For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
A doctor’s advice for when to call it quits before a race.
When do you pull the plug on a big sporting event? Is it worth starting and perhaps hurting yourself even more? The questions are simple, but the answers are more complicated.
Having dealt with these issues with my patients for some time, here’s the algorithm that seems to make the most sense. First of all, is there a risk for a more serious or severe injury? If so, the answer is immediate: Don’t do it.
If there is little risk of further injury, what will the experience be like? Agonizing? Fun? A mix? Will the pain be so great that you can’t perform the way you normally would?
My general rule here is that if pain limits an athlete’s ability to perform normally, it’s best to stop. Why? Because injuries from improper form can take months to heal and create even worse problems than the one you’re dealing with now.
Another good strategy: Consult with your doctor, not your coach. Your coach wants you in the game, but your doctor will be straight with you about your risks. Consider all of these factors when deciding whether to “play with the pain.”
New York City sports medicine specialist Jordan D. Metzl, M.D. is a 29-time marathon finisher and 10-time Ironman. His book, The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies, has more than 1,000 tips to fix all types of injuries and medical conditions.