DNF. Those three little letters strike fear in the hearts of endurance athletes everywhere. Months and months of training, planning, and organizing culminate in one race and the letters DNF will ruin the whole thing. On Sunday, I DNFed my first pro race. Just before the halfway point, after going through a particularly bumpy patchwork of asphalt, my back wheel felt “off.” I was hoping it was just the gnarly road conditions throwing me for a loop. But, alas, when I pulled over, the disc wheel I was riding was completely flat. As I started the process of changing it, I hoped that a sag vehicle with a savvy bike tech guy would pull up and fix the flat in no time. No such luck. I didn’t break any speed records while changing the flat, but I was able to replace the tube without incident and get back on a working bike. Unfortunately soon after I pulled over, the four or five pro females that I had been leading zoomed past and more and more age groupers emptied onto what was now a very crowded loop course. After passing the halfway point, I knew I had a tough decision to make. Should I continue the race and try to claw my way back into a very deep field of professional athletes for only a few points or should I consider pulling out of the race, avoiding the very challenging run course in order to save my legs to race again another day soon?
As I weighed my options I kept coming back to something my coach told me on a ride soon after we started working together. We were talking about her experience as a runner and her strategy going into a marathon. She said that before she starts a marathon she studies the course and plans an escape route. That is, if things are not going well, she has a place on the course where she can pull out and easily get back to her support crew. Her logic? Why compromise your whole season for one race? When she told me this I honestly thought, “This lady is a crazy person.” Pull out of a race?! Pull out of a race voluntarily?!?!?!? No. Way. Fast forward a couple of years and that is exactly what I did. I finished the bike leg of the race (because why shouldn’t I get in some sort of workout) and after I got out of T2 I handed my chip over to an official. D. N. F. My first 70.3 as a professional athlete turned out to be a very real dress rehearsal. And though I am disappointed with the way it played out I learned a lot and I know I made the right decision when I look at the bigger picture. DNF… “Did not finish”? Or “Definitely not finished”? I choose than latter. Bring it on.