Training Ask JP: Why DNFs Can be a Good Thing

Ask JP: Why DNFs Can be a Good Thing


When you’ve run as many races at JP Bedard, sooner or later you’re bound to DNF. Here’s why he believes that this runner’s nightmare can actually be a gift.


Dear JP:

When you hit a wall of demotivation, what thoughts do you use to keep on going? 


Erik E

Dear Erik:

I’ll never forget the advice I received from my creative writing professor at university. She used to say, “Don’t overcomplicate the message, and always remember K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid).”

Much has been written about the dreaded wall that runners hit around the 20-mile mark of a marathon. In fact, the lore is so rich that many races erect a ceremonial wall or archway to remind the runners that they’ve just crossed that epic milestone. What we don’t hear a lot about is the other wall, and by that I mean the wall we hit when our motivation to train begins to wane. This can occur for many reasons—overtraining, increased mileage, extreme weather conditions, or even our non-running life encroaching on our ability to run.

Whatever the case may be, I like to remind myself of those sage words: K.I.S.S. I step back, and instead of focusing on quantity, I focus on the quality of my runs. Every once in awhile we need to re-evaluate our training to make sure we aren’t doing the same workouts over and over again or that we are not falling into a rut.

If I simplify my running practice to its purest meaning in my life, I’m reminded that I don’t run to break records, or to qualify for Boston, or even to impress my family and friends. Instead, I run because it brings out the best in me by keeping me accountable, and in general, it makes me stronger for life’s adversity. If my running is stressing me out, I know it’s time to take it, and myself, a lot less seriously.

Dear JP:

Have you ever had a DNF? If so, what was the most important lesson you took from that?



Dear Nancy:

The dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish) is both the biggest ‘nightmare and greatest gift that running can bring into your life. If you sign up for enough races, sooner or later you’re bound to face this crisis. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given came from a fellow runner who was one of the contributors to my book. He said, don’t worry about failure… just make sure “you fail better next time”.   And by that he meant don’t shy away from failure and disappointment, but rather, make sure you suck all the marrow you can out of it—listen to all the lessons it teaches you, and remember that if you never strive for anything, you never fail.

I have DNFed a few times over the years, and I’m not going to lie to you… It’s not pleasant, but it is necessary. Three years ago I was running the Buffalo Marathon, and leading up to the race all my training was indicating that I was on target for a comfortable sub-3 marathon.

Well, race day arrived, and the weather was hot and humid. I completely ignored all the warnings and I went out fast and hard despite the conditions. When I hit the half marathon turn off, my stomach was a gurgling mess, and I was shaky and nauseous. I had no other option than to pull out of the race. Walking back to meet my wife at the finish, I felt embarrassed for dragging her down to Buffalo, not to mention the cost of a night in a hotel. And guess what? She hugged me, and couldn’t care less whether or not I finished. She was still proud of me for listening to my body. So, the lesson I took from that DNF was to pay attention to the weather at every race and to not lose sight of the ‘big picture’.

Send your advice and questions to JP Want more tips, tricks and practical advice from JP Bedard? Check out his previous posts with questions from elite and everyday athletes.


  1. I had a DNF last year at the Ottawa marathon…. I had been nursing an Achilles Tendon injury on the lead up to the race and at the 20 km point I decided that I had to quit. It was the right decision and I do not regret it at all. There are not a lot of people out there that can run marathons, and to have to pull out because your body is telling you to is much better than ending up lying in the middle of the road 2 km from the finish line with the paramedics over you (yes, I have seen that – haven’t we all?)


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