DNF (Did Not Finish) and DNF (Did Not Fail)

Not completing the Amsterdam Good Morning City Run — a short guided run the day before the Amsterdam Marathon — was one of the best things I’ve done this year.

I didn’t make it to the end, but it was a victory.

Let me explain: When I realized I would be in Amsterdam the weekend of that city’s marathon, I considered signing up for the shortest option, an 8K. I hadn’t run in a while, so any race would have been ambitious. I knew I’d need to walk most of it.

The 8K was sold out, but the Good Morning Run was available. There were two options: 6.5K and 3.5K. I decided to play it safe and go with the shorter route. I didn’t think it would be a challenge.

I was wrong.

Turning Around

Since it was a guided run, the roads weren’t closed off and we were broken into small groups. One guide led the way, and another brought up the rear. The pace was slow, and I could catch my breath momentarily when we paused to let cars and bicycles pass at pedestrian crossings. Despite this, I fell from the middle of the pack to the back.

Around one kilometer in, I knew I was spent. I told the guide in the back I needed to drop out and walk back. He said he needed to accompany me (which, I assume, is for insurance reasons). He and the other guide arranged to have one of the other runners be the caboose, and then we turned around.

I barely finished a third of the run, but I felt fine about it. In fact, better than fine. And that’s because of something that happened to me here in Tampa a few weeks prior.

The Wisdom of Meb

As I said, I hadn’t run in a while. However, a few weeks before the Amsterdam trip, I started walking on Bayshore in the mornings. One day, I saw Meb Keflezighi1 and waved to him. He seemed to recognize me, slowed down, and asked how I was doing. I said something about trying to get back into running but lacked confidence and was just walking.

He looked at me and said, “You’re here. That’s the hard part.”

Those words meant a lot at the time, but became even more profound in Amsterdam. Being there and running was the hard part, and I had done it.

The starting line was more important than the finish line.

I’ll Take the W

I thanked the guide for walking me back to Museumplein, got a bottle of water, and found a spot in the shade. I felt like a million bucks (about €913,000 at the time) and wanted to hold onto the feeling.

After that, I took a tram to the Olympic Stadium to pick up my preordered T-shirt. Most everyone there were anticipating the marathon, which would be held the next day. I knew I had already won. I rewarded myself by buying an additional T-shirt.

Pointing at my name on the list of Amsterdam race participants.
I found my name on the list of Amsterdam race participants.

The next day, I walked to Vondelpark to cheer on the marathoners. I felt inspired, not intimidated, by them.

Across the road, another spectator was holding up a sign that struck a chord with me:

Man holding "You Are Great" sign along the Amsterdam Marathon route.
A good sign.

It’s not just the message on the sign that resonated with me, but the fact that we were nowhere near the finish line. It was another reminder to celebrate where I am, not where I think I should be. The effort is just as important — perhaps more important — than the achievement.

Knowing this is more valuable than all the medals in the world.

1 I wrote this about Meb on LinkedIn earlier this year:

In the world of running, Meb Keflezighi is a rock star like no other. But what impresses me most is not his record, but the way he treats others.

Meb (so famous he only needs one name) is the only person who has won the New York Marathon, the Boston Marathon, and an Olympic medal. (Actually, he has won two Olympic medals, but who’s keeping count.) He now lives in Tampa, and I’ve run into him a few times. Every interaction has made a mark on me.

🏃‍♂️ When I wave to him on Bayshore (my usual running route), he’ll acknowledge me, smile, and wave back. He has no idea who I am. He’s just friendly that way.

🏃‍♂️ When I met him for the first time and told him a good friend (who lives in Colorado) was a huge fan, he sat down and wrote a short note praising her accomplishments (a marathon on all seven continents) and encouraging her to keep going.

🏃‍♂️ When he hosted his first 5K on Saturday, he thought nothing of taking photos with everyone who asked. He never once looked annoyed or indifferent, even as the line grew.

Even short encounters like these can have a big impact. When we’re surrounded by egos and pretentiousness, someone who is approachable really stands out.

When I tell people I want to follow in Meb’s footsteps, it doesn’t mean I want to win marathons. It means I want to be warm and make others feel special.

Although winning an Olympic medal would be cool. 🏅