It is very common for runners to continue to train through pain. Don’t get me wrong, I get it! I’ve been there. You are training for your race and are determined to run that race…COMPETE in that race! A slight pain starts to develop. “Big deal. I can run through it. It’s annoying, but not actually painful.” Until it becomes worse and eventually shuts you down, either by choice or by significant injury. Sound familiar?
I hear this daily with my runners, maybe several times a day. They tell me how it started and what it developed into over a period of time because they didn’t stop training for the upcoming race. Sometimes that pain becomes more severe, sometimes that pain leads to other injuries, and sometimes it leads to a major injury that puts them out of commission entirely.
Ignoring your pain is one of the worst things you can do!
Let me stop for a second to say one thing, though. Pain and discomfort are different. Training is going to be uncomfortable. Soreness happens. Aches happen. That is normal. But, when that discomfort becomes painful and causes you to start questioning things, that is when you want to take care of it.
Here is the normal cycle I see: pain starts -> running continues -> the body compensates in order to avoid the pain -> the compensations cause mechanical changes to form -> these changes create new stressors to the tissues in the body -> new injuries develop and/or the initial injury intensifies and completely shuts the runner down.
End the cycle now!
First and foremost, understand that taking a bit of time off from running is not going to kill you — yes, I know it feels that way. It is easy to get in a mindset that if you don’t run you will lose your endurance, but just taking three to five days off will not do that. And, notice I said “time off from running,” not “time off.” Just because you are resting your legs from pounding the pavement does not mean you are 100% resting. Get in a pool and swim or aqua jog. Hop on a bike and do some long miles there. Do some strength training, either body weight or with some resistance. There is ALWAYS something you can do to continue training when you are experiencing injuries.
With that said, rest days are also good. I used to HATE taking rest days. I thought they would set me back. I eventually realized the opposite was true. Taking one to two days off to let the body fully recover actually brought me back stronger, faster, and more mentally sound. If you are starting to feel something nagging, take a couple days to rest. Instead, go do something fun with family and friends. Start a project you have been wanting to start. Find something to take your mind off your pain and the fact that you aren’t running for a couple days. Then, after those one to two days, get back at it!
And finally, let’s talk about the downward spiral when you ignore the pain. If you are concerned about taking time off now due to a small injury, understand that when the injury gets worse by training through it, the recovery and rehab later will take much longer. For example, a simple injury may require two weeks rest and four weeks of therapy. Let that compound into something more severe or add more issues on top of it from compensations, and you may be out of running for 8-12 weeks and in therapy for that amount of time as well.
Unless you want to be out for a significant amount of time and miss that race you are training so hard for, listen to your body! It will thank you. I promise!