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Knowing When to Stop Running

Understand the signs that could lead you to decide to stop running.

Many recreational runners eventually find themselves training for and then entering races.  Setting a goal to complete a race is admirable, what is not is the failure to adopt a backup plan should complications occur during those training sessions or in the races themselves. 

No race is ever easy, especially if you are driving yourself to complete a half or full marathon.  The demands on the body are immense, and the brain has a tricky way of sending misinformation about whether or not you should stop running.  Learning to discern true warning signs that your body is in distress and the tricks one’s mind plays when pushing it to its limits is a valuable tool that will save you much grief. 

If, during a run or race, you have unexpected sever pain or pain unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, that is a clear indicator that your body is in true distress.  According to Craig Moore, MD, a family practitioner specializing in sports medicine in Bellingham, Washington, and a 2:19 marathon finisher, “No sensation should be more than a dull ache.  If you feel something that’s sharp, piercing, or stabbing, you should slow down to see if it subsides.”  If it does not, it is time to seek help.  Chest pain, tightness or pressures are symptoms that require immediate attention.  In addition, if you feel something pop, snap or burn, do not take another step.  These could indicate torn muscles or ligaments.  Stop where you are and summon help to come to you.  Failure to do so could result in a complete tear that will bring your running to a halt for months at the very least. 

Lewis Maharam, MD, medical director of the ING New York City Marathon and Elite Racing music marathons, offers more advice.  “If the pain becomes such that it changes your running form—you’re favoring one leg, you have trouble bearing weight on a leg, or you’re doubled over, your body’s telling you that something’s wrong.”  But all may not be lost.  “If you are struggling to do eight-minute miles but you’re able to maintain your form and run comfortably to a ten-minute or twelve-minute pace, you could abandon your time goal and just focus on finishing.”

Ultimately your top priority should be in keeping yourself safe and nurturing your body, not tearing it apart.  Learning to understand the signals your body sends during training runs and races will facilitate that.        

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