Did Not Start or Did Not Finish?

This is a question that I think about a fair amount in terms of runners and cyclists that have been injured.

FinishedWhen you have a race coming up, get injured training for it, or just generally in the run up to the big event, what do you do? Try and fudge through – start and see what happens, gambling on finishing and potentially making things a lot worse, with more time off and rehab afterward, of taking a DNS on the chin and getting on with rehab and training?

I’ve been there myself, with achillies tendinopathy in the 2 months leading up the Spine Challenger. When the race came about there were a few questions hanging over me… was I fit enough to race? Was I un-injured enough to race or should I take the long view, be intelligent, and leave it for another day?

In general, I have to say that if there is any doubt in the mind as to whether I am fit for a race or not, I tend to err on the side of caution. In my head, it is much more preferable to DNS than to DNF.
DNS and ok, you won’t get the satisfaction of racing, but you also don’t get part way into the race and think – “I hurt. But maybe I can get through the next x miles, I’ll be fine” before slowly grinding yourself and your dreams into the dust… you may get a deferred entry as well.

Start a race injured and you push through what would normally be sensible barriers and end up more broken at the end of the race if you even get there) and have to take much more time out in order to heal yourself and get back to normal.
This is, to say the very least, a sub-optimal way of doing things. Certainly not recommended for your common or garden races.

Then you have the “special” races. The ones you have been psyching yourself up for for a year or more. The ones that even if you injure yourself training for, you just CAN’T afford to miss out on.
What then?
From personal experience, I have to say that there is no way I wouldn’t have started the Spine – but I gave myself the best chance I could from the moment I felt the Achilles problem.

The answer was 2 months off running.

I rehabbed with weights. I sat on the turbo. I walked. I rehabbed even more, and even when I thought I could run, I held off.
I got stronger than before, and made sure that my legs could take the pounding, and lo- and behold, I came out of it in a better place physically and mentally than if I had jumped back into running prematurely. I think my longest run in those 2 months was about 2k, and by the time the race came around I hadn’t run more than 20k for about 4 months.
How did it go? Pretty damn well. 4th in 32 hours.

To me, not racing and having a “what if” moment of, Ah- I could have run really well in that race, is better than racing, breaking myself more and having a “what if” moment of, I really shouldn’t have run, crocked myself and now I’ve got a longer period of recovery in front of me before I can run pain free again.

There have been 3 instances recently of runners that I know going off to race in sub-optimal shape. They knew the risks and they all DNF’d. They now have a significant amount of rest and rehab to do before they can even get back to running again. The reason was because  they wanted to try and race without having the strength and resilience to do so.

Hubris? Optimism beyond intelligence?
Who knows.
For them an attempt at a race ending in a DNF was more important than a DNS. It all depends on your perspective, your goals and your priorities. I know where mine lie.

Make your choice.


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