To Race or Not to Race...a Pro's Thoughts on Injuries
If I’m injured, should I race anyway?
How do you decide whether not to race when you’re kinda-but-not-totally injured?
I have a friend, Nate, who signed up for Ironman Wisconsin a year ago, then a couple months before the race in September, he started to have knee pain. Was it right to try and push through to complete the race anyway? Or better to defer the race, and focus on healing quickly?
If you’re like me, woe be unto the doctor who says, “Just take some time off, rest, and it will get better.” Hah! That’s the doctor that gets fired faster than I can say, “Can I still do the elliptical?”
The doctor I trust is the one who says, “You know you’re going to run, I know you’re going to run, so let’s just get that out of the way and figure out how we can keep you training as safely as possible.” You can run on a (mostly healed) stress fracture, by the way. And in a sling with a broken collarbone. Take it from one who knows!
This is my first year training without an injury, since, like, forever. Turns out my feet and spine are not ideally structured for running, so (up until this year) I’ve had almost perpetual plantar fasciitis, numerous foot strains, and literally more stress fractures in my feet than I can count. Oh, plus a broken collarbone from a bike spill.
There are a lot of questions when pain starts to happen for an athlete, and the answer to "Should I race if I’m kinda-but-not-totally injured" is different for everyone. I would think about the following:
- What’s the risk? Will you make your injury worse? For Nate, based on the type of injury he had, his doctor said he would not do more damage by racing—though he would draw out the recovery time. When I was healing from my broken collarbone, on the other hand, I only rode inside on my trainer for three months because I was worried about how much worse I could make the injury should I fall on the same collarbone again.
- What’s your goal for this race? What are your goals long-term? Nate’s goal was to finish his first Ironman, something he felt was still achievable even with his injury. He was not trying to hit certain splits or to qualify for a championship race. Long-term, he had no other races coming up, so he had no issue with drawing out the recovery period.
- How would switching to a different race or requesting a deferral impact your family? Nate has a baby on the way. With his wife due in December, she wouldn’t be able to travel with him if he switched to a race later in the fall; and next year he would be focused on being a Dad, not on being an Ironman. Other athletes may, when they talk to their family, realize that switching to a later race or focusing on recovering now to have a big season next year may not have a significant family impact.
- How will you feel during the race? Will you have fun? This one is perhaps the most important because it’s tied to our sense of purpose for why we do triathlon and whether we’ll want to continue in the sport. There is one race I have regretted doing: a local sprint I did while nursing a stress fracture. I vividly remember the acute pain I felt with every step. The entire time I was running, I was thinking, “Please let this be over, please let this be over.” For me, triathlon is all about finding joy on the race course so I find joy in my life; when that can’t happen because acute pain prevents me from pushing my limits and racing with heart, it’s better to find joy somewhere else…like with a pint of ice cream on the back deck with my family.
Building Resilience to Prevent Injury
Did you catch that part where I said 2017 is my very first year ever without injury?! So amazing! This year, I made staying healthy my number one goal. I made a number of changes to that end—and it’s paid off, with PRs across the board and a sense of lightness and freedom when I run like never before.
Today, I focus on recovery almost as much as I focus on training:
- My triathlon coach carefully manages run volume and intensity.
- I hired a local run coach in January. He has drastically changed my form so I land with less load on the arches of my feet and so I have better core engagement to protect my back.
- This year I started working with a physical therapist before I could get injured. I now have a 30-minute strength and stability routine that focuses on core, feet, back, and hips and glutes that I do three times a week. I also keep up on chiropractic adjustments, massage, yoga, and even the occasional saltwater float. This helps keep my body mobile and in alignment.
- Roll, roll, roll! I carry a trigger point ball in my purse and will throw it under my butt anytime I’m in a meeting or sitting for a long period. I also like the Roll Recovery R8, which works great in the car or on the plane.
While time is a huge limitation for most athletes, I strongly recommend making time to roll and stretch after workouts and trying to get in for a massage at least once a month. I would also develop a short set of exercises for at home to focus on core, hips and glutes, and any areas where you have been injured before. YouTube has loads of “exercises for runners” if you need ideas.
I’m happy to say that Nate did complete Ironman Wisconsin in a very impressive 12 hours. He is now totally ready to focus on supporting his (I must say, radiant at eight months pregnant) wife and on being a super rockstar dad. Congratulations!
What do you think? Have you tried to train and/or race while kinda-sorta injured? How did it go and what would you do differently next time, if anything? Share your comments below!
Written by Kyra Wiens
Follow Kyra on Instagram! @kyrawiens