A DNF can leave you broken and demoralised. So how do you bounce back, and more importantly, avoid one? It’s all about level-headed risk management, say leading international experts. Discover their top tips for powering to the finish line.

“Whether it’s due to an injury that exacerbates on the day, lack of fitness, underestimating the conditions, dehydration, or you DNF because you are simply just not on form, what’s important is that you make a clinical and calculated decision. It’s vital to be honest with yourself on the day,” says Prof Martin Hagger, Director of the Health Psychology and Behavioural Medicine Research Group at Curtin University in Perth, Australia.

“People tend to focus all their efforts on the physical aspects of training,” adds Prof Greg Whyte, a leader in the field of sports and exercise science. Whyte, who is also a former Olympic modern pentathlete and World Championship medallist, emphasises the importance of mental preparation in training.

The key is to customise, say the experts, and to use every training session as a chance to trial the following tips for race day success:

1. GO WITH YOUR GUT

In training, says Whyte, reduce gastrointestinal upsets by experimenting with what you can and can’t digest and drink – especially for ultra events. “Practice fuelling in different weather conditions and at various distances.”

2. RACE DAY DETAILS

Be thorough! Research the logistics, the race route. Buddy up to travel to reduce stress. Hagger and Whyte agree that the last thing you want on race day is to be preoccupied with details such as where your family/friends will stand/meet you. Consider parking, public transport hitches, weather conditions and factor in door-to-door time to avoid being late.

3. STICK WITH YOUR KIT

On race day, wear the same comfortable kit that you have worn in training – Hagger and Whyte can’t stress this enough. New trainers on the start-line are not a good idea (you’d be surprised…). Also avoid eating new gels/drinks during the event (see Rebekah’s case study). Stick with what you know works. For distance races this is crucial – running with a chafing rucksack for 100 miles isn’t pretty.

4. CREATE A RACE STRATEGY

This applies to every athlete across the board advises Whyte. “Many race participants either don’t create a strategy or they create a fixed one. Experienced competitors build their strategy in training and execute it. First timers can get taken in by the day’s excitement.” Strategy should include knowing your pace per km/mile, or working heart rate (if you HR train), drink/re-fuel options, where you want to be at the start and how you are going to deal with unforeseen circumstances.

5. SEEING IS BELIEVING

“Visualisation is one of the most effective preparation tools for avoiding a DNF,” says Hagger. “Run through the event in your mind. See yourself in the race. Key questions to ask yourself are: what are my feelings now? What’s my pre-performance routine? When/where on my vest will I pin my race number? Who is going to be with me? Where will I stand on the start line? What pace marker will I run with?”

Experts

PROF GREG WHYTE

Prof Greg Whyte received an OBE for his services to Sport, Sport Science & Charity and was voted as one of the UK’s Top 10 Science Communicators by the British Science Council. Greg is well known for his involvement in Comic Relief and since 2006 has applied his sports science work to assist various celebrities in completing some of the toughest challenges, including the likes of David Walliams, James Cracknell, Eddie Izzard and Davina McCall.

PROF MARTIN HAGGER

Prof Martin Hagger is a 2.42hr marathon runner is currently Professor of Psychology in the School of Psychology and Speech Pathology at Curtin University, Perth, Australia. He is also Director of the Health Psychology and Behavioural Medicine Research Group at the university, editor-in-chief of Health Psychology Review and Stress and Health and an editorial board member of nine other international peer-reviewed journals. E