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When is it OK to DNF a race?

SEP 13, 2023

Minute 1: Say goodbye to caffeine crashes

Coffee can be an athlete’s cheering section when they need a boost of energy, but it can also be a nasty heckler if that athlete has a caffeine sensitivity. Even if you love this WADA-approved cheat code, the highs and lows of caffeinated beverages may have you wanting to taper your habit. Switching to decaf coffee is an effective way to stave off cravings, but did you know decaf coffee can still bring a lot of the benefits a normal cup of joe provides? The background is here: “Decaf Coffee: Is It Good Or Bad For You?” Even when caffeine is removed, coffee still contains antioxidants, phytochemicals, and a neuroprotective compound known as phenylindane. All those ingredients can improve GI health and cognitive performance, while lowering the risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and liver disease. If you don’t want to give up caffeine entirely, but you’re still worried about the caffeine crash, consider trying some of the alternatives listed here: “Which Caffeine Source Gives You the Best Boost—and the Tamest Crash?” On the smooth end of the spectrum sits matcha tea, thanks to its inclusion of an antioxidant called “epigallocatechin 3-gallate” (EGCG) which limits the adrenaline response from caffeine. Lattes are gentler than black coffee too, since milk has a similar effect to EGCG. Whatever you choose, you probably want to “Steer clear of these unhealthy caffeine sources” if you’re in search of a cleaner source of energy. Last but not least, if you’re jamming on a school/work project – or just trying to binge Succession – try using some of “The Best Ways to Stay Awake Without Caffeine.”

Minute 2: How to avoid quadricep cramps

What’s worse than something cramping your style? Something cramping your muscles, of course. Most runners are all too familiar with the painful feeling of a cramp mid-race, and when it happens in a muscle as big as your quadricep, it can make you look for a subway station faster than Rosie Ruiz. If you’ve experienced quad cramps yourself, you can learn how to solve the problem in this new piece from Marathon Handbook: “Quad Cramps During Exercise? Why, What To Do, + How To Avoid It!” Historically, scientists have suspected that cramps are caused by dehydration or lack of electrolytes, but new research suggests it has got more to do with a phenomenon known as “altered neuromuscular control.” That’s when your muscles and nerves become overworked to the point that they can no longer transmit signals to relax a muscle effectively, causing prolonged periods of involuntary contraction. So, how can you avoid cramps? Experts recommend warming up your nervous system before exercise, and cooling it down afterwards. Some of these techniques listed in “How to Calm Your Nervous System,” include using a weighted blanket, shaking out excess energy, and reducing stimuli like loud sources of noise. Research suggests that some foods engage directly with our nervous system, which is why many athletes swear by pickle juice: “How to get rid of leg cramps? Try pickle juice.” We used to assume that pickle juice worked by injecting salty liquid into your system, but it turns out that as little as one tablespoon of pickle brine can trigger a nerve reflex that brings cramp relief in seconds.

Minute 3: These nutrition rules may do more harm than good

“Move fast and break things,” Mark Zuckerberg once commanded his Facebook colleagues. Setting aside the fact that changing his advertising algorithm nearly broke the business model of many running race directors, we generally understand what Zuck was saying. We were reminded of this principle again last week when we read: “5 nutrition ‘rules’ runners can forget.” An athlete’s diet has a lot of “rules'' that are accepted without question, but depending on your circumstance, it may be time to break them. The practice of going gluten free exploded in popularity in the early 2010s, and for those with celiac disease, it can make a world of difference for the better. Unfortunately, gluten got a bad rap along the way, even among those without a dietary restriction, and some folks decided to go gluten free voluntarily. That’s too bad, say many nutritionists, because following a gluten-free diet can put you at a greater risk for nutritional deficiencies, according to: “How To Fuel If You’re Gluten Free.” Another rule that athletes are often told is that “lean is fast,” encouraging you to limit your food intake. If weight loss is your goal, that could be an OK approach, but if you want to maximize your performance and feel good doing it, you’ve got to watch out for underfueling: “How do I know if I'm underfueling my running?” Look out for signs of excessive caloric deficiency, like loss of muscle mass, delayed recovery times, fatigue, disruptions in your menstrual cycle, and more. And remember, the best marathoner in the world, Eliud Kipchoge, has a BMI that is “normal,” not “underweight.”

Minute 4: Know when it’s time to stop your race

The sunk-cost fallacy is the reluctance to abandon a course of action due the large amount of time and money you have already plowed into that course. You’ve probably heard it applied to bad investments, but it can also impact our lives beyond finance. For runners, we invest both time and money into our race performance, and that can cause us to feel like quitting a course before the finish line isn’t an option. The truth is, there are times when pushing too far will put your long-term goals and your health in danger. To keep yourself safe, consider this advice: “How to Know When to DNF.” The urge to quit can be brought on by both physical and mental obstacles, and generally speaking, the former are of greater concern. If you experience an injury, have a bathroom emergency, or feel symptoms of heat stroke or dehydration, the decision is easy: stop and check yourself, and if anything you find is concerning, it’s time to call it quits. Mental blocks, on the other hand, can often be overcome with the right approach. For that, you can follow some of the tips included in “Fighting the Urge to Quit your Workouts.” Setting a concrete, attainable goal can be a strong motivator when the desire to slow down creeps in. The way you speak to yourself in moments of difficulty has an impact as well, according to: “Self-talk During Sport – Advantage or Detriment.” Positive self-reinforcement is scientifically proven to be more effective than negative self-talk.

Minute 5: Quick Intervals

  • Have you ever looked at your fitness tracker at the end of a workout, seen the VO2 max score, and wondered: “How the heck are they measuring that?” You might know that a VO2 max test is typically done in a lab, on a treadmill, with a mask to precisely measure your oxygen intake. But by measuring pace, heart rate, and other metrics, your watch can give you a pretty accurate estimate. In fact, your VO2 max estimate can be a useful guiding tool to plan your training around, and to learn how, take a look at “How I boosted my VO2 Max fitness to 'excellent' on my Garmin watch.”

  • When you eat, do you rush through the meal, or do you savor the flavor? We hope you’re able to take your time, because research has found that a slower pace improves your satisfaction with meals and also delivers a few health benefits. If you need a little help to slow your roll, you can try incorporating mindfulness techniques into your meals: “Scarfing down your food? Here's how to slow down and eat more mindfully.”

  • Tempo runs, fartleks, interval training, and long runs get a lot of love when you’re building your schedule. They’re the exciting part of training where you’re exploring your limits, after all. But as boring as it may seem, it’s important not to overlook the base run, which forms the bedrock of any runner’s conditioning. Base runs shouldn’t be very long or fast, but they act as the breathing room between harder sessions to keep you consistently growing faster. To learn how to perfect your base run, check out: “Running Essentials: The Base Run.” A good rule of thumb is that a base run should be two minutes per mile slower than your 10K pace. If you’re more of a feel person, your exertion should be about a 4 on a scale of 1-10.

Minute 6: Daily Inspiration

Having just sung the praises of base runs, we’ve been following this coach on Instagram for several months and we really like his stuff: @exsplosive_athlete. The skips, hops, and stair climbs he recommends are all about building explosivity. These moves develop your muscles and tendons and can improve running economy substantially. That means these broad jumps, single leg hops, and pogo jumps are useful for short and long distance runners alike. So find a flight of stairs, lace up your shoes, and see how high you can climb as you follow along with this video.


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