When is it OK not to finish a race? This question is a lot harder to answer than you would think. A few weeks ago I had my first DNF (did not finish) and it was probably one of the hardest decisions I have had to make in a long time. Quitting is not a commonly used word in my vocabulary. In my first Iron Man (IM) race, I was hit by a truck at mile 4 of a 112 mile bike; determined to finish my first IM, I got back on my bike and finished the race. I ended up finishing 6th in my age group! So, quitting a race is not something I ever wanted to do.
Unfortunately, a few weeks ago at the South Carolina Half, when I hopped off my bike in T2 I immediately felt this sharp pain around my left hip flexor. I stopped, walked a few steps with my bike, and tried running to run my bike to the rack. The pain was still there and it wasn’t getting better. I stood there for a while just staring at my running shoes – what to do? Should I put on my running shoes and start the run and see if the pain goes away, or should I just call it a day? After I stood there for what seemed like eternity, weighing the pros and cons of each option, I finally decided to call it a day. I had bigger races on the horizon and there was no need to end my season just so I could slug through what was suppose to be a fun training race.
In the end, I made the right decision. It still took me a few days and several doctors’ appointments before I actually felt comfortable with my decision to stop that race, but I understand it now. I think when we are faced with those types of scenarios it’s hard to always think rationally and make the best choice. You don’t want to be a wimp and we have trained ourselves to be able to push through so much discomfort, so it’s hard to tell when the pain or discomfort is actually enough that we should stop and not push through it anymore. It’s difficult to draw that line and I think we continually push that limit.
The biggest lesson I have learned from this is, is that you should trust your body and if it hurts – stop! There is no need to ruin your season or your career for any one race. Trust your self and trust what your body is telling you. That’s only the first part though.
The second part, which is also very important, is allowing yourself ample time to fully recover. The first few days of recovery are the easiest – it still hurts, you know you shouldn’t push it, so that’s that. But when your injury starts to feel better and training feels good again, it’s so hard not to just get back out there and train hard. However, we need to remind ourselves that it takes time to heal and you need to be kind to your body. A few extra days of rest or light workouts versus an entire season of nursing an injury is time well spent. It can be hard to find that balance though. My advice is, if it hurts stop, and then take the time to fully allow your body to recover. Otherwise you will be nursing an injury all season and what was a little injury may turn into a very serious injury. I still have to remind myself of this and often times I’ll have to ask myself, “If someone came to me and told me how I am feeling right now, what would you tell them to do?” The answer is usually, “Stop.” Pushing through an injury is never the smart thing to do but it’s not an easy decision to make either.
Brooke Tvermoes is a professional triathlete sponsored by Girls4Sport and a post doc at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina.