How To: DNF with Grace and Dignity

Posted by on Aug 7, 2008 in How To, Races | No Comments

There is one inevitability about mountain bike racing. At some point, in some race, you will have to bail out. It might be a mechanical failure or it might be a physical problem. Or, you might just realize with pristine clarity that you hate riding a bike and that you will never, ever, under any circumstance let yourself be talked into racing or even riding ever again.

However, you are still left to deal with explaining away that dreaded DNF.

Not finishing a race is not at all uncommon. Every race, whether short or long has people who do not finish the course. A flat tire, a crash, a broken chain, a bonk or any other number of things will happen to someone, causing them to hoof it back to the parking lot.

Certainly you have encountered these people. They are hiking along the singletrack, and as you ride by they are quick to offer up an excuse or explanation. So often though those explanations are generic and bland. They offer nothing in the way of actual legitimate excuse. They are in short, lame.

When fate picks you as that hapless sap who is forced, or chooses to, drop out of a race there are several things you can do to turn that DNF to your favor. The idea is that you will make the decision to DNF and the events that led up to it so epic that your friends who have successfully finished their race will wish they hadn’t.

1) Tell a Great Story. Nobody loves good stories like mountain bikers. And an epic DNF makes for a terrific yarn worth telling and re-telling for ages to come. Don’t be afraid to exaggerate. In fact, make sure you do embellish the facts. That crash that bent your rim? Turn it into a harrowing life threatening disaster in which certain destruction was only narrowly avoided because of your incredible bike handling skills. That sick stomach? Bonks are great story fodder. Include tales of puking, dry heaves, tears, cramps, blurred vision and hallucinations. Visions of wildlife, ancient Anasazi Indians, and elves are good starting points for hallucination stories. A great DNF story will quickly drown out anyone else’s tale of personal triumph and success. Failure sells.

2) You Were Always in Complete Control. A great way to explain away a DNF is to make sure your buddies know that it was your choice to quit. This will help them realize that although you did not finish, you are still very in tune with your mind and body and that you understand your limits. If it is one thing that mountain bikers respect, it is the rider that knows his boundaries, and never, ever pushes them to the brink.

3) Take the High Road. This is related to step #2. When you take the high road less enlightened finishing riders realize that if you had finished the race, you may have put yourself and others in danger. Because you were having a bad day on the bike you saw it best to drop out before Search and Rescue would have been forced to come find you out on course, most likely lying in a ditch in some dark drainage someplace. By quitting the race you did everyone a great service. You will be surprised at the praise this method can garner.

4) Make Future Predictions. When you DNF, especially early in a race it will free you up for that next big event. By playing this up your friends will regret finishing this race, and wish they had just spun lightly so to be better off for the next one. “When I realized it was not my day, I decided to let up and cut it short. I want to be fresh for [insert your next race here] and trudging through the long miles today would have fried me for weeks.” When you use this method to demonstrate your keen foresight don’t be surprised when fellow racers start asking you for training advice.

5) Competition is for Losers. A very effective, and guilt inducing plan for excusing your DNF is to explain that you were just out there to enjoy nature. To experience the quiet beauty of the mountains and the wilderness. Explain that to race in such an environment is crude and disrespectful. Let everyone know that once you were satisfied with your solitary wilderness experiment that you decided to return to civilization to share your knowledge with the unwashed masses. Your insight will be appreciated. And those hammerheads who set personal bests out on course will bow their heads in shame.

6) I Would Have. After telling a great story about your DNF it is imperative that everyone also realizes that if it were not for your incredible crash, or run-in with a rabid mountain lion, or that horrible bonk and puke and broken chain and triple flat tire and cracked frame, lousy course markings, confusion about the number of laps, and the fact that you are tapering for next weeks more important race, that you would have certainly won. A good DNF is made even better when victory was within your grasp. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory can bring great admiration, especially when people understand just how close you were to actual and real demise. The victory will come not from finishing, but from surviving!

In many races you will have a lot of time to conjure up your DNF story. As you walk the course in reverse, or sit roadside near Cisco with your thumb in the air, think about all the fantastic ways you can turn your lousy DNF into an epic foray into the labyrinth and wilderness of the mind and body. When you have your story, stick to it! Using too many of the above in one setting will draw suspicion. And remember the objective is to make those poor suckers who finished the race regret doing so. Tell a story so extravagant and so sensational that it leaves them wondering with bewilderment why they too did not have the sense to quit early.

Also see: How to Get Sposored, and How to Ride Your First 100 Miler


  1. UltraRob
    August 7, 2008

    I hope I don’t need this advice this weekend at the Leadville 100. I’m 35 lbs over race weight and started training 6 weeks ago. It’s going to hurt.

    Back in my younger years when I was only doing short races, I had a streak of over 100 races without a DNF. I’ve had plenty since then.

  2. Jill
    August 8, 2008

    Ha ha! Great post.

    I’ve definitely had a race (maybe two) in which I looked back later and wondered why I didn’t have the sense to not finish. There’s a quiet dignity in the DNF, especially if it means not hobbling around for the next four months.

  3. Jason
    August 8, 2008

    Great tips 😉 I believe in complete honesty when I DNF. No desire to race = no desire to race. Vomit = Vomit and the lack of desire to continue vomiting. etc., etc,

    One of the best times I had this year was when I DNFed at the Big Bear 24 along with my two friends and pit neighbors. We still stayed up all night cheering racers, drinking beer, grilling meat and talking bikes. It was almost worth the entry fee to have those memories.

  4. reabbotted
    August 8, 2008

    Looks like Geoff DNFed on his comment above. Any excuses, err, explanations?

  5. Ski Bike Junkie
    August 8, 2008

    What about the DNS? I’ve got a great story as to why I’m not racing Leadville….et tu?

  6. Grizzly Adam
    August 8, 2008

    I use the same excuse for Leadville every year.

    “Man that lottery just sneaks up on me, I always forget until it is too late.”

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