Sometimes a Did Not Finish is the Best Choice…

When I was training for my half marathon back in late 2018/early 2019 I had one possibility that pulled me out of bed to train even on the mornings where I was least interested in doing so and on the evenings when I had insanely long days with the kids… I was running the half marathon for charity and terrified of telling my donors that while I appreciated their support I did not, in fact, finish the race. A Did Not Finish, or DNF as it is called in the running community, is something that has happened to many runners much more experienced and skilled than me. You never know what a race day will throw at you. I had so many stress dreams about not finishing that race, but the thing is, I knew that my mental game and my why was STRONG and that I had put in the training. By the time race day came around, the only way I was getting a DNF was if I was being hauled away in an ambulance or sidelined at a medical tent with a freak ankle twist (both scenarios that played out in the aforementioned nightmares several times.)

My husband, trying to be comforting, pointed out to me that in that case a Did Not Finish would be the best choice as opposed to running on a messed up ankle or, you know, making myself insanely sick. It was a perspective I did NOT appreciate at the time, but makes more and more sense to me as I grow in the work I am doing with being a recovering perfectionist. See, I’m an enneagram 1 and being deeply motivated by doing the good and honorable thing, by being consistent with my ideals. Sometimes my obsession with being honorable leads me to stay in commitments long after my core WHY for starting them is no longer being served, long after when I should have just stopped what isn’t working and taken the DNF as the best choice.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Most of the time it is great that I just happen to have the personality type that is wired to keep going and follow through on commitments. It served me well in school, it served me well in the stress of tech weeks for various theatrical productions, and it has served me well in my running and other endeavors. However, it has also led to me pushing myself to the point of injury or exhaustion.

Something that blew my mind when I first heard it and really shifted my thinking on when it is time to push through vs. when it is time to take the did not finish or to at least pull back, was when a yoga teacher told me I needed to stop trying to force a pose because I was going to hurt myself and then it would take me four times longer to eventually get the pose if I had to rehab my body from overworking it. That hit home hard. It was one of many ways that yoga started teaching me how to love and take care of my body instead of seeing it as separate from me or an adversary.

I have found the same thing on the mountains- the hikes where I get off course and insist on getting back to the
exact trail I wanted and finishing the whole thing often end up stressful and frustrating. The hikes where I just decide to go with the flow and take a new trail or head back and appreciate where I went are often far more rewarding.

The whole situation reminds me of a C.S. Lewis quote:

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man
who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake.

I’d rather call a DNF and tell myself it’s ok I didn’t finish a trail or summit a peak I wasn’t ready for. I’d rather make it back safely than get too low on water or end up losing the light if I wasn’t prepared for hiking in the dark. Sometimes if I call a Did Not Finish today, I can hike again tomorrow, get stronger or get a better map, and be ready to continue instead of being taken out of commission with an injury that could have been avoided or even just feeling burnt out and fatigued.

So today, I’m celebrating the times where I learned how to listen to my body or the shifting circumstances of the world and decided to take the DNF.

I’m celebrating pulling back in that yoga class and eventually getting that pose from a place of work over time and confidence, not forcing it.

I’m celebrating the job I walked away from because they treated me horribly when I told them I was pregnant and expected me back at work immediately after having a baby.

I’m celebrating not finishing trails that took longer than expected because I knew I had limited time and honored that commitment to a person over that commitment to my ego (I am not saying I’ve done this 100% of the time. sometimes I have screwed this up really badly because I couldn’t calculate how much harder/longer the final stretch of a trail would take… but I sure try my best!)

And while I am SO thankful that I DID finish my half marathon, I’m also celebrating a few virtual races I’ve done since then that were either deferred to another day or originally unfinished and had to be attempted again later.

Is this an uncomfortable concept for you the way it was for me for so long? (It still feels hard to remember and uncomfortable on some days…) Can I help you celebrate any of YOUR DNF moments?!

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