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Real endurance athletes race through injury and illness, or do they?

Posted Nov 16 2010 1:39pm


This past Ironman World Championship in Kona saw Chrissie Wellington choosing not to race due to an illness. This wasn’t a life threatening situation for Wellington. She might have even been able to complete the race. But, she decided not to race citing she thought it was in the sports best interest not to go out without 100% and give the race everything she had.

Was this gracious to the sport or something more selfish so she could keep her undefeated Ironman title? One wonders what her sponsors thought. She has yet to lose an Ironman full or half distance race she has competed in. That’s pretty impressive and safe after Kona since she dropped out.

The question here isn’t about her real motive for not racing. No one is arguing the fact she felt ill, but what would you do?

Endurance athletes are not immune to injuries and illness.  Often endurance athletes "train through the pain" of sore muscles, aches & pains, twisted ankles, pulled muscles, torn muscles, colds, flu and many other illnesses.  But, when is it time to take a break or even quit a race?

In the Tour de France, Cadel Evans recently withdrew from the 2010 race due to a broken elbow.  Not only did he have a broken elbow, but he raced an entire stage (100+ miles including some nasty mountain sections) with that broken elbow knowing he had it.

Heroic?  Stupid?  Iconic?  However you want to see it, Evans was knocked out from injury.  Should he have continued at all knowing the extent of his injury?  Like Cadel Evens, every endurance racer needs to weigh their options while out there doing the sports they love.

For starters, will the injury or illness get worse if the athletic activity is continued?  Some injuries you can deal with if you need to.  A torn ACL doesn't mean complete immobility, just lateral immobility. With the braces they make today, you could be a college volleyball player and still play an entire season with a torn ACL.

Will compensating for injury create additional injuries?  If someone has a twisted ankle due to a fall earlier in a race, will running with a limp for an additional 13 miles create hip and back problems? Would a cold turn in pneumonia if you further stress your immune system for 6+ hours in a half Ironman?

No matter what can or cannot be done, one has to step back and evaluate the short term and long term affects of continuing. Most athletes are age groupers that do not make a living from running events.  Cadel Evans and Chrissie Wellington race for a living. Most age groupers have a day job and cannot afford to miss work to recover.


What if Chrissie Wellington was an age grouper in the Ironman World Championship?  Maybe Wellington is a nurse that cannot be sick at work and needs to be illness from before returning to work.  Is being on recovery leave worth skipping the triathlon she probably was not going to win anyways? You better believe any age grouper at Ironman Kona would have raced if they could walk!

Endurance athletes are a different breed.  They race injured, they train injured, they at times over train to the point of injury, or simply do not get the rest required to keep their bodies healthy.  Is missing an event worth speeding up your recovery over a cold or flu? Chris S. over at Home Swii Home skipped a cyclocross race due to illness. He thought it was a better use of time to stay home and recover. Would you?

One must weigh their options.  Is this Ironman Kona, or is this the local age group triathlon that could be put off for the next race? Every situation is different and there is no catch all answer.

Be smart out there and race with a level head.  No one wants to create permanent damage to their bodies or create a long term illness situation. Know when to say when and call it a day.  As always check with your physician before continuing on with any injury or discomfort.

Ryann Ryan Falkenrath writes the blog , and is a married father of two, owner of three dogs and trying to balance life, work and multisport. Ryan has participated in multisport events since 2001.  Ryan is also the Kansas Endurance Sports Examiner and you can read more of his triathlon thoughs HERE .  Contact Ryan at: or follow him on @TriJayhawkRyan

*All opinions expressed in this story are by the author and are not necessarily those of EMT.

Follow on twitter @ everymantri or view latest videos on YouTube .


BTW: You can watch the women race the 2010 Ironman World Championships Below:

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