Weighing Risks – What is worth it?
A lot in running, and other sports too!, we often see people in situations that aren’t ideal. It’s not uncommon to see sport athletes playing with an injury or pushing through one because they’d rather chance further hurting themselves than sitting the bench. Running and triathlon are no exception.
You’ve signed up for a race, maybe long in advance, or maybe impulsively (this is usually the case for myself, trust me, I’m good at being bad), but you are either undertrained or risking or have an injury you are nursing. If you haven’t plain out broken a leg (although I know an awesomely crazy lady who “ran” a 5k on a broken foot, not advised!), you are probably going to still make the best of a bad situation. I’m one of those people who has an idea planted, and it’s going to grow into a full grown plan prematurely at times, and resolve in some sort of ridiculousness. The good thing is that I’ve learned from this and can pass on the information. As my own coach has said, “Once an athlete gets an idea in their head, they are most likely going to follow through with it.”
Let’s talk about the injury side of things. There is a whole list from IT band syndrome, Plantar Fasciitis, knee pain, stress fractures, metatarsal pain, lower back pain, sciatic nerve pain, shin splints, tendinitis, and pulled muscles just to list some common ones. Certain injuries like blisters, chafing, DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) can usually be treated quickly and you can be back in the game in no time flat…we aren’t talking about these. Injuries can sideline you from days to several months depending on severity and how long you actually rest and take care of yourself. But what exercises will make your symptoms worse? This can only really be resolved and answered by your doctor, so if you suspect you are suffering, make an appointment and get to the bottom of things before making things worse. And when I mean get to the bottom of it, I mean get an actual name for what injury you have and how to treat it, and not some generic symptom or name like lower back pain, what is causing the lower back pain?
What can these injuries be from? Typically injury comes from overuse or accelerating training too quickly. Keep in mind, most injuries start from the top and trickle down. What I mean by that is that if you have some knee pain, it might be from tight glutes. If you have ankle weakness, are you strengthening your knee and hips? A key ingredient in training in anything is to give your other muscle group some action to help support your other efforts: crosstraining. Running? Get in the pool, ride on a bike/cycle class, go rock climbing, play tennis, something that gives other muscles experience. I’ve torn my left meniscus twice, both while playing soccer, not running related, and I have not yet had to really do much for it because I’ve been able to keep the surrounding muscles strong, and I can start to tell when I haven’t been strengthening those over time.
Now what if, after all this talk, you have an injury and you decide to “do it anyway, it won’t be that bad”. One, you are taking a huge risk to make a bad situation worse. Sure you paid for the race probably a while ago, but would the medical bills and potential for having to stay away from what you enjoy doing be worth it in the end? Probably not. Talk to people outside of your sport about it reasonably. Someone from the outside usually will have some good perspective. Two, if you decide you are really going to do it, do self checks in time intervals…and drop out if you need to. There is no shame in dropping out of a race to treat your body right! Consider a different pace, or experimenting with something new in your race. If you’re going to do it anyway, learn from it at least. Only you can make decisions for yourself. I’m just here saying pushing through injury is a bad idea. Don’t let it cost you your whole season.
NOW, let’s talk about being undertrained. This is a huge one. I am totally a victim of this. Let me give you my resume!
– my first half marathon ever was “just do it to prove yourself”, and I had no idea what I was doing was a half marathon or even what that meant. IT SUCKED BAD. I had blisters almost as large as my feet, was cripple for a week because those blisters got infected, it was just overall not good. This situation was almost unavoidable because I didn’t know what I was even doing or what it meant or what was involved.
– my 2nd marathon, the most I ran was 9 miles before the race. Sure I had trained earlier that year for my first marathon, but that was half a year prior. My feet swelled up and although the race went ok, a LOT could have happened. I even ran an 8k the morning before in a race challenge! I was sore for a long time.
– my first 50k, I was training for a marathon and signed up a week before. I probably was not ready. There was a lot of struggle because it was during my peak training for the marathon that was just 3 weeks later. I could have done much better with a taper and not as training fatigued.
– my first triathlon, I couldn’t swim multiple laps in a pool yet, and here I was in open water not ready to swim the 400m. It was pretty sad!
Although nothing seriously bad has happened to me personally from being undertrained, I know not everyone is built the same, and not everyone can pace themselves properly if this happens. With the exception of basically my first three half marathons (yes, I did the same half marathon the next year since I got lost the first year, I thought I needed vengeance on the event, and still didn’t know what the heck it was or what I was doing, and didn’t know how to train for my third when I finally figured out what a half was), I knew what the distance involved and I could kind of skirt by and was pretty smart with how I handled the situations. Yes, I have excuses as to why I was undertrained, but these don’t matter in the long run (har har), just you and the event matter and how you handle it. So don’t take this a green flag to do something not so smart, like decided to run a 50k with just half marathon training or something to the extreme.
So what’s the risk? When you go for new distances, or the distances you haven’t run in a LONG time (like a few years), your skeleton hasn’t really made the adaptations of the pounding you have to do when you journey through an event you’re not prepared for. This could lead to more muscle fatigue, trying to support your efforts and bones, and you could very well end up with stress fractures. Your tendons and ligaments are also at risk, they are basically like little rubber bands that help you move along, and they can be damaged or snapped. You can easily overstress your immune system as well, and this could lead to colds, or flus, or upper respiratory issues. Your body needs time to repair the damage caused by training/racing, and it can be distracted long enough you can contract a virus. Lots of things can happen when you’re not prepared. So in this regard, you can take a step back and decided if the event is worthwhile.
But you’re probably going to do it anyway. In this case, there are a few things you can do. If you have enough experience with your own body and training, you can wing it and make a solid plan, even if you feel good on race day it’s important to stick to that plan! This usually involves walking and a change in pace. Some races will allow you to drop distances, which is always good option! You can also hired a coach to help guide you through it, they have the experience for you and will try and get you on a track that will hopefully prevent you from hurting yourself and be successful in your event anyway. I have done both of these things, but the latter is probably for the best and something I personally have never regretted.
Getting in over your head is very easy to do. Most people will probably just wing it, but there are always so many risks, and most people don’t even know the extent of those until it’s too late. I hope this small little article will help my audience think about things at least. Please feel free to reach out to me about this, or leave a comment!