What can we learn from how the pro’s handle their races?
The recent withdrawals of Kara Goucher and Ryan Hall stirred some thoughts. I’m a classic over analyzer. I try to connect the dots for myself, as well as my patients. There’s no easier way to put it, really. There is a fine line between being tough and dumb.
It’s not meant to be a slight to anyone’s intelligence, but rather a knock on the thought process behind racing and training. The running companies have built this ‘I’m tougher than nails’ culture. At the forefront is the mentality that you will be shamed, ousted, and marked as broken by your running peers if you withdraw from a race. You think that you’ll be viewed as weak. Even worse, you’ll hear the “I told you running was bad for your body” from your grossly out of shape family and friends. Bowing out is accompanied with a mix of shame, failure, and aggravation. It’s a tough call to bag a race, especially when mounting race fees and travel can make a dent in your pocket. In reality, I think it’s more than the money–it’s about pride–it’s about ego. Runners refuse to admit defeat. You’re more afraid of what running peers will think than how your body feels. This fear of peer exile and mounting concerns of fitness lost will eat you alive.
When you sign up for any race there are no guarantees. You should hit the entry submit button knowing that there’s a chance that, despite all your best efforts, you may need to withdraw. We saw this with Ryan and Kara leading up to the NYC marathon. Granted, they’re running for paychecks and overall placement, but if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you. One single race on a battered body can have the ripple effect for months, years, or even an entire running career.
When you sign up for any race there are no guarantees.
You need to look at the long run (pun intended :)). Races will come and go, but you only get one body. Heading into a race and being anything but healthy is crazy. You’re going to trash your body regardless so why go in behind the eight ball?
You certainly feel that all eyes are on you, peering through tracking sites that mark every split. Pressure mounts on the account of discussing race plans with family, friends, co-workers, and strangers. We would hate to put our tail between our legs and admit defeat when they undoubtedly ask, “How did your race go?”. Admitting defeat is OK! Battles will be lost. Your running career is a war and winning the war rarely means victory at every battle. Forfeit is a chance to regroup, heal, and improve.
I want to clarify that there’s a large difference between running to finish and running to improve. I’m a big supporter for those who are looking to accomplish a new distance or race. Run, jog, walk, crawl, and claw your way to that finish line. That’s fine. But as your racing resume mounts, you’ll be less looking to finish and more so to improve. Injury is kryptonite to improvement.
A bruised and battered body doesn’t function normally. It’s savaged with scar tissue, stiffness, tightness, and weakness. A body littered with battle scars of overuse is a downward spiral. Things will begin to break more frequently and the runs with discomfort grossly overwhelm those without. You know your body best–listen to it. There are times to push on and times to pull back. There is no shame in missing a run, training block, or race. To say it wouldn’t come with shame would be a lie. You’ll feel it, maybe even regret your decision. Each passing day will bring solace. You’ll recognize your choice was correct–a choice that sets you up for future PR glory and best yet, injury free running.
There’s a fine line between being tough and dumb. Being tough can found in training or racing. Pushing on when your legs are screaming to stop is tough. Heading out the door when the couch seems to be a magnet for your backside… that’s being tough. Dumb is forcing your training or racing on days when your legs have pain. Pain that doesn’t subside or causes you to alter your run form is being dumb. Deep down most runners know the difference. “It will loosen up,” “It’s not that bad,” and “I can run through it” echoes the inner dialogue of most runners who are being ‘dumb’. (Sound familar?)
Take the lesson from Kara Goucher and Ryan Hall. We might not be running for our next paycheck, but we certainly want to run as long as we breathe. The long haul requires discipline and choosing your battles. Let’s be more understanding of those who are injured and choose not to race out of respect for their body and performance. There is no shame in withdrawing.