WWAMRD: Would You Drop out of a Race?

Lisa, that tiny figure in the middle of the frame, is walking because of an angry ankle. Should she continue on with the race?

This edition of WWAMRD comes courtesy of the ZOOMA Cape Cod race this weekend. I was out taking pictures on the course, and came across a runner who was walking. It was around mile 1.5 or so for both the 10K and half-marathon, and she was alone and looked capable of picking up the pace. "Run for me," I cheered, "I'll get a great shot."

"I can't," she said, and as she caught up to me, I realized it was Lisa, a longtime member of this BAMR community. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she said, "My ankle hurts." (And by hurts, she later explained, "On a scale of 1-10,  it was a 5. It didn't hurt-hurt, but was more twingy and made me feel like it COULD be a problem more later on. Didn't want to drop out at the 10th mile.") 

I gave her a hug, and she explained that it started to hurt during a long run recently; around mile 11 of a 12 miler. Then she mentioned was training for her second marathon, the Steamtown Marathon on October 7th. Turns out, she'd already run two 20 milers, so she was ready to steam through Steamtown, if her ankle would cooperate. She'd done the work for a full 26.2--and was potentially sabotaging her hard, hard work through this race.

Not wanting to completely waylay her plans, I suggested she downsize from the half-marathon and walk the 10K, but then I was more honest: "You need to remember what your goal is. It's not this race; it's the marathon." Still, she had a posse of girlfriends running the race--they were all staying at her nearby parents' house--and she would be the only one at the finish line without a race story.

So she could continue with her original goal of the half, downsize to the 10K, or call it a day.
What would you do? 

What Dimity would do: Against my more rational judgment, I'd probably run the 10K and hope the pain would stay at a 5. And pray that I could, despite not listening to the warning signs my body was sending out, make it through the marathon. Not coincidentally, I just interviewed a sports medicine doctor who said, and I quote, "Your body gives you plenty of warning when it's going to be injured. You just have to listen. Most runners are really bad at listening."

What Sarah would do: Not cross the starting line. My bout with plantar fasciitis was so debilitating last summer that I will not put myself in a position where I have to deal with another injury like that.

Lisa, left, and her pal at the expo, post-race. She didn't run happy--but she's happy with the decision she made.

What Lisa did: Turned around with me and walked back to the starting line. "I was very sad and weepy right away," she says, "But later on in the day, I was resigned that it was the best choice. On Sunday, the day after the race, my ankle was fine so I totally second-guessed myself and wondered if I shouldn't have just powered through.She contemplated making up the mileage today, but another friend talked her down from the ledge and realized she needs to taper, not put the marathon in jeopardy. "I used to think it was weak to drop out of a race," she says, "The more I run and the older I get the more I realize it's much, much harder to be smart and live to run another day."

What would you do? Turn around, downsize your race or gut out the half-marathon? 

46 responses to “WWAMRD: Would You Drop out of a Race?

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  4. I’ve opted out of a race about a day before the actual race only twice in all my running years. They were due to an injury and I knew I needed more recovery time. I could have ‘limped’ through the races but I know I would be a very unhappy/depressed/whining camper for days on end. That takes too much energy and I wouldn’t want to come home to someone like that, LOL!
    “You need to remember what your goal is. It’s not this race; it’s the marathon.” – EXCELLENT point!!
    I volunteered instead which can give you a very different perspective when you see injured runners struggling to finish. I’m very fortunate to know and get honest answers from very competitive stubborn female runners who are wise to tell me to “heal thoroughly” so we can share ‘real’ race stories with no excuses. There are plenty of other races. In hindsight, it will be ‘dumb.’ We’ve all been there and regret them. True friends won’t let you prolong the injury. The ego bruise is more about dealing with it ‘mentally than physically.’

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  6. See, I wish I could be that smart. I think it was a very smart decision on her part. Me, I’m dumb enough to run injured AND sick. I’m still paying for that stupidity, 10 months later!

  7. It’s so hard to decide! I don’t think I could drop out during a race–a few weeks ago I gimped along a trail 10k with a throbbing foot and was bummed about my time and that my foot hurt, but I finished. After two more weeks of pain, I finally went to the doctor and I have the dreaded plantar facetious. I have been religious about wearing the boot and biking a ton instead of running but I miss the runs (running not the runs). After being hobbled after the 10k, though, I did back out of a half marathon I was supposed to do this past weekend. I figured it just is not worth the potential long-term pain. It’s such a tough decision, more difficult mentally than physically.

