What do you do when you are a month away from your goal race and an injury pops up?
During the average training cycle running injuries begin to pop up during the later stages of training more so than at any other point. By this time in the training program, your body has already endured through hundreds of thousands of steps, and if you have any movement faults, strength deficits, motor sequencing issues, running pattern faults, or issues in your training program your body is likely to react to them.
Common symptoms of these deficiencies (small or large) include gradual build-up of aches and pains. These symptoms do not feel the same as general post-workout fatigue or discomfort resulting from the activity. These are the “this doesn’t feel right” kind of soreness, burning, jolts, zings and sharp pains. Many times these pains don’t gradually build-up, though. Rather they can come out of nowhere, piercing at your muscle or joint like a hot knife. In either case, both scenarios will bring your training to a halt or at the least a snails pace.
So what do you do when this happens with a month left in your training?
Get a proper diagnosis for your symptoms and the root cause of it (and not from Dr. Google).
For example, if you search “pain on the outside of my knee when running,” five of the top six search results talk about IT band syndrome, which then prescribes a healthy dosage of foam rolling, massage, stretching, icing, heating and strengthening exercises. This is fine if you truly have IT band syndrome.
What you don’t get as options with that Google search, though, is that outer knee pain can also come from an LCL sprain, meniscus irritation, patellofemoral stress, proximal tibiofibular sprain and outer hamstring irritation (to name a few). Suppose you identify the correct diagnosis, though.
Unless you have a skilled understanding of the mechanics of running, endurance training principles and the physiology of injury, healing and sports science, you will have a hard time identifying the root cause of your symptoms and difficulty formulating an effective and efficient plan of action that will guide you for the remaining training period.
If a skilled clinician can put you on the path of treatment, adjust your training program, and instruct you on effective home treatments, you will spend less time dilly-dallying with internet cures that may just waste your time.
Don’t overreact; your race aspirations are not over yet.
Once you know what is going on with your pain, you can put a plan together. With four weeks remaining in the training schedule, you have one more big workout left to perform. If you have already performed at least a 10-mile run (half-marathoner) or a 18-20 mile run (marathoner), you are prepared enough to finish your race, but only if your injury isn’t too serious and it has enough time to heal.
There’s a saying I like to tell runners on the mend: It’s better to go into a race healthy and under-prepared rather than going into a race injured and hurting. You’ll be guaranteed to have a bad race if you go into a race actively injured. If you’re under-prepared you can always adjust your pace or if the going gets tough pull yourself out, but at least you’re giving yourself a fighting chance with a better healed body.
Yes, you may have to adjust your expectations as to how fast you finish your race, but if your goal is purely to finish then giving yourself the opportunity to recover by race day should be your priority.