Written By: Katie Purcell



We've all been there. At some point in our OCR race career, we’ve started a race and had an “Oh…sh*t” moment when we start sucking wind on the second (or first!) big climb. That sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach isn’t just the protein bar you had for breakfast – it’s the realization that for whatever reason, today is not your day and you’ve gotta figure out what to do about that – STAT. 

In the heat of the moment, this can be a tough call to make. You’re exhausted, and emotional, and probably having a lot of different “feels”/thoughts swirling around about what you should do, with conflicting motivations. Do you pull yourself up by your bootstraps/suck it up/race through the pain? Or call it a day – citing that as the most sensible option – and save your body from almost certain annihilation? We are all familiar with the various motivational quotes claiming something along the lines of The Glory Is Worth The Pain. But is it? And if it is, is that ALWAYS the case? Or is there a tipping point where the pain might be something we should pay attention to, as a strategic move for the greater good of our race season? This is the article to prepare you for that moment, should it ever arrive. 


*Note: When we say “pain” in this article we aren’t referencing injury...we’re talking about being tired/sore/muscles hurting…normal race misery stuff. Not actual pain that you should see a doctor about or pain coming from a physical injury.

**Also Note: None of this article is meant to be taken into account for when/if you have been injured during the race – that’s totally different and we are definitely not making ANY suggestions for when/how people should decide if they can (or should) continue racing after getting injured on course.



Okay, maybe panic a little. Feel how you feel! Just don’t let fear take over enough to cloud your judgment. Deep breaths. Give yourself a few minutes to take a time-out and evaluate/decide what the right course of action is for YOU, based on your answers to the questions below. 


Ask yourself the following questions – and be really honest with yourself – before you make a decision. Please note that these questions aren’t meant to be in any particular ranked or chronological order: they are all just things to consider while making your decision. Your health/well-being/safety should always come first.

  1. How Important Is This Race To You? This is the first, overarching/general question to ask yourself and give yourself a framework to put everything else you think about into perspective. Is this an “A” Race for you? Or are there more important races coming up that you should focus on? Is it worth pushing yourself through this race, and possibly endangering your ability to race or perform at your best at an upcoming race that matters more? 
  2. What Is Your Current Level Of Fatigue/Misery, & How Does That Compare To How Far You Are Through The Race? If you’re at a Fatigue Level 8/10 (10 being “I Cannot Take Another Freaking Step) and you’re only 4 miles into a 15-mile race, you might want to think about calling it a day. If this is where you’re at, and you feel you may not be able to finish anyway, taking a DNF now is the more strategic way to go. At the end of the day there’s no more glory in finishing 13 out of 15 miles rather than 4 out of 15, and saving yourself that extra misery/pain train might be the best gift you can give yourself IF you’re working towards other races in the future.
  3. Adding On To The Previous, How Rapidly Is The Fatigue/Misery Progressing? So maybe you’re only at a Level 5 out of 10 on that scale we mentioned earlier. If you’re on mile 6 out of 12 and think you can push through somehow (or walk, or DRAG yourself across the finish line) without things getting too much worse, then maybe you should go for it. HOWEVER if you’re on that same mile 6 out of 12 at that same Level 5, but you were at a Level 4 just 500 feet ago and Level 3 a quarter mile before that, things are progressing pretty rapidly and you’re definitely on your way to hitting the wall. 
  4. Logistics: What Are The Pros/Cons Of Pulling Yourself? Is this a race venue in an exotic location where you have always dreamed of racing…or is it an easily-accessible race/venue you can pretty easily do again in the future? For example I have seen photos of some pretty amazing venues over in Europe or Asia: and with some of those vistas in the background, I might just suck it up and stick it out to finish the race for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like that. But if it’s a venue relatively local to me…one I am familiar with and have raced multiple times (and can probably plan to race again in the future multiple times), then there’s not a whole lot to be lost if this race falls through. Another logistics question: Do you have an ambitious/full race schedule this year that has been carefully planned out, and not finishing this race will negatively affect that? (for example: if you have planned out 6 trifectas and missing this race will make that impossible because you cannot make it up another time this year.)
  5. What Is Your “Why” For This Race? We don’t always race for the same reasons: different events can have different motivators. Ask yourself honestly what your REAL reasons are for participating in this race, and how important it is that you complete it. This relates to the concept of “A Races” mentioned above. Speaking from a personal standpoint sometimes I race with a goal of a certain ranking, but generally speaking I race because I love playing on the obstacles and pursuing a healthy hobby. Do you feel like you “have” to complete the race because you want to, or are you motivated by outside sources making you feel obligated? Do you want to complete the race for the sense of accomplishment/to fulfill a personal objective/to achieve a certain goal, or is your drive fueled by how it will look to others if you complete the race vs. pull out? Depending on what your ultimate goals in the sport are, I would posit that feeling worried about how you will look on social media if you get a DNF is NOT a legitimate reason to continue a race that is putting your health or wellness in jeopardy.
  6. The Aftermath: How Will You Feel If You Pull Out Of This Race? While this is definitely difficult to assess “in the moment,” try to weigh the pros and cons of how you might feel afterward if you pull out. Considering your personality and how you interpret situations like this…how much will it ruin your day/week/season if you don’t complete this race? Will you get over it, or do you know it will nag at you for weeks or months? We are not suggesting that you should hold on to the negativity of a bad race day…it’s much better for the human psyche overall to let go of negativity and move on…but healthy or not, this is still a factor and so worth mentioning here.