  8. I have never turned around at a race, I have however, mourned a race that was going to be a girls out of town getaway that was coming up Oct. 7. I did something a runner should never, ever do…I increased my milage too fast (while training for a half marathon). I went from 4 miles on Monday to an 11 miler on Saturday with no runs between. I messed up my knee, doctor called it Patellar Tendonitius. I’m currently on a 2 week running break until things “calm down”.

    I ran a marathon in May, and 4 days later had girl part surgery (scheduled). I was off for 9 weeks. I figured I could pick back up where I left off. WRONG.

    Soon I’ll be making my second attempt at a running come back.

    I applaud you for doing what was right for you Lisa! Good luck on your 26.2! =)

  9. If I was injured or not feeling well before the race even began, I probably wouldn’t push through. However, I recently did a half marathon where I was hurting pretty good by mile 10. I considered pulling over at the medical tent but I think I knew if I were to do that, I wouldn’t have finished the race. So I pushed myself to the end. I never want to start a race I can’t finish but I also know I need to listen to my body; sometimes circumstances on a particular (race) day are beyond our control.

  10. If it were a goal race, I’d rest as best as I could and start, but be prepared to not finish, if it was just a tune up or not my A race, I wouldn’t start. I DNF’ed a marathon last year (achilles issue), dropped out at 22k or so, I could have finished, slowly and in pain, but it wouldn’t have been anywhere close to a PR, and could have set my recovery back a lot – totally not worth it IMO.

  11. And this? This is why I love this tribe! So supportive and great.

    Thank you all.

    (Just so you know, my intention was never to race the half, just run it as my long run. I was due for 12 that weekend as part of my taper.)

  12. Oh, Lisa is so SMART for turning around! I wish I had done that. I hurt my hamstring in a grocery cart incident the day after I registered for a half. Instead of sitting out the race and healing my leg, I pushed forward and then had to take time off in the height of summer running season.

    I had some twinges this summer and just took a few days off to recover and did the next work at a little lighter pace. Since I didn’t injure myself long-term I think it was the right decision to do. Hopefully you’ll know you did the right decision too!

  13. She made a smart decision. People don’t listen to their bodies enough. Whether they are runners, bodybuilders, or whatever. I used to injur myself all the time but now that I listen more I rarely have to take large time outs for injury.

  14. I also didn’t listen to the warning signs last fall when I was training for my first half marathon. During my 8 and 9 mile long runs I started to experience some knee pain. I blew it off. At the TC10 my knee blew up to into full blown case of bursitis. It was so painful. The TC10 wasn’t even my goal race, but I didn’t want to not finish. I was two weeks out from my half. By the next day I had to leave work to go to the dr. I left with a knee brace. I saw the first orthopedist that week, and he said I wasn’t built to be a runner. Umm, worst answer ever. I pushed and got in to see another orthopedist. He ordered an MRI 7 days before the half, and diagnosed the bursitis. He called me on Friday on my way to the half. I was resigned to be a cheerleader for my friends. He said I couldn’t hurt it anyworse, and that it would hurt to do it. But, I could do it. He knew the training I had been through. This year I’m training smarter not harder. I’m listening and cross training, and trying to save myself to repeat the original half. But, this time with healthier knees and a better time. Lesson learned the hard way unfortunately.

  15. Yes- I did it for the first time in March at the Shamrock Run 15K. At mile 1.5 I felt a sharp pain in my left knee (the knee that I usually didn’t have issues with! I tried walking for a minute – tried running again – sharp pain. went through this trial and error a few times. I remembered my Chiropractor’s words about risking several months with injury over ONE run. So I decided to bag the race. Especially since the pain came on so early in the race. It was SO hard and I felt like such a failure to not finish – but I also knew that I did the BEST possible thing for my body and it only took 3 weeks of recovery to get back to running instead of 3 months or more had I tried to finish running. Had this happened later in the race, I would probably have walked to finish.. Better to DNF and be able to run another day….

  16. Lisa, I think you made the only decision there was to make. Last summer I had completed a half marathon and a 10k and was ready for the last half of the year in Vail, CO in Sept. The morning of my last long training run(a 12-miler), I found out I was pregnant with my first. My doctor gave the go-ahead to run the distance where I had been training (Denver, 5280′ elevation) but discouraged me from running 13.1 at 9000 feet. She ultimately left it up to me. I crossed the start line with my BAMR and sole sister and ran her to the first hill (about 2 miles) then walked until there was a short cut to the 13 mile mark. I ran her across the finish line but didn’t accept any medals or even the goodie bag at the end. And today I have a perfect 5 month old baby boy. The sacrifice was worth it. There are other races, and my life-goal wasn’t to run 13.1 at 9000′, it was to be a Mom. Mission accomplished!

