Turn Disappointment Into Success And The Strange Limbo Of The Ironman Did Not Finish (DNF) Into Your Exciting New Beginning

Dantes Limbo

Hi folks! Welcome to my home of ‘thinking out loud.’

Carm, of Carm and Sean, a couple of our greatest supporters at the Lake Placid Ironman, have joined my home cooking our of your vehicle approach to this race.

Carm, of Carm and Sean, a couple of our greatest supporters at the Lake Placid Ironman, has joined my home cooking out of your vehicle with a Coleman Stove approach to this race. Best food in town! Thanks guys, you were great.

If you take on a difficult task, such as an Ironman race, be prepared for failure, especially if you only just fail, as it transports you to an interesting locale, a kind of limbo. Then step back, shake yourself off, and remember all the great people you encountered along the way, and do it again if the reason you started in the first place is still valid.

I find that my trips to Ironman races are more about cooking out of my truck and meeting fascinating (and not so fascinating) people, combined with the fun of swimming, biking, running, seeing beautiful scenery, and experiencing the energy of supporters (which is remarkable in Lake Placid). You climb onto a roller coaster in the morning as you line up in your wetsuit around 6:30 am., and you ride that roller coaster all day.

But what if you Do Not Finish, the dreaded DNF?

Left to right, Deb, Maia and Myles. Maia and Myles walked the last 11 miles of the run with me, and Deb spent plenty of time making sure I was OK. Great to have such wonderful supporters.

Left to right, Deb, Maia and Myles. Maia and Myles walked the last 11 miles of the run with me, and Deb spent plenty of time making sure I was OK. Great to have such wonderful supporters.

This is a fascinating journey of self-discovery. It has happened to me three times in the last year, each for a different reason, heat stress (70 miles into the bike leg), undertrained (105 miles on the bike), and inadequate [Paleo] nutrition (10 miles into the run), though it is surprising how far I went on only 3 eggs for breakfast at 4 am. Each time I encountered other people struggling with joining me in this limbo, and a limbo it is. Some of them were great athletes, including a 10x finisher (I’ve finished 5x). The remaining and extremely dedicated volunteers attempt to console you, though I didn’t need consoling, I was so relieved to stop each time, knowing it was the right thing to do.

Learn from the experience, then live to fight another day, is my motto.

Some people are angry and crying, others desolated and crying, whilst many are just sick, literally. But there is no place for you anymore in the race.

Three years in a  row my truck failed to start as I was leaving Lake Placid, but not this year, as I was gratified to be able to help Sean start his car with my trusty old Chevy (325 miles) and jumper cables I carry everywhere. Least I could do for such a great supporter, and he's racing again next year, so I'll see you there, Sean, same spot, same old Coleman Stove.

Three years in a row our truck failed to start as we were leaving Lake Placid, but not this year. I was gratified to be able to help Sean start his car with my trusty old Chevy (325 thousand miles on the clock). Least I could do for such a great supporter. Sean is racing again next year, so I’ll see you there, Sean, same spot, same old Coleman Stoves.

You see the bright lights, hear Mike with his heraldic cry, whilst you creep around in the shadows trying to work out how to negotiate the fences, not fitting in with the spectators, no longer treated as an athlete, and working to turn in your chip, for which there appears to be no easy solution – they are too busy with the finishers. There is literally no place to go but back to the hotel. Humans are not that interested in those who fail.

But it is out of failure that great successes can grow, like the Phoenix from the ashes. If you have DNFed, don’t worry, gird your loins, fix whatever went wrong, and return to your dream if it doesn’t threaten your health and you really want to continue competing.

I’ve already signed up for the Louisville Ironman, four weeks away, simply because my ‘Paleoid’ nutrition didn’t permit me to beat myself up in Lake Placid. This race turned into a 138.2 mile easy workout. Why easy? Because I couldn’t generate my usual wattage or pace – not enough fuel in the tank. I feel for those people who were so disappointed, many of whom never return, I suspect, whilst most could easily try again.

We need a home for the DNFed. They could be the best athletes of all.

If they have good coaches, they’ll be fine.

-k @FitOldDog

PS A final note: think about it. At the age of 70 I managed to complete a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 10-mile run, before bonking due to running out of fuel, whilst feeling fine the next day – effect limited to minor soreness of my quads and massive hunger. It turns out, I suspect, that my Cori Cycle could not keep up with my Bi-Cycle. “You are an Ironman” Mike was right! “No eat, no finish!”



  1. Most of us have some kind of DNF result most days. Some of us use the information to get up and go back out there, again. The sun always rises. It’s a new day and all the possibilities are exciting!

  2. Anita Casey says

    You are quite the trooper! Did you hear a granny’s voice in your head at the end saying, “You should have had a big breakfast”?

    • Hi Anita! Everyone said it couldn’t be done – no granny’s left, I’m afraid – but I went further than I would normally living on carbs and missing a few bars on the bike. Now I have to dial in a layer of carbs over Paleo, whilst keeping my transcriptomes in a ‘fasting’ state. Interesting. Yep! Big breakfast on race day.

  3. 3 eggs doesn’t seem like enough to me.

  4. 3 eggs doesn’t seem like enough to me to do an Ironman. But you can’t swim on a full stomach either.

  5. You are clearly editing but not digesting my blog posts. You have to read about the Paleo diet books to understand what I’m saying, but no time to explain now. Onto the next thing, and oh yes, here is the link to that blog post http://www.whentheygetolder.co.uk/safe-exercise-in-later-life-expands-horizons/

  6. I still think that 3 eggs is not sufficient nutrition to do an Ironman on.

  7. Kevin, congratulations! Most of the population would never even be able to imagine doing anything as strenuous as an Ironman and you are inspiring in your dedication and perseverance. I see the inspiration your example gives Nigel and he’s proud of you and tells our patients about you. He’s excited that you’ll join him in Kentucky and I’ll be watching to see how both of you are doing during the race. Good luck!!

    • Thanks for your encouragement, Linda. Nigel is the person who inspired me to enter this great sport years ago. Can’t imagine anything better than being in the same race as my son. How’s the breathing as you run, by the way? OK! Off to ride, and then to the track. Cheers, Kevin

  8. Seems like my running days are over Kevin. I was training all winter for the Charleston bridge run and hurt my knee on Easter. The Dr. said I have arthritis and no cartilidge. I did the USMC mud run and hurt it more but I loved the mudrun. I did the mudrun in town with Nigel and 2 co-workers and that finished it. I just got back from a good bike ride with a nice climb and I’m sticking with cycling for now. Maybe it will help re-hab the knee but I doubt it. The breathing was getting better though. All the best!

    • Did you have an MRI for your knee? If it is bone on bone you have a challenging issue. If not, there is a way via low impact running.

      • I think it is probably bone on bone, that’s what the dr. suspects. My insurance refused to cover an MRI for some reason and the dr. warned that if I keep running I’ll be looking at a knee replacement. I miss running though. It’s something my daughter and I enjoyed doing together.

  9. Hi Linda, a simple x-ray will tell you if there is bone on bone (just watch the gap). A friend of mine went through this, and what a journey and expense, including an external spatial frame for ages. Cartilage grafting is coming along, and I’m sure it will be outpatient soon, so keep an eye on that by checking what is going on at the Stone Clinic. The cure may arrive sooner than you think. Hang in there, and thanks again for all your encouragement. Kevin

  10. Amazing post. I love your attitude and outlook on the bigger picture. You will do wonderful in Louisville! Good luck!

  11. We’ll see about Louisville, Carlos, but the result will be more a measure of my mind than my body! Rock on young man.

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.