    • Keep Things In Perspective: What does OCR mean to you? What purpose does it serve in your life? Are you trying to become a pro athlete, or is it a hobby/pastime that you enjoy? Even if it is a hobby that you enjoy competing in, remember that our sport is new and even the pro athletes (well, most of them), still have other jobs/sources of income! If you push too hard and injure yourself, what implications might that have on the rest of your life (outside of OCR)? Inability to enjoy an upcoming family vacation if you’re in a cast? Time off from work?
    • Check Your Ego: Sometimes, stuff just happens. We never know what’s going to happen on Race Day and sometimes stuff that is out of our control causes what could have otherwise been considered an “easy” race to be all of a sudden out of reach. That’s okay! There is zero reason to hold yourself to a particular standard and be thinking, “I need to finish this race because I finished xyz race which everyone knows is so much easier.” Different day…different circumstances…it’s a tough pill to swallow to admit that you registered for a race you weren’t ready for, or that you took it for granted that your training was good enough and it wasn’t, but that’s what happened. For whatever reason – whether life got in the way or you had other priorities or you just underestimated the event – you are the one who dropped the ball on your training being where it needed to be for this race. Face it. Own it. Use it. Forcing yourself through an event to finish it just because you think you “should be good enough” is just foolish.
    • Social Media Is A Life Ruiner: Pushing yourself can be a good thing: we strive to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, to push our boundaries, and to “level up” to see what we can accomplish with hard work and consistency. But pushing your body too hard through an event just for a #MedalMonday post is the difference between going “beast mode” and going “injury mode.” 


    Hopefully this will never happen to you, and you’ll show up to ALL of your races fit as a fiddle and ready to take on the day. But if it DOES, don’t sweat it, and give yourself permission to take a time-out and think through your options to make the choice that is truly best for you. Then make a decision, stick with it, and don’t look back. If you DO go for the DNF, use it as the motivation/fire to continue to push your training to the next level so you’ll be ready the next time around. Keep things in perspective and remember that (for the majority of us) at the end of the day this is all for fun, and not worth freaking out over or letting it ruin your day/week/season. While it can be easy to lose yourself in “Race Day Focus” remember to think of the big picture, and that you don’t owe anyone anything, and that your health/well-being always needs to come first. If it doesn’t and you put it in jeopardy to the point of injury, you won’t be able to race anymore anyway!


    Have YOU ever been in this situation? What did you do? What questions did you ask yourself to help you decide?Let us know in the comments!  





    1 Response

    Mark Rabenold
    Mark Rabenold

    July 01, 2019

    Good stuff!

    I had to DNF in a marathon, the 2005 Fallsview Niagara International Marathon.

    At the start, my goal was to be under 4 hours. At mile 15, I was on pace, but the next miles took me 2 hours. At mile 21, I flagged down the struggle bus.I could barely move.

    I just did not dress correctly for the cold and rain.

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