When is it better to DNS than show up and put in your best effort?

This is one of my hardest lessons learned over the last 12 years of running and racing. Sometimes the best race you can have is to never cross the starting line.

A few years ago, amidst the energy of my friends qualifying for Boston, I decided that I was ready to put in the effort and make it happen. I jumped headfirst into training without a second thought about how any of it could lead to injury—thank you, 20-year-old brain, for making me so wonderfully naive.

I looked up my goal pace to Boston qualify and I simply started running it as much as I could whenever I could with speed work obviously even faster. Then suddenly I began having the infamous IT band issues.

In fact, my IT Band pain got so bad that I actually had to take steroids for the inflammation so that I could simply walk around in my normal life. Of course I listened to the advice to rest and ice, but only for a few days. I had a marathon to train for, after all.

After a few months of PT it was time for the race and though I knew a Boston qualifying time was out of consideration, I still thought I could just take it easy and cross that finish line I’d spent so many months thinking about.

That choice derailed my training for the next three months.
Around mile 13, the pain struck. I was suddenly dragging my left leg behind me rather than running in a forward motion.

Around mile 22, as I was gimping along at a 21-minute pace, I got some Tylenol at an aid station ran and into my husband who rightly questioned my sanity, but I was determined to finish what I had spent months preparing to do. Too determined, pigheaded or stubborn to stop, I continued, certain I could “push through the pain.” Wasn’t that what we’ve always been told to do? Tough it out.

I spent the next three months walking, rehabbing and stretching. Any attempt at running was met with severe pain.

But those months of being unable to run taught me some very valuable lessons about how much I love to run, what it means to listen to your body and how a time goal is secondary to my choice to run for life. Sometimes we grumble when we don’t hit a PR or our pace is too slow, but now I’m able to take it all in stride with a greater appreciation for simply being able to run—and maybe that’s the best reason of all to DNS.

Not sure if you should DNS or give it a go? Read more tips from Amanda on reasons to DNS, learn more about discomfort vs. pain and IT Band recovery exercises.

For more on the Saucony 26 Strong program, which pairs up 13 coaches with 13 marathon rookies, visit 26Strong.com.