The DNF – Did Not Finish.
It’s about as much fun as preparing your tax return. Ironically, for a bloke who pays his bills by finishing races, the more DNF’s I have, the less tax preparation I have. This also means that fewer of said bills actually get paid, but I guess it is a mild succour to know that at least I’ll never have the double whammy of bulk DNF’s and complicated tax.
Like most who invest gratuitous quantities of time, effort and money getting to races with the intent to perform well, I’ve always done my utmost to avoid the lamentable DNF. Indeed, in these very pages, I’ve detailed my exploits navigating the German hinterlands, ‘borrowing’ wheels with much dexterity and little consent from recently crashed comrades in the effort to avoid an untenable DNF next to my name.
However, when you have raced as much as I have, there comes the odd occasion where I’ve had to concede and leave a finish line untraversed. More often than not, there’s been a humorous side to each occasion, if one searches with a gaze filtered for optimism by the healing touch of time. Thus, the DNF list, aka the hall of shame.
2001. Naught but a 16-year-old, I grasped an early thorn from the rose bush of triathlon. Flat tyres can happen anywhere, in this case – 2km into the bike. I slunk back to transition, did the run anyway to vent some frustration. Due to a timing-chip malfunction, I was awarded the win. In a test of my moral compass, I returned the valuable commodity (a backpack) to the rightful victor. You don’t want an illicit backpack on your conscience while you’re trying to get to sleep every night.
2007. Another flat tyre, this time, it came as welcome relief. I’d been crook as a dog, and spent the first half of a World Cup in Lisbon in a dilapidated state, coughing up my guts and trying not to pass out. My obvious display of relief upon my forced exit from the race confused some spectators. I find speaking Portuguese impossible, and speaking Portuguese with a mouthful of phlegm even more impossible, so I left them in a bemused state and was back at my hotel, and asleep before Gomez had broken the tape.
2007. My first and only premeditated DNF. Shortly before the World Championships, I took the opportunity to do a ‘training session’ at a Euro Cup in Geneva, just down the road from our base in France. Again, cue confused spectators, when I ran 2.5km flat out, pulled to the side of the road to talk to my coach for 10 minutes, then re-entered the race for a 5km cool down, only to pull out again, 2.5km short of the line.
My side of the story is that no chain forged by
man can withstand my wattage when I unleash full power.
2008. Hamstrung by some questionable poultry the night before the Mooloolaba World Cup meant my stomach was as congested as Coronation Drive on a weekday morning (gag for the Brisbane commuters!). Bluffed my way through the swim/bike, but the stabbing intestinal pain was too much for the run. Almost as painful was trying to convince an altruistic yet irritatingly persistent volunteer that a) yes, I really wanted to withdraw, and b) yes, I realised how disappointed I would be if I pulled out. The disappointment in her eyes haunts me to this very day.
2009. Sick again this time, and definitely shouldn’t have even attempted to start the Washington WTS. Last by minutes out of the water, I trudged up the swim ramp, straight into the athlete’s tent, and spoke to my coach for 10 minutes before wheeling my bike out of transition and heading for the hotel. At this point, an enthusiastic, benevolent, yet clearly imbecilic Yank started cheering for me with inexhaustible vigour. I wouldn’t mind seeing a photo of the way I looked at him while he cheered for me as I wore a backpack riding the wrong way on the footpath, 15 minutes after the rest of the field had gone, but I can’t imagine I hid my emotions well…
2010. My only non-flat mechanical at Sydney WTS. My side of the story is that no chain forged by man can withstand my wattage when I unleash full power. How ostensible this narrative is may be open to some debate, however, the end result was a chain twisted around my frame tighter than my stomach muscles from the Mooloolaba yarn, and an undignified walk back to transition.
2012. I guess this would also go down as a premeditated DNF. In Chengdu for a Conti Cup, I’d come down with a stress fracture days before the event. Having already received flight assistance from the organisers to get there, I felt obliged to toe the start line and show good intentions. It was a two-lap swim with a get out-pontoon dive in between laps. I think I was third at the end of the first lap, and about 35th after I got out, dragged my lame leg across the pontoon and flopped back in with the grace of a drunken hippo. At the end of the swim, I limped slowly back to the athlete’s tent, where I discovered someone had stolen my gear bag. Sometimes, life just wants to poke you in the eye. To make things worse, for some inexplicable reason, the race volunteer translators wouldn’t let me leave the hotel to buy a beer to drown my sorrows. Nothing worse than not being able to finish either a race or a beer in the same day…