What Does DNS Mean In Track? + DNS Vs DNF In Running, Explained

If you like to follow the world of competitive running, you likely browse race results after a road race or a track meet.

Race results are usually set up so that you see the winner at the top and then all of the runners in finishing order with their respective finish times, team or city they represent, age, etc., below.

At the very bottom of the race results for a track meet, you might see DNS or DNF after someone’s name with no posted finish time.

So, what does DNS mean in track or running? What does DNS mean in race results? Is a DNS race result the same as a DNF on race results?

In this guide, we will answer the question: what does DNS mean in track or running results, discuss the differences between DNS vs DNF in running, and how to prevent seeing DNS or DNF next to your own name on the results page of a running race.

We will cover: 

  • What Does DNS Mean In Track?
  • Why Does a DNS In Running Happen?
  • Is It Better to DNS a Race or DNF a Race?

Let’s dive in! 

A person on track blocks.

What Does DNS Mean In Track?

So, what does DNS mean in track race results?

DNS is an acronym used for track and field, road racing, trail running, or any form of running that stands for “did not start.“

Therefore, the meaning of DNS in the context of running is that the runner was registered to participate in the race but did not show up on the starting line and begin the race.

In track, you might hear someone say that the runner “scratched“ from the race, which is generally another way of saying DNS, so the terms DNS vs scratched in track may be used interchangeably. 

You will find DNS runners at the bottom of the list of finishers for a running event, after all of the runners who have an official finishing time.

The running abbreviation DNS will appear instead of a finish time.

Runners at a track meet.

It is most common to see DNS in track results because runners may need to qualify or pre-register for the track event or heat.

If the runner does not make it to the starting line for one reason or another, their name will still appear in the results, or there may even be a race number or lien that had been assigned to that runner. 

Therefore, to “cross the t’s and dot the i’s” of the race results, the DNS running acronym is used to inform viewers of the race results that the given competitor didn’t end up competing in the event.

This is a useful time to contrast the difference between DNS in running vs DNF in running.

While a DNS race result means the runner did not start the race, the meaning of DNF in track or running is “did not finish.“

Thus, when comparing the difference between DNS vs DNF race results, a person whose name has the letters DNS next to it on the race results didn’t start the race, while a participant with the letters DNF instead of a finish time on the race results started the race but did not finish the race.

A runner with theie hands on their knees.

A DNF in running results is also usually distinct from DQ, which stands for “disqualified.“

A runner who DNFs a race started the race and made it through some portion of the event but then dropped out or did not finish the event under the time limit.

A runner who DQs a race gets disqualified from the event by intentionally or accidentally breaking a rule

It is most common to see a DQ in track rather than road running. 

For example, if a baton is dropped in a relay, the relay team will receive a DQ race result.

Again, for the sake of completion, a runner who gets a DNS result in running signed up for the race but did not end up showing up or competing for one reason or another. 

Essentially, a DNS race result means that the runner pulled out of the race at some point between registering or signing up for the race and crossing the starting line after the starting gun went off.

A track.

Why Does a DNS In Running Happen?

There are several reasons why you might see a DNS result in track or running, some of which are distinct from causes of a DNF race result, and some are similar.

Here are some of the common DNS results causes:

  • Incurring a running injury prior to the race
  • Getting sick or feeling under the weather before the event or on race day
  • Changing your race plans and registering for a different race instead (perhaps you find a closer race or a different race distance by the time the race comes around and change your mind about running)
  • Switching events (scratching from a track event often occurs if a runner qualifies for multiple events and then chooses only to participate in certain ones to conserve energy and prioritize his or her strengths or chances of winning).
  • Having some other conflicting commitment come up that derails your plans for participating in the race (a work event, family emergency, etc.)
  • Missing the start of the race because you got lost, made an error about the details of the race starting location or time, didn’t plan enough time for parking or logistics, couldn’t find the start time, etc.
  • Losing motivation or deciding that you didn’t want to run the race for one reason or another.
A runner with an injury.

As could be seen, some of the same reasons for a DNS in running might occur in the case of a DNF race results, mainly an injury or not feeling well.

However, the difference between a DNS vs DNF with an injury or illness is that with the DNS, the runner has preemptively decided that the injury or illness is severe enough that running will either be impossible, make things worse, or that the risk is not worth it.

A DNF finish is when the runner tries and then is unable to finish or voluntarily drops out after seeing that the race is not going to go well or is making things worse.

Additionally, you might get a DNF vs DNS in a race if you injure yourself during the race but had felt fine going into it.

Is It Better to DNS a Race or DNF a Race?

There’s a fair amount of debate about whether a DNS is better than a DNF in running or vice versa.

At the heart of the DNS vs DNF running debate is the idea that the runner wasn’t able to complete the intended race.

An empty track.

As can be seen with the reasons for a DNS race result, there are numerous logistical reasons and rational decisions that might take place and lead a runner to scratch from a race preemptively.

For example, if you had planned to run a half marathon, but your spouse is pregnant and ends up delivering the baby early (a few days before race day), you might decide to pull out of the marathon and spend time with the new baby and taking care of your wife and register for a different race a couple of weeks down the line.

In these types of scenarios, you can’t really compare whether it is better to DNF vs DNS a race; this debate really focuses only on cases of injury or illness.

In many cases, deciding to scratch from a race—or get a DNS race result—is more prudent than trying to race when you know you shouldn’t be running.

For example, if you’ve been dealing with Achilles tendonitis while running and you know that the race course is super hilly, you’re probably better off trying to heal up and pull out of the race rather than feel the pain severely intensify halfway through as you climb a big hill.

A person walking.

Then, you might have to limp over to the edge of the course and figure out how to get medical help and a ride back to the finish area.

You could instead focus on cross-training or at least flat and easy running to heal up before your next race.

There’s no shame in listening to your body and changing your race plans; just don’t let race anxiety be the cause of pulling out of a race.

For more information about how much taking time off during marathon training will impact your ultimate performance in the marathon, check out our guide that explores that very conundrum here.

A runner on a track.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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