  17. Lisa – you did the right thing. Heal that ankle so you can run the marathon! I had to drop out of a full marathon (at mile 15) when I finally admitted to myself that I couldn’t take another step due to pain radiating on one whole side of my body. (My body had given me hints for a long time that I was borderline majorly injured.) I promised myself that my DNF = a doctor appointment. It was hard, I cried many many times over the next few weeks, and I fell into a deep funk (increased by the fact that I really had a major back injury). But had I pushed it, I might not be running today. I could have permanently injured my back. Post-injury, I am very proud of my decision, as much as it caused me short-term anguish.

  18. You did the right thing! I think we know deep down when you can push through a “hurt” and the kind of hurt you shouldn’t push through. I was training for my 1st marathon and clearly understood the message my body was screaming at me when I ignored it to get to mileage number on my training schedule come hell or high water. High water came and I spent the next 6 months in PT, MT and at chiro’s. Needless to say, I didn’t get to run in my 1st marathon and have been climbing back up the ladder ever since (just finished mile 12 this past Saturday!). I’ve learned to say to myself when I know something doesn’t feel right “Would you rather listen to what hurts and run consistently for as long as you can, or finish this out and be sidelined for way longer than you can tolerate”. Six months was way longer than I could tolerate (ask my kids!) and I’ve learned my lesson.

  19. What Lisa did. If that was THE race, by all means suck it up and finish. But with her marathon so close, she did the right thing to turn back. (I do have one DNF out of the 100-ish races I’ve entered, the NYC marathon no less, but that’s a long story involving a surprise positive pee stick :))
    Best of luck to Lisa at her marathon!

  20. I’m stupidly stubborn and would have toughed out the half unless the pain shot up to like an 8 or 9. I once completed a 4 mile training run on an ankle with a stress fracture. Dumb, very dumb. I was sidelined for eight weeks after that. I’m working on my stubborn streak.

  21. “The more I run and the older I get the more I realize it’s much, much harder to be smart and live to run another day.”

    Truer words were never spoken.

  22. So much depends on the race and the distance and ugh, what a tough call since it was a girls weekend/destination race! I thought about this response while driving into work – maybe I wouldn’t have started the race – I’m such a chicken about long lasting injuries now and with your marathon coming…. BUT, I also very easily get caught up in the fun of the race atmosphere and could see myself saying that I’ll play it by ear and slow down or walk whenever I need to. I’ve never dropped out of race (well, I dropped out of a beer mile race after one lap…. I know, Lisa…. I’m a light weight!!) So, I think with a marathon coming in 2 weeks I would have also stopped and turned around and been pissed and cried, too. The fact that you were walking around fine the next tells me that you totally made the right decision – you are going into your taper now and all your parts are in working order!
    And as a side note, I really wish it could have worked out that I could have been there with you! And another side note- one of the things I’ve admired about you, Lisa, in the AMR world is that you handle running setbacks/challenges with such resiliency and an attitude that I love. I’ll get myself out east one of these days so we can run together! Or if you are ever in MN…. xox

  23. So easy to say I should not run at all or stop, reality is I’d probably try to run, but would stop if it kept hurting after 3 miles. Hey, I’m learning from you wonderful ladies to take care of myself. Especially since i’m pushing 50 and have RA (arthritis) – Thanks for reminding us all that our goal is to be able to live to run another day!

  24. Do as I SAY not as I DO, HA! It is so hard to reason with the crazy in my head but I am getting better at it. Because of injury, I am getting stronger with more rest days planned around the long run. It just has to be that way. It PF was flaring… no way would I run it. But because of PF and ITBS issues I am taking better care of myself.

  25. I usually don’t pre-race before a marathon because it’s hard for me to scale back the effort. As far as pain goes–I was there with knee pain training for a 50K. Pain sucks but within 2 weeks post 50K my knee was fine. I ran a half marathon and currently training for 26.2. This time I have Hoka One One shoes and the knee is HAPPY! Lisa, I wish you a HAPPY ending for your marathon!

  26. During the marathon taper? Definitely stop and let it heal. I DNS a race this weekend for the higher good of my marathon in 8 wks. Little problems can turn into big ones unless they are taken care of and allowed to heal. It’s always a TOUGH decision to make, but sometimes we have to be smart about our long range goals.

  27. In my heart I would want to think of the long term but in my head, I might try to push forward. It’s always hard to know if the message is legitimate but I’ve never regretted NOT having an injury.

