To Race or Not to Race: How to Make a Tough Decision When You Have Pain

Frankly, I’m pissed.

If I had a time machine, I wouldn’t travel back through time to change any of the stupid decisions I made in my life (and trust me, there are a lot) except the decision I made a two weeks ago to run hill repeats in new shoes that I bought on Amazon. It’s generally a bad idea to buy shoes you haven’t tried on, even if you are familiar with a previous model. I am a running coach; I know better than that.

arch pain

After that ill-fated hill run in new shoes, the arch on my right foot started throbbing. Shit. I iced it, rested from running and wore a compression sock all week. It felt fine most mornings and started to hurt again by the end of the day from walking around. I was two weeks out from the Cowtown half marathon. I’ve been diligently putting in my long runs week after week. I was trained up to 11.5 miles. It sucks.

By Saturday that week, the pain seemed to subside. I didn’t have pain even after taking our dog Ollie for two walks that day. I was feeling hopeful because on Sunday I was scheduled for my last training run before the race.

I planned to run 12 miles, but after three miles the pain in my foot started to return. It got worse as the run went on, so I bailed on my long run at mile six. It’s never a good idea to run through physical pain.

Pain is our body’s way of communicating to us that something is wrong. Running through pain will only make it worse and can lead to a more permanent injury.

I was nervous about race day because I didn’t feel any pain 24 hours before the run and the pain only returned as I started running. What if I felt okay before I started, but the pain flared up during the race? I had to make a tough decision: To Race or Not To Race.

to race or not to race: how to make a tough decision when you have pain. save to your favorite Pinterest running board for later.

to race or not to race: how to make a tough decision when you have pain. save to your favorite Pinterest running board for later.

Questions to ask yourself to decide if you should race


The first question to ask is, Is it pain or discomfort? Learn the difference. It’s never (repeat never) a good idea to run through pain. My arch pain is not just an uncomfortable feeling; it’s a throbbing pain. That’s not a good sign for race day.

Muscle soreness or burning, heavy legs or mental anguish are all uncomfortable feelings, but generally speaking, should be ok to power through on race day.

Sharp, throbbing, or radiating pain or swelling is a signal from your body that something is wrong. Never ignore pain.

Pain Vs. Discomfort: Learn to Tell the Difference to Avoid Exercise Injury


If you feel something that is off, but it goes away with a day or three of rest, then you’re probably okay to run or race. If the pain returns when you run again, it is your body signaling a larger issue. Recurring pain is a sign that you should see a doctor for options to resolve your issues.


If you choose to run through pain, your body will compensate for the weakness and compromise your running gait/form, which can lead to new hip, knee or ankle injuries. You may be further risking the original injury but potentially causing new ones.

Is the risk of further injury higher than the reward of finishing this race?

No single race is worth an injury that could lead to extended time off or surgery. There will be other races.


Evaluate your choices:

DNF: Did Not Finish: If my foot is pain-free leading up to race day, I can choose to start the race, but I must be willing to take a DNF (did not finish) on the race results if the pain returns during the race. I can not risk the injuries that could result from running 13.1 miles on a hurt foot. No single race is worth it.

DNS: Did Not Start: I can make the decision not to race at all. It's is a difficult choice because I’ve been training for the last 11 weeks and races are expensive, but it is the best choice if my foot still hurts in the days before the race. Then I see a doctor about my options for treatment.

Ultimately, We need to make the best decisions for our long-term health, and put our ego and emotions aside.

I made the hard decision not to race Cowtown this year. As much as I want to run, I know that the risk is much higher than the reward of finishing a race. There will be other races.

Be smart, friends.

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