When Is It Time to Abandon My Race Plans?

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Dear Dumb Runner,
My very first half-marathon is three weeks from now. I'd been training for 8:00-minute-per-mile pace, but the last four weeks of running have been spotty due to numerous tweaks (groin, left hip, right hip, pain in foot—not stress fracture). I have missed a 9-mile and 10-mile run. Two weeks ago I ran a 10K at 7:55 pace... and then my foot pain started (I just got fitted with new shoes; my previous ones were a size too big and caused over-supination.) 

At what point is it just smarter to pull out of the race? I don't want to—I've put time, effort, and money into this—but I only have two weekends of long runs to fit in before the race and the longest previous run I've done is 8 miles. How do I bridge the gap from 8 miles to 13.1 in three weeks (minus the taper)?—Aaron C., Chicago

 

Aaron,

First, the good news: I applaud you for asking "at what point is it just smarter to pull out of the race?" before you're actually in the race. You're thinking ahead, which is smart right off the bat.

And some bonus good news: I will refrain from making the obvious "pull out" jokes. You're welcome.

Now for the bad: I would recommend you skip this race. Scrub the mission. Abort. 

My answer might be different, if...

  • You had already gotten a few solid long runs (e.g., those 9- and 10-milers) in the bank before these injuries cropped up.
  • Your race was, say, six weeks away instead of just three. ("Cramming" might work, sometimes, for students. Not so much for runners.)
  • Brand-new shoes weren't suddenly part of the equation.
  • You'd been able to race that 10K, at your goal half-marathon pace, pain-free.

But here we are. 

Given all of this, I can't in good conscience advise you to go for it. Even in a best-case scenario, I think you'd finish in a slower time than you want, and have an unpleasant time doing it. More likely your injuries will go from bad to worse—possibly sidelining you completely for weeks afterward—or you'll DNF. Those things are bummers in any race. In your first ever half-marathon, they'd be mega-bummers.

I understand how much it sucks to abandon a race after investing so much in it. But in the long run—no pun intended—I think it would be smart to let this one go, recover fully from your injuries, then start fresh. A half-marathon late this summer or early fall sounds about right. 

Good luck to you—and get well!

Yours Truly,
Mark

UPDATE
About a week after emailing his question, Aaron sent this follow-up: "I saw a podiatrist who took additional X-rays. I do in fact have early signs of a stress fracture, so I am now in a walking boot for at least three weeks. Thanks to you I had stopped running and didn't do additional damage."


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