It concerns me that athletes think that stress fractures are simply a natural occurrence of being an athlete and training for an event (or trying to become more physically fit). I have never had a stress fracture and will do anything in my power not to get one. However, I have had my battles with long-term painful muscular injuries and I am constantly finding myself learning how to be a more proactive athlete.
I realize that many injuries are accidents in that as athletes, we have a hard time recognizing a normal ache from painful, injury-provoking ache. And sometimes, accidents do happen such as rolling an ankle when running on uneven surfaces or crashing on the bike. But as athletes we are always teetering on the edge of getting injured because we like to push to see our limits and with a natural tendency to think "if some is good, more is better", simple decisions often come with major consequences.
As age group athletes, we are not paid to do a sport which ultimately keeps us physically fit. So, when it comes to an activity that you enjoy, that helps you burn calories, relieve stress, spend time with others and occupy your free time, why do you let your love for consistency outweigh your ability to be flexible and to be proactive? Sure, you can come up with a dozen reasons as to why you need to do that race or that training session but I have a feeling if you were to ask an athlete who is now injured or is rehabbing from an injury if he/she could have had a do-over, they would likely be jealous that you are not the one in pain or painfully having to sit on the sidelines for an undisclosed number of weeks/months. I'm sure they could easily answer, "was it worth it?"
If only they would have listened to their instinct (or created one) and to not let a moment of being in the now come ahead of thinking about the future.
As an athlete, I get it. It's tough to dedicate time, training and money for a race and then have to think about the possibility of not doing a race. Despite dedicating every training session to mentally and physically preparing your mind and body for the race, an injury causes you to stay in the present and regret the past. The future only goes so far as a finishing line and determination to get there outweighs any long-term consequences of your decision to do a race (or upcoming training sessions) with a body that is not physically and mentally healthy.
Without removing my athlete status, I will put on my coaching hat to help you decide if it is really worth it to train and race injured (or on the verge of an injury).
But I told everyone I was doing it and all my training buddies are doing the race. I don't want to miss out. The one who has to live with an injury is yourself. Race with your training buddies injured, miss out on the upcoming weeks or months of training because you were caught up with peer-pressure or race-hype. Consider your family, job, friends and your daily responsibilities which require a healthy body and mind to perform optimally on a daily basis. There will always be another race and you can still stay involved by cheering or volunteering at the race. More often than not, a missed race may only cause you to be out for 1/2 the time compared to doing the race. Thus, the quicker you will be back at it with your friends.
But I trained so hard for this race. You trained to perform with a strong, healthy body and a strong race day performance comes when your mind is your only limiter. Put your ego aside and keep in mind that there will be other races. If you want to impress yourself with your fitness, do so with a body that is in not in pain before or during a race.
But I paid for the race and I don't want to lose my money. Consider the time lost from training and exercise after you are rehabbing yourself to good health again. Time does not have a price tag. When you are injured you wish time would rush by so you can be back at it again. But when you are in good health you wish you had more time to enjoy the things you love. Consider next time to not register for a race until the day before, if possible. Decide if the price difference between registering early vs the day before is worth it when it comes to losing your money for early registration or having to not worry about losing anything by waiting until the day before a race and making the smart decision not to race.
But I invested so much time, money and energy in training for this race. There should only be a handful of times in your racing career when you will need to make the call if the race is worth "it". Rather than involving your physical therapist, doctor, etc. all at once to magically heal you in x-weeks/days before a race, consider realistically if you really think that the odds are in your favor in that your team of magicians will heal you and allow you to race injury free and properly recover from the race. Realizing that even if you are experiencing an injury, there are ways to finish a race without doing more damage but you have to be realistic with your approach to racing with an injury. Consider the money for xrays, MRI's, physical therapy, time away from work and any other commitments or activities that may be affected with your decision to not race smart or to race in the first place.
But I think I am getting better. I'll just take it easy. It's easy to get wrapped up in the race environment and not take it easy. Secondly, your definition of easy may be masked with pain relievers as you may be on the verge of healing but it will only take a matter of minutes or miles to put you back where you were before....if not worse. I have a two day rule. If you are experiencing an injury or pain, wait until you are 100% to assess your status if you should race or train again. Once you are 100%, wait two more days to be on the safe side. If you are 100% again after 2 days, you are good to go. If you are still questioning that lingering ache that won't go away or that is keeping your brain active thinking about whether or not you are healed or not? Then you aren't ready to race or train again.
But I carbo-loaded or I am worried about my weight. Simple. Consider not exercising for the next 2-3 months and that will answer your questions if it is really worth it to feel frustrated with your current diet routine or body image and to be even more disrespectful to your body by racing injured only to burn calories. How about thanking your body for all the good workouts OR if you have been struggling with injuries, consider evaluating whether you are eating to train or training to eat.
But I just really want to do it. Really? Just for a t-shirt and a medal? Consider your racing career. Do you see yourself racing for the next 20 years or do you think only race by race...just trying to get yourself to the next starting line? Keep in mind that your body is impacted in some negative way, every time you take a chance racing or training with an injury. You can only take so many chances before you will experience long-term consequences for your actions. Sure, you may be tough as nails and with a pain threshold that is unlike anyone else. Is it really worth it to explain to your family and friends that you are sad, depressed and emotionally drained that it was completely within your ability to take a few minutes to weigh the consequences instead of coming up with a million excuses as to why you had to do the race? Keep in mind that when you are injured, it affects everyone. Your family, your children, your pets, your boss/employees....everyone. There is a reason why you love doing what you do.
Your active lifestyle makes you feel amazing, healthy and well. Three things that can not be achieved with an injured body.
So, do you have time for an injury? Make the right call. It's not worth it.