Should I pull out of the Marathon?

Apr 12, 2021

It is such a tough decision to make but, honestly, sometimes it really is the best choice to make. So how do you decide whether to push on or pull out?

Marathon training is a huge investment of time and energy. We sacrifice things to fit in the mileage. Gone are Sunday morning lie- ins, boozy nights out and half of your toe nails. It’s a juggling act squeezing in runs home from work, balancing family and relationship commitments. It is hard. Any runner whose partner doesn’t run will have heard their loved one ask, “you’re running again?!” and had to justify their fourth/fifth/sixth run of the week. Some pick up injuries when they try to improve their Marathon PB. This means pushing hard. In doing this, they tread the fine line between peak performance and injury.

So deciding that after all this training and sacrifice that you won’t run the race you’ve worked hard for is painful. It’s a surprisingly emotive topic missing a race and that can persuade us to make bad decisions and just “run through it”.


When deciding if to defer there are a few factors to consider;

  1. What’s actually wrong with you? – some conditions may flare up briefly and settle quickly. You will need some guidance from your Sports Physio on this. Every individual situation is different. Many conditions may experience a long term deterioration if you ignore your pain and continue to race. For some injuries racing is an absolute no, if there is any suspicion of stress fracture for example then don’t race and get it properly checked out by a Sports Physio and please don’t just ‘Google’ it.
  2. Get Advice from Qualified and Experienced health professionals. In-experienced or non-sporty physios are more likely to air on the side of caution and just say, “don’t run” even when not necessary. Our job as physiotherapists is to tell people the risks, the pros and cons and let the athlete make an informed decision. So, if you haven’t already, seen an experienced health professional and ask their opinion. In many situations Sports Physios will find a way to help you run if you can be fixed.
  3. Can you fix it? Its not quite a simple as a trip to the car mechanic! That said, sometimes with the right input things can improve significantly. We have seen quite a few runners hobble in a couple of weeks before a race and yet make it to the finish line unscathed on the big day. Often the right advice during the taper period can really help. Sometimes taping techniques can be effective in offloading healing tissue for a while. In many cases it comes down to resting from running completely for a short while and make your priority being injury free not squeezing in more miles or ‘testing’ an injury.
  4. How much time is left? Time is a great healer and I’m often surprised how well the body will heal itself if you let it. Give yourself as much as time as possible before making the decision. Healing times for injuries vary considerably. A sore overworked muscle might settle in a few days or a couple of weeks. With an actual tissue tear though it is much longer and will vary depending on severity. Very roughly speaking muscle injuries heal in 6-8 weeks, tendons and ligaments take longer at around 12 weeks. It may take longer to reach a level where you can run a race, especially long distance events.
  5. Are you really going to make it round? You have to ask yourself whether you really could do it, and more than that, could you enjoy it? Is it really worth a lot of pain just to ‘get round’? Part of this question is also are you fit enough? Your injury might hold up but will all the missed mileage take its toll?
  6. What are your goals? If your main aim is to beat a PB then you probably won’t achieve that running injured. If however you just want to experience the race, do your bit for charity and you think you could find a way of comfortably plodding round then it should be possible.
  7. Likely impact of running the race – think short and long term. In the short term, you’ll be sore, how will that affect you? Would you have to miss work? Is it likely to settle quickly? How has it been after running recently? In many ways, long term impact is more important. Most injuries are treatable and will recover but do you want to face missing running for some time and a lengthy period of rehab. If there are likely long term implications then deferring is the most sensible option.
  8. Your running plans and race schedule – for some, a race might just be one of many races in their calendar. Missing it might well mean being fit for other events. For other runners, especially those tackling marathons or raising for charity, the race might be the Big One – a once in a lifetime challenge. If this is the case and you have no plans to run soon after the event then you have a little more freedom to take risks. That said, this should always be just part of your decision!

Once you’ve made a decision be prepared to review it. Things do change but be careful not to jump to any rapid conclusions! Just because you feel a bit better for a day or two doesn’t mean you’re suddenly fit to compete! When the dust has settled and the decision is made it’s important to reflect on how you got injured to learn from it and stop it happening again.

Final thoughts: choosing to defer is a tough choice. Sometimes though it’s better to think long term, rehab properly and come back even stronger. 

If you’re injured and are considering deferring a race, call 490312 and book an appointment with one of our Sports Physiotherapists. Get the right advice at the right time!