When you’re a runner, training for your next big race takes on its own life. I know, I’ve been there. When I was training for the Avengers half-marathon down in Disney a few years back, I’m thinking nothing would have stopped me from picking up my number and logging those 13.1 miles just as fast as I could possibly go.
This doesn't make me unique, as much as I'd like to think it does. After all, runners are known for our obsessive dedication to the sport. So much so, in fact, that scientists study runner's addition. Don't believe me? Check out the facts: a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that "obsessively passionate" runners are far more likely to develop running-related injuries.
Now, that information may not be shocking, but here's what is. Younger runners in the group, especially those between the ages of 20-34, had a hard time "mentally detaching from the sport." And this need to run got in the way of important life decisions. It also kept injured runners from taking a much needed recovery break, "even when running became harmful."
Ok, so like I said at the beginning of all this: I understand the drive to run. I get working towards a goal, like a race, and wanting to push through, no matter what you're body is saying. So, back in my running hey-day, I might have been right there with my fellow obsessed runners. Except, of course, that as a podiatrist, I would have been bound to sit out the big day if I noticed any one of these blatant runners’ red flags.
How Can You Tell if you’re too Injured to Run a Race?
If you think you’ve got a running injury, and you’re training for a big race, the first thing you need to do is go and see your podiatrist. ASAP. While I can’t make any promises, and a lot will depend upon how much time is left before race day, I may be able to get you into good enough shape that you can compete without making your injury worse, or putting your long-term health at risk.
Having said that, if your race is in the next day or two, and you’re playing a game of mental ping-pong, going back and forth about competing, these are the questions you need to answer honestly.
- When you run, does your pain get worse?
- Does the pain stick around or worsen in the day following your runs?
- Is your injury affecting the mechanics of your run, altering your stride or forcing you to overcompensate in other areas of your body?
Unfortunately, if you answered yes to any of these questions, you really need to sit out your upcoming race. If you don’t, you’re risking a worse injury. And a future that may well exclude running for an extended period of time. But let’s say you can honestly answer no to all of the above. Now, we have to assess your pain levels to see if running could be dangerous.
How much pain is too much to push through?
Runners are famous for pushing past the discomfort at mile 10 to cross the finish line. But, if you suspect a running injury, you need to honestly ask yourself: on a scale of 1-10, how bad is your pain level?
If you’re at or below a 2, go ahead and run your race. Your time may be slower, and you’re definitely going to struggle at certain points, but you’re unlikely to do any damage.
If you’re a 3-5, it’s crucial to get your injury examined before deciding to take part in the race. And, if you’re above a 5 on the pain scale, I hope you won’t need a podiatrist to make this clear: you’re in too much pain (and too injured) to run a race.
Of course, there is one small asterisk to that pain-threshold guideline: if there is any chance your injury has caused bone damage (something fell on your foot, you stubbed your toe hard enough to see stars, etc.) don’t run before you get an x-ray. Sometimes, pain levels may be low even if you have a hairline fracture. But if you run on that fracture, your pain level—and recovery time—are likely to soar.