When a DNF isn’t a bad thing

Perfect road to ride by Andrew Gills
Perfect road to ride, a photo by Andrew Gills on Flickr.

I think it happens to us all sometimes: the dreaded DNF. For me, that event was the Traveling South 400km Audax road cycle. There’s no exciting reason for the DNF. I didn’t have a mechanical breakdown, I didn’t injure myself and I didn’t have a crash. Nope – my body, mind and spirit all just stopped. My leg’s wouldn’t pedal. My mind wouldn’t let me refocus my thoughts. And my spirit didn’t let me fight through. So, after 160km of perfect riding conditions (except the strong head winds), I withdrew from the ride.

How my day ended

How my day ended

I was so exhausted that I didn’t even feel upset about loading my bike onto the roof of the support vehicle. Five tough months of racing and Audax riding, university and work caught up with me. All I wanted to do was curl up and go to sleep.

Now, sometimes I would just gut through and see this as excuses. But not yesterday. This exhaustion was different. I could feel the switch in my mind that I don’t want to flick. I could feel that I was on the edge of continued good mental and emotional health, and triggering a return to the depression and anxiety that used to be my reality. The warning signs were there so I made a mental plan: withdraw from the ride, take a couple of months off racing, get my diet back under control, take the time to work on my base fitness and skills, and go on some non-race adventures.

Sitting in the pack

Sitting in the pack

I learned a lot from the DNF. Firstly, I need to ride my own ride. While there were only three riders doing the 400km and one doing the 300km rides, there were seven riders taking on a 200km ride. They rode with us for the first 150km of the route. All but one of the riders got into a group and cruised along at a fast pace. I got sucked into the temptation to sit with them, not wanting to get dropped. It was a mistake – I ended up focusing on my speed and on trying to keep with the group, rather than on enjoying the ride. When I got dropped, I felt frustrated and slow.

Lesson 1: Ride my own ride; even if that means riding the whole ride alone.

Big blue skies and open country

Big blue skies and open country

By focusing on (and stressing about) my pace, I failed to enjoy the scenery. Here we were riding under big blue skies (albeit with a strong headwind) through open country and all I could think about was my pride. This is so different to my approach to previous Audax rides where I felt happy and joyful to be riding through the scenery.

Lesson 2: Focus on the scenery and let the ride take care of itself.

When I withdrew from the ride, I still have plenty of time on the clock. The checkpoint I was only 10km away from didn’t close until 6:20pm and it was still not yet 2pm when I withdrew. That means I had 4:20 to sit at the checkpoint, rest (maybe even sleep), eat and recover. While I wouldn’t have changed anything last night because I needed to learn the lessons that come with the DNF, I know in future that I can make the most of the generous time limits allowed in Audax rides.

Lesson 3: Remember it’s not a race; there’s plenty of time to change your fortune.

I finally found out how to carry my route directions

I finally found out how to carry my route directions

In a positive, I discovered a way to carry my route directions using one of my adventure racing map cases.

Total: 160km road cycle.

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4 responses to “When a DNF isn’t a bad thing

  1. What a great lesson, enjoy the scenery and let the ride take care of itself. And 160km might not have been the full, but as many people say, “that’s more than most people will ever do.” No consolation for a DNF, but what a great attitude and lesson. And wow, what beautiful scenery indeed.
    Great plan for your future, by the way. Good luck, and give yourself time to recover 🙂

  2. It’s all about the journey my friend, rest up and enjoy the rest of the year and all that you have planned for it! – Simone 🙂

    • That’s right … It is about the journey isn’t it. I used to be a Taoist and much of the Way is still part of my life. I was very much guided by my practices of Tao when I thought about how to deal with my feelings on the ride. And the best Way was to recognise the seasons are changing and that the change of season also signalled a need for me to have a change of pace / activities 🙂

  3. Pingback: Rest day reflections | Transventure

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