  28. It depends on the race. I plowed through Chicago last year, fighting plantar fasciits all summer and then leg cramps during the race. I thought about dropping out at mile 18, called my husband, who reminded me of all my training, and I ended up finishing, walking most of it. My time was nothing to be proud of, but it was a big distance and looking back, I’m glad I did it. I ended up paying for it most of this year, with a stress fracture in my foot, and having to get shockwave therapy for my plantar fasciitis. Having said all that, if it were a shorter race, I’d most likely not run it at all if I was fighting injury. Drop out once I’ve started? I’d really have to be hurting to do that.

    Tough decision all around.

  29. I wish I had listened to my feet when plantar fasciitis showed up back in December after I ran four halfs. Instead, I decided to power through it and started training for Chicago this spring while seeing a doc twice a week. Two weeks ago (just 5 weeks before the race) I heard and felt a POP in my right foot. I tore my fascia!! Now I’m in a boot cast for 4-6 weeks, no Chicago Marathon for me this year, and it will likely be 3-6 mo of no running! I very much regret powering through. All that pain and suffering for nada. Lesson learned!

  30. I would do the “right thing” at the moment and think long term. Like Sarah, if I made things worse and couldn’t run at all for a day, a week or a month THAT would be crushing….not to be able to run at all.

    Listen to your warning signs that your body has to offer.

  31. Having just spent the latter part of the summer recovering from an injury and missing some of my favorite races, I would have not even step foot across the start line. I’ve learned my lesson. Listen to my body. Missing one race is no big deal. Getting injured and being out of commission for weeks sucks. 😉

  32. Ugh!! That is a really tough one. I totally agree, you need to keep your eye on your goal — the marathon you’ve been training so hard for. So race or not — I’d think about whether or not I could simply run that day. If I was at a 5, I’d probably jog something and go with (good Lord, I’m concrete) what matched up with my training plan that week. This is me and I think the decisions we make like this have to be the right ones for us. I am so proud of Lisa for making a decision that does not, in any way, put her marathon at risk. Good job!

  33. I met Lisa for the first time Saturday and not only was she great to hang out with but I was floored by her smart decision. As hard as running is, I think it is even harder to focas on the big picture. It often requires us to let go of a plan, a dream, a vision we had of ourselves. Running takes guts but doing what is best takes guts amd brains..proud of you Lisa and now you can rock that Marathon!!!!

  34. First…Dimity you were a great cheerleader on the course, right at the base of that hill–thank you! (I was there with my bestie who was running her first ever race, the 10k).
    Second…Lisa did the right thing, absolutely! It’s hard in race mode to bow out and not feel like a failure but priority #1 is getting healthy for Steamtown 🙂 I hope I would have been able to be as strong as she was to do that.

    Good luck Lisa!!!

  35. Step into the way back machine, Sherman and I was in the same position as Lisa. I dropped out of a half marathon when I felt a pop in my calf and knew, at that moment, my race was over. I remember Lisa saying to me, “wow, you are taking this so well. I would be a mess if it were me.”. But she wasn’t. She handled the disappointment with grace, courage, and a few adult beverages. ;-). I told her it’s ok to cry, you WILL second guess your decision, but you know you made the right decision in that moment. Not everyone sees the big picture or listens to their body. Lisa did.

  36. Love Lisa’s very smart decision!!! Erica and I kept telling Lisa this Xooma race was a training run for the 3 of us. For Lisa bc of her 26.2 in only 2 weeks, for Erica to run a much slower pace bc of her angry Achilles and direct orders from her PT and for me bc I wasn’t fully prepared for the hills, had just ran a half a few weeks before and still have 1 more half this fall- the Philly half.. my crush it race- to get into the Half Fanatics. I was bummed for my dear friend bc I know how tough she is on herself. Erica and I reminded her “what would you say to us if we DNF bc of a similar situation?”. She said “I know, I know”. Lisa- I hope that voice inside knows you made the right decision bc you will run YOUR race in Steamtown with your supportive hubby and terrific chickens 😉

  37. Knowing me I would have continued however that clearly is not the best choice since it would have probably put her marathon at risk! Lisa made a great decision and it will be clear when she rocks her marathon!!

  38. What struck me was the line that stated that she’d be the only one of her friends without a race story. She does, indeed, have a race story! Her race story tells a lot, includes a lot of struggle and emotion and lessons learned! She has a race story that was shared on Another Mother Runner! Thank you for sharing your race story! Hope your marathon goes well! 🙂

  39. If it had started hurting during the recent run I would likely have skipped the half, hoping for some rest to make me ready for the full-but it’s always hard to say. Glad she turned around and that you were there to help her!

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