“Straighten up an lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near”. [Luke 21:28] DNF.
The status updates start rolling in after a big racing weekend. Injury, hypothermia, lack of training, lack of mental toughness, strict cut-offs – whatever the reason, the racers are reeling. They are hungry for redemption.
“I will be back”, they scream, all Terminator-like, shaking their fists and enviously eyeing the medal they never got.
The word redemption in the racing community came to mean finishing a race that you have attempted but failed to complete in the past. Those three letters “DNF” seem to light a special kind of fire in the hearts of many.
After being misdirected on course at the inaugural Ultra Beast 2012, a small group of racers formed a private Facebook page, vouching to go back and finish what they started. They called themselves “The Lost Tribe”.
The themes of sin and redemption seem common in extreme endurance. Perhaps, it’s something about seeking out voluntary punishment, as if in an attempt to cleanse yourself, to find a way to be good again. To be reborn.
Yet, outside of obstacle racing, redemption is defined as “a thing that saves someone from error”, or “an action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil”.
And I can’t help, but wonder:
Does DNF warrant redemption? Or simply another attempt? In other words, is DNF a sin?
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines sin as “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law”.
In seeking redemption, we are seeking… forgiveness?
You did not finish the race. But did you commit an immoral act? Did you make an error? Did you violate the divine law? Did you sin?
Even if you withdrew from the race voluntarily, quit, walked away, was the act so heinous as to warrant redemption?
I spent years in pursuit of DNF. As the races got longer, harder, tougher, I kept looking for that one. My perfect DNF. The one that would break me. That one that would bring… yes, redemption.
DNF is not a sin. Finally finding your limit, your wall, your edge – now, that’s divine.
And the journey from being bad to good is about more than just a medal.
“In the end, it is our defiance that redeems us”, Mark Rowlands reminds us in his book, The Philosopher and the Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death, and Happiness.
Be defiant. And you will be redeemed. Medal or not.
Liked this post? Check out my essay about the special misery that a 5k brings, and about the hardest workout ever.