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Should I race with an injury?

Should I race with an injury? Runners should consider these things when deciding.

By Henry Howard 

Runners often experience injuries masquerading as pre-race doubts or niggles. It can be challenging to know for sure whether the pain is a sign of an injury or a sign of taper madness.

This past weekend I was set to do my first race of 2024, the WTF (Winter Trail Frosty) half marathon in Indianapolis. After a pain in my foot arose after Tuesday’s run, it lingered all day and did not settle down. I skipped Wednesday’s run to let it heal. 

Even though the extra rest helped, I was in doubt as recently as the night before the race as to whether I should run it with a balky foot. 

I decided to give it a go and so glad that I did. 

It was a great race experience, fun day on the trails and a decent outcome: 22nd overall out of 150, and third in my age group. 

After almost bagging this race, I am glad that I did it.

Here is how I worked through the process and how I counsel with my athletes when confronted with the question: Should I race with an injury? 

  • First, determine as best you can the severity of the injury. Mine had shown signs of improvement and the testing I did the morning of the race indicated that the injury was not severe. 

  • If you are unsure of how significant the injury is - or could be if you race - consult a trusted medical professional. After my foot flared up on Tuesday, I made an appointment with my physical therapist. She’s helped me through various injuries over the years. The day before the race, she dry needled the tight areas in my calf, which helped release the tension. But more importantly she posed a question I had not considered, “Have you been using KT Tape on it?” That honestly was a game changer for me. I had forgotten about using KT Tape, which has helped that area in the past. And I believe it was a key part of getting me through this race.  

  • Ask an experienced runner, ideally a coach. When I suggested that I would take the conservative approach and skip this race, my coach encouraged me to rethink it and pointed out that my PT did not discover any serious issue. With that advice, I planned to race  but would make the final decision in the morning. 

  • Determine what this race means to you in the bigger picture. Is it a big goal race? One you were just doing for fun? Or somewhere in between? For me, this was not a goal race, which started to tip the scales for resting not racing.  

  • Weigh all the pros and cons. What would it mean to you if you did not race? What would it mean to you if the race made the injury more severe? 

The Winter Trail Frosty was indeed cold but I finished the second loop faster than the first, and took third in my age group.

As I processed all of these questions and determined whether my foot was ready, I also recalled this post about my father’s passing and my renewed quest to live without regrets. 

I am well aware that there could have been a vastly different outcome. A misstep on a root, rock or other trail obstacle could have heightened the injury. 

But I was comfortable with the decision on race morning and glad that I opted to do the race. 

If and when you face a similar situation, use this guide and know that no matter what happens, only you know what is best for you. 


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