I had several injured runners stop by to see me at the Cleveland Marathon expo, which is always bittersweet. On one hand, it's wonderful to meet runners, but on the other, the advice I give doesn't necessarily line up with what they might want to hear.
To quote Kenny Rogers?
"You've got to know when to hold 'em.
Know when to fold 'em.
Know when to walk away, and know when to run."
One of the single greatest strategies for running healthy and strong is in knowing when to pull out of a race due to injury—one of the hardest decisions a runner can make.
When you get injured after signing up and training for an event, your mind still wants to race but your body isn't able to do so without risk.
Just because we are technically able to struggle through a race doesn't mean we always should. Here is the one question to ask yourself when you're faced with the decision of whether or not to race due to injury:
Can I run without altering my stride due to pain?
If the answer is yes, then you've got your answer: You can run the race, but modify your expectations, especially if your training wasn't as complete as it could have been.
If the answer is no, it's best to make the difficult decision to back out of the race and invest in healing and recovery. Running with an altered stride exacerbates the current injury and may create another on the other side of the body. You end up delaying your recovery.
A few things that can help ease the pain:
- Communicate with the race to see if they will defer your race entry until next year. This can help minimize the financial blow and set a new goal for you when you're healthy enough to race.
- Volunteer instead. You'll gain a whole new perspective for the other side of the race and earn some major karma to boot.
- Focus on training to heal rather than thinking of it as a failure. Elite athletes don't risk racing on an injury and neither should everyday runners. It's all part of the journey of being a wise athlete. You win some and you lose some.
Above all, remember: Sometimes it's the races we don't run that have the greatest impact on our performance.