The first decision I faced was whether to even bother travelling to Aberfeldy, given that bed was my preferred location. I decided to make the trip in case my condition improved. After all, it would be a shame to waste the training, prep, race entry and accommodation. Plus there was the little matter of defending my 2015 title. And the opportunity to race in the best weather conditions for the past 3 years (see 2014 and 2015). Once in Aberfeldy race fever hit and I perked up (relatively speaking). I decided to make the final decision first thing on race morning: so when I woke bright-eyed when my alarm went off at 4:30 am I decided it was definitely game on. Scottish Champion 2016 here I come!
Despite my enthusiasm my still unhappy gut was producing copious quantities of a noxious gas that could kill a downwind cyclist at 20 paces, thereby creating my own no-draft zone. During the swim, and due to the water sloshing round my wetsuit, I hadn’t been able to tell whether these were just farts or, shall we say, ‘non-farts’. So I had become more and more convinced that I’d soiled myself, and worried about how I was going to clean myself up in transition. Fortunately this was a false alarm!
Otherwise I felt OK on the swim, and I also felt OK on the first half of the 90 km bike leg, getting a few Strava PBs along the way. This is going better than it might have done, I thought. But about two hours into the race I had an attack of the dramatic racing metaphors: I ran out of gas, I was running on fumes, I hit a brick wall, I crashed, the wheels fell off. Getting out of the saddle to climb small inclines made me feel weak and faint, and I wondered how I’d get back up Schiehallion. I thought I’d be walking some steeper sections, although fortunately I managed to ride them all. It seems that I’d used up all the calories I’d consumed in the previous lean days, and the energy drinks and gels I was using weren’t topping me up sufficiently. My stomach had started to hurt too, so when I eventually got back to race HQ I finished my race there. Not pleasant, but I couldn’t have carried on.
<violins> So, as I type from my sick bed </violins> what have I learned?
- Pre-race nutrition (i.e., getting some!) is key (and not just the morning of the race or the day before).
- Respect for people who DNF or DNS. They probably had a good reason for doing so, and it was probably the wisest (and toughest) decision to make. A clubmate congratulated me after for choosing to DNF, given my illness, although for me it wasn’t a difficult decision. But I can understand when pulling out of a race is not an easy choice.
- Of all the motivating thoughts to dwell on while racing, wondering if you’re marinating in your own diaorrhoea is not recommended.
- Listen to your body. The old adage is so true. This lesson trumps all other considerations, such as what you spent on this race, who has made the effort to support you, or whether you’re competing for a championship or trying to qualify for one. We need to look after our bodies to allow us to compete again and again. There will be other races.
- Equally: take responsibility for your own decisions. Only you know how you’re really feeling. This goes both ways – others might think you shouldn’t start a race but only you can weigh up the pros and cons for you. That said, not wrecking yourself for future races should take priority.
- Don’t underestimate your health. If you go into a race not feeling your usual 100% then you won’t do as well. On the flip side, marvel at how amazing your health is to allow you to race at or near your full potential most of the time.
- The patent-pending ‘macaroni cheese test’ for illness: could save the NHS millions.
- DNF could also stand for Deadly Noxious Farts in my case.