DNF. Those are three letters that make most ultra-cyclists cringe, well they make me cringe anyway. Did Not Finish: always bothers me to be sure, although I’m not exactly sure why. DNF is that thought that hides in the back of the mind and creeps to the forefront as the miles pass. “God, I feel like shit, I sure hope I can finish this thing…” I was thinking that we should ban the acronym from our cycling thought patterns and substitute, “Yeah-But” instead. Why? DNF is too much like death, it permeates the mind with the thought of a finale with no meaning. Kind of like the end of a person’s life where no one remembers the person’s journey.
My view of ultra-cycling has always been to finish the ride, and luckily, I have finished everyone of my attempts except one…well two, if you count the one I did not pay for. I say, “finish the ride” because most of us mere mortals participate in these things for the adventure and not the competition per se. There are a few who have either the natural ability or unlimited time to train for competition; I have neither, so I opt for the adventure and a little inward self-competition.
Before exploring “Yeah-But”, let’s take a deeper look at DNF for a second. Here’s my take on why DNF is so daunting and hard to deal with. I remember way back as a kid I went to see the movie “Patton.” I remember his speech to the troops before going into battle, and I remember one portion of that speech in particular. The character, General George Patton said, “…Americans love a winner, and will not tolerate a loser…” He went on and on about the “fastest runner”, “highest jumper”, etc, etc…, that and host of other shit I can’t remember. But, that particular part of his speech always stuck in my brain for some odd reason. So, I guess it is that “American” ethic thing that drives us to not DNF.
Perhaps part of the DNF aversion can be attributed to the way we were raised. “You better finish that meal, there are starving children in Africa that would love that food, ya know!” Or perhaps, “you have to finish your homework before you can go out and play.” Then there was one of my favorites, “Don’t start something you can’t finish!” What the fuck was that supposed to mean anyway? If I didn’t finish peeing in the toilet, did that make me a failure of some sort, or a loser who Americans won’t tolerate? Well, having said all of that, I think you get my point. Most people don’t want the stigma of DNF on them: a badge of “L” for loser, or “F” for failure as it were.
Oh, one other thing about DNF and then we’ll move on to Yeah-But. Ever notice how people react when you tell them that you “lost”, or notice their reaction when you tell them you DNF’d? It is one of those somewhat false-empathetic responses, their eyes shift slightly away from looking at you and they say something like: “oh, you’ll do a lot better next time…maybe you need to train harder”, or, “that’s too bad man, what happened to you out there?” Followed shortly thereafter, by a complete change in subject. Again, this is only my observation. I’m sure someone will get their panties in a wad and say something like, “hey not everybody is like that.” Well, sure…no shit Sherlock. So, ok, let’s move onto Yeah-But.
I really like “Yeah-But” much better than “DNF”, or Did Not Finish. Why? Say it to yourself, “yeah-but.” What goes through your mind? Aaaah, there is more to the story right? There is a tale to be told. The thought, “tell me more” comes to the forefront right? The “yeah” part acknowledges the finality of “DNF”, but the “but” part says: there is a story here that needs to be told. Peoples’ attention is focused on the explanation, and the vivid storyboard formed by the words that describe the adventure, vice the finality of the moment.
“Yeah-but” also stymies the quick branding of one as a, “loser or failure.” Think about it for a second. If you want to hear more about the adventure, you are much less likely to jump to an immediate opinion. Something like this, “yeah it really sucked out there and I didn’t finish, but I had the best ride of my life…my legs were strong for the first 100 miles, my nutrition was spot on; and you should have seen how beautiful it was out there, it was like riding through Western Europe in the spring…flowers blooming…the air was fresh and clean…sun warming my face…totally awesome dude, you shoulda been there!” So whatya say?, let’s change “DNF” to “Yeah-But.”
A few Yeah-Buts:
Death Valley Double Attempt, 2003
Little Miss Sunshine's Fixed Gear 508 Attempt
Nightmare to Remember
One of my personal favs:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt.