• ‘Dnf’ the Pros and Cons of Throwing in the Towel

‘Dnf’ the Pros and Cons of Throwing in the Towel

Original article Triathlon & Multi Sport Magazine Australia

No-one likes seeing a DNF next to their name on the time sheets, but there are times when pulling the plug is a smart decision. Professional triathlete Sam Betten revisits his DNF experiences and elaborates on the merits of hoisting the white flag mid-race.

Earlier this year I raced Ironman 70.3 Vietnam, which unfortunately resulted in a Did Not Finish (DNF) after finding myself physically unable to turn the pedals just 50 kilometres into the bike leg. At the time I was bitterly disappointed, emotional and downright embarrassed about failing to finish. After this big disappointment, I went on to win 5150 Subic Bay for the second year in a row and then finish third at the Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championships behind fellow Australians Tim Reed and Craig Alexander. While a DNF next to your name on the race results is not something anyone is ever proud of, it is more often than not an inevitable part of your journey in the sport of triathlon. We all like to think of ourselves as tough triathletes who can accomplish anything we set our minds to, but sometimes we are forced to swallow our pride.

There are races where pulling out can be a smart decision if this means you are at risk of causing yourself serious medical harm or compromising the safety of other competitors by continuing on.

Since beginning the sport of triathlon a decade and-a-half ago, I have only failed to finish on five occasions. Once, following a mid-race bike crash that left me with a broken collarbone. Another due to sickness and two more where, quite simply, I just had no energy and the body refused to cooperate. And finally, my most dramatic DNF was passing out from heat exhaustion while leading in an ITU Asian Cup event in the final kilometre of the run leg. This DNF was particularly painful as the prize money for first place was $US3500. I don’t buy into the notion of pulling the pin just because you are having a bad race. Honestly speaking, a DNF should always be seen as your last option. No matter how bad things get, if you can get to the finish line, then do whatever it takes to get yourself there because you just never know what can happen between a bad mental and/or physical patch and crossing that finish line. Sometimes you may think that your race is over only to keep pushing through and then come good again a short while later, surprising yourself by salvaging a better-than-expected result. However, there are races where you just physically cannot make it to the finish line, which can be due to a number of reasons. These are the times when making the smart decision to pull out should be prioritised over your ego and possibly putting yourself in a position of serious medical risk.

A few years ago I had a serious bike crash at a speed of 45 kilometres per hour and then proceeded to pick myself up and continue racing in the hope that I could salvage a result. Unfortunately, just a few kilometres down the road, my bicycle chain locked up due to the impact of the crash, which resulted in me flying through the air and over my handlebars, leaving me with a broken collarbone.sportsmed_sam_betten_dnf_img3-min

Looking back on this experience, the smarter option would have been to opt for a DNF if I had spent a few extra seconds assessing the state of my bike following the first crash to see the extent of the damage. In some ways I was very lucky that my stupid decision to continue after the first crash didn’t cause any serious harm to other athletes who were also racing on the course. The lesson learnt from this cautionary tale is that if you have a crash, or major mechanical issue, and need to pull out in the name of safety then this can be a smart decision to make not just for your own safety, but for the safety of other athletes around you.

A DNF should be something to avoid like the plague when possible. However, sometimes it can often be a smart choice to make. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to pull the pin, you need to be able to accept this as just part of the sport.

As hard as it is to do, remember that it happens to some of the best triathletes in the world and what matters is how you bounce back from the experience.sportsmed_sam_betten_dnf_img1-min

I am a firm believer that we learn more from the bad races than we do from the good ones, and so a good triathlete should be able to take this in their stride and use this as motivation for their next race. Of course, having invested your hard-earned money on the race entry fee, travel to the event, etc. only to pull out downright sucks. However, try to think of it as motivation to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Write it off as a learning experience rather than focusing on the DNF next to your name.

Sam Betten

Professional triathlete
SMG Technologies Ambassador

Sam Betten is a professional triathlete and the ultimate endurance elite athlete who understands what’s required to be a multi-sport champion. Sam has a long list of winning titles and impressive claims in both triathlon and Ironman 70.3 and will finish 2016 in 19th position on the Ironman 70.3 World Points Rankings.


*Required Fields