Friday, December 9, 2011

To DNS or DNF, that is the question

For almost six seasons now I have immersed myself in the world of triathlons. From losing toenails (both big toe nails at once no less), to infections from the timing chip band rubbing, to being bitten by stingers, there are a minefield of small things you are going to encounter along the way that try to 'dint' your armor. It is part and parcel of the sport – we train to cause a level of stress to the body so that it repairs itself stronger and makes us more efficient. Fitter. Capable of running longer and faster. Looking back though not once can I remember missing a race due to injury. Sure, I’ve had a few niggles and injuries here and there. But I’ve always been able to train around them, pick up more time in the pool when I’ve had a leg injury or more time running if I have had a sore shoulder. Granted, before I go on I want to mention an old proverb that springs to mind. "I cried because I had no shoes, until I saw the man with no feet". I haven't (touch wood) had any serious or debilitating illnesses or injuries along the way, and I am not comparing my sore calf to something more dramatic. I'm glad it's a sore calf and not a torn knee ligament. 

What I am saying is that 2 days out from Raby Bay I feel strange as it looks like I am going to have to make the decision not to race because of an injury. It's disappointing. Like I’ve let myself down and lost before the race has even started. Is it because I know I can still swim and ride? Is it because I’m stubborn and don’t want to admit that bringing a wind trainer on my holidays has been a waste of time? Or maybe I’m thinking that I can still ‘roll the dice’ and on race day my calf might be fine. 

It raises these questions; a) how do you decide when it is better not to toe the line on race morning, and b) what is better anyway next to your name – a ‘Did Not Start’ or ‘Did Not Finish’? Whether you like it or not, unless you are like Arnie and are a hardcore machine under your fleshy exterior, there is a good chance you are going to experience some form of an injury through participating in and training for a triathlon. You can take precautions and do the right things to minimise the risk of this happening, such as stretching, regular massage and taking the time to warm up and cool down properly, but at the end of the day if you are logging long hours in training some cracks may show. If you’re lucky, you’ll notice the warning signs early and with a bit of TLC and treatment you’ll be back in no time. So what happens when it is a ‘slight niggle’ that doesn’t stop you from swimming / riding / running but is a definite sign that you’re body needs a break, yet you’ve got a race in a few days that you have spent weeks (sometimes months) preparing for?

From the outside looking in, it might seem like an obvious and easy decision. You’re hurt = don’t race (or train). But your mind can complicate things. Unless you have an obvious injury like a broken leg, parts of your brain thinks that you can still do it. The knight from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ had both legs and both arms cut off and still wanted to fight, so why can’t I! “Tis but a scratch” “It’s just a flesh wound!”

I’ve spoken to many triathletes over the years with varying ideas. Some say start the race, because “what have you got to lose?”. If it hurts during the race – stop. If not, it’s a moot point as you’ve completed what you set out to do and finished the race. People have told me “you’d be amazed at what your body can do when the adrenaline is pumping and you’re out there competing”. Which is true and I would have to agree with. So true that for me I think this is the problem. I know that I am competitive, and that I can do some stupid things to my body. Once, a massage therapist put a heat-pack on my back and rather than tell her that it was too hot, I thought I’d see how long I could last with it on. Smart, right? Not so smart when I end up with a blister on my back from burning my skin that stung for a week. So I know that if I go into the race on Sunday and feel a pull in my calf, maybe I’ll keep going until the race is over rather than stop. It’s not even the race and I’m already thinking, “It’s only 5km after all, over in less than 18 minutes. Surely I can stand the pain for that long”. Chronic injury anyone?

So how do you know when to call it quits for the day and take a DNS? I think it is up to the individual. I’m terrible at making this decision because as I mentioned at the start, I have never decided to NOT start and have never had a DNF (nor made an injury worse). I started the process by putting steps in place to see if it would get better (I hurt my calf last Thursday during a long run): I had not run on it until yesterday (so 7 days off) so I rested it, saw a physio, had a massage, stretched and made sure I am hydrated before exercise. If it was ok yesterday, then I would have raced. But it wasn’t and I stopped as soon as it got sore (difficult thing is I made it through 10 minutes of solid running, thinking “yeah I’m back baby!” and just before I slowed down BANG).

For me, if there is a chance that I could do some serious damage by racing and jeopardise the next month of training then I’ll be a spectator thank-you very much. I have raced with some ‘niggles’ and while sick a number of times. A bit of Nurofen gel rubbed in and off I go. But never with a dead-set injury. I’ve decided that if it is muscular, and it is a sharp pain rather than a dull pain, then that is a good warning sign. So for me, it’s a no-brainer this weekend. I’ll give it a miss. 3 races into the season and I’d hate to blow out my calf and miss 6-8 weeks of TRAINING, let alone racing. Big picture. I am happy… no content … no, I’m accepting of a DNS next to my name. I’ll live to race another day, and it’s not like we are racing for sheep stations. I would rather a DNS than that horrible feeling during the race when I hurt myself more and think “you idiot”. Plus I’d get no sympathy from my wife ; )

Funny though, while I gave my calf a week of no running and today strained it in a short run off the bike and therefore knew deep-down that not racing is the best option, I still saw a physiotherapist this afternoon in the hope he would say I’d be right to race. Needless to say he thinks triathletes are mad. 

For those who don't know who the 'black knight' is... 


  1. We this is a decision that shouldnt be made lightly. Consider the fact that this is Race # 3 out of a 7 race series with your best 5 results going towards series victory. Race #1 you missed, race #2 you won, race #3 has a DNS ready and waiting. You now cant afford to miss race 4, 5, 6 or 7.
    Me, i'd toe the line. (i had some really good stuff here before and now cant remember what it was)....
    I know you well enough to know that you are competitive and would push hard all the way, however your not stupid and if started limping i'm sure you would stop so you could race in 4, 5, 6 and 7. Even 2 points for finishing 15th (or however many you get) could put you ahead of the pack (BD, Matty B, Ricardo, YoYo...nah) at the end of it all.
    Well that's my 4 cents but its probably only worth 2 now cause i forgot the good stuff...

  2. What did you end up deciding to do?