Pain, Injury Cause ‘DNF’ In NYC Marathon

In this Nov. 5, 2017 photo, a man takes a break during the race to tend to his knee. (Photo by: Tamsen Maloy)

Running the New York City Marathon is a challenging ordeal, requiring months of physical and mental training.

Amid the excitement about finally crossing that finish line and collecting a finisher’s medal, it’s easy to forget that not everyone who trains and enters the race will finish. Unforeseen injury or illness can disrupt a runner’s experience, leaving them with a “did not finish” on their race record.

However, according to Dori Gray, a longtime marathoner, not finishing is more common than people think. Runners often refer to this as a DNF.

Gray attempted the NYC Marathon in 2011, but dropped out at mile 19 due to an intense pain in her esophagus. She detailed her experience on her website, Dori’s Shiny Blog.

“When I DNF’d the thing that gave me the most comfort was hearing from so many other people,” said Gray.

Gray had no idea how many people didn’t finish marathons until she wrote her blog post and people started reaching out to her. After not finishing the 2011 NYC Marathon, she ran the Richmond Marathon the next week.

“I had the best time of my life one week later, and felt like I was floating through that marathon,” she said.

Gray went on to finish several other marathons, including the NYC Marathon in 2014 and 2017.

Ben Carver, a runner and co-president of the South Brooklyn Running Club, says plenty of runners push through the race when it would be a better idea to stop.

“You put so much time and energy into it, it’s hard to walk away,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around thinking about it, it may seem like a much better idea than when you actually do it.”

He also said the emotional cost of dropping out of the marathon after almost a year of training could be a factor in runners’ decision to keep going, even if they arguably shouldn’t.

Dr. Teo Mendez, an orthopedic surgeon with NY Orthopedics and an affiliate of Lenox Hill Hospital, said people who should accept a DNF typically have symptoms during training.

Mendez said if anti-inflammatories and rest don’t relieve pain, the issue might be more serious and runners should consider consulting a doctor. He said injury could result from training too much in too little time.

Dr. Rolland Nemirovsky of Manhattan Sports Therapy is a chiropractic sports physician. Both he and Mendez distinguished between discomfort during a marathon, and pain that is indicative of something harmful to your health.

“If it feels like you can’t function or perform—like you can’t just run through it—then there’s a problem,” Nemirovsky said. “If you find a way to run in a relatively pain-free range of motion, then you’re OK.”

Though wary of using a cliché, runners and medical professionals agree: listen to your body.

Did you know…?

  • Drinking too much water during a marathon can be detrimental to your health.
  • According to Nemirovsky, too much water displaces minerals (like sodium) and electrolytes the body needs to maintain the ability to keep running in a safe, healthy way.
  • Runners who drink too much water often arrive at the finish line with white crust forming on their foreheads—this is the mineral output flushed out from sweating and drinking too much water.
  • Nemirovsky recommends getting a supply of sodium- and electrolyte-rich drinks, foods or supplements to prevent flushing too many minerals out during the race. This could mean drinking a sports drink at aid stations instead of water or taking a sodium pill.

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