Wanaka’s Braden Currie was leading the cycling leg when his day turned to ashes. Currie punctured, waited vital minutes for a support vehicle to replace the wheel and then in his desperation to move back up the field received a drafting penalty. This further five minute time penalty all but destroyed any chance that Currie had of a podium at his debut world championship race. With the Xterra world championship race in two weeks, Currie’s temptation was to drop from the race, reset, and train for his next shot at a world title. “I would have loved to have pulled out” Braden reflected afterwards.
Both Frodeno and Currie went on to finish their respective races. Frodeno’s marathon time was 4:01:57, an hour and 15 minutes slower than his 2016 run. He finished 70th place. Currie, who by his own estimation “cooked” himself, rallied with a three hour marathon to finish in 31st place. These men, whose JOB it is to race, could have dropped at any time. Like the 14 other professional athletes in the men’s field who did pull out. What is curious to me is why they did not?
Currie stated in a post race interview that “It felt like a part of my life that I had to go through” and although he was deeply disappointed to be let down by a mechanical mishap he felt that to stop at this point would not have been respecting the event itself. “It (Kona) is the pinnacle of the sport, I guess I just wanted to know what it felt like in the end”.
Likewise, Frodeno discussed that after he spent 10 minutes floored by a muscle spasm in his lower back which locked his sacroiliac joint he felt he had no choice to continue when he was able to move at a jog; “ That makes me one of many out there today who just had to honor this race and their fellow competitors by bringing it home”.
Both these athletes made a non negotiable commitment to themselves to finish the race if they were able. And both did. I would strongly suggest that the psychological damage that pulling from a race has a more negative longer term impact that if you were to finish; even if your result is far below the expectation that you had set for yourself. I would take take this suggestion one step further to say that if you are not prepared to finish, then don’t start. If you have an event lined up, and there is doubt in your mind that you will be able to finish it, due to a lack of training or injury, then don’t. Or, change to a distance that you could compete at ably, rather than DNF for strategic reasons.
I will always challenge my athletes that when they start an event, unless they are being dragged away or put in an ambulance, they will finish the event. I acknowledge that this is a philosophically confronting approach however I believe that through adversity we learn. We build our reserves of inner strength and an awareness of what we need to do to ameliorate the distress in future. We craft a narrative of strength and fulfilment through our pain and disappointment. In getting to the finish line, like Frodeno or Currie, we learn so much more about what we can do, than what we can’t.