I recently read a running analogy that was spot on (paraphrased below):
Training as a runner is like running on a mountain ledge. One side is a long, gentle slope which represents putting in less than a full effort and not maximizing your potential. The other side is a steep cliff, which you slide down when you train too hard and end up injured. The goal of training is to stay as close to the ledge as possible without sliding down the cliff.
Some running injuries can be rather serious: a torn Achilles, hairline fractures, etc. Many of these are caused by running, but some may not even be related to running. A coworker of mine was doing cartwheels with her daughter and tore a muscle or tendon on the back of her leg. She’s going to be out for several weeks. These injuries are all disheartening and can be time consuming to overcome. Some can take years and some can put you out of running forever.
Other injuries are relatively minor, but are still discouraging. These are the type of injuries that I’ve experienced lately. For example, last year I strained a calf muscle for the first time. That meant no running for about three weeks and running “on eggshells” for a few weeks after that. I’ve also strained a couple different tendons in my foot and had sore knees. These injuries may not sound like much to an outsider, and often won’t even cause a limp, but when you’re in the middle of a 16 week marathon training cycle and you have a goal, they are very frustrating.
The reason I’m writing this post today is that I suddenly have a minor issue in my knee. I’ve been training about 17 weeks for a marathon that’s one week from today. After my run on Monday I noticed at work that it hurt my knee a little to go down the stairs. I felt fine during cross training on Tuesday and forgot about it. After my run on Wednesday my knee hurt quite a bit more and started to worry me. I tried a light jog on the treadmill after cross training on Thursday and stepped off after the pain came back 4 minutes into my run. I took Friday off and then went out for a 10 miler today with one week left for the marathon. To my dismay, my knee was really hurting after ~1.5 miles and I had to turn around and walk home after <2.5 miles. Fail.
So this little pain in the center of my right knee raises some important questions:
- How much rest is needed for this to heal?
- Do I risk my last couple runs before the marathon this week?
- Do I call off the marathon even though I’ve trained about 18 weeks straight for it?
- Do I run the marathon and pull out if my knee hurts?
- Do I run the marathon and finish it despite my knee pain?
- If I run with this issue, do I risk making it much more serious?
- Is finishing this marathon (and potentially getting a PR) worth a couple months on the sidelines?
The problem is, many injuries are unique in location or degree, so the questions above are not easy to answer. And who wants to throw away 18 weeks of training for an injury that’s not super serious? Ugh. (OK, the training wouldn’t be “thrown away,” but basically I’ve been looking forward to this marathon for months and I’m at a peak right now.)
So now I have some thinking to do. One optimistic way of looking at it is that at least I’m tapering right now and rest is OK. Had this happened two months ago, right in the middle of my tough training, it would have really slowed me down.