The Marathon That Got Away!

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If you’ve been running for a while you may have faced the disappointment of having to miss a race due to injury or illness.

You may have been fighting injury over a long period of time and came to the realization that the race wasn’t going to be a good idea. Or you may have had an injury or illness that came out of nowhere.

In either case, it’s very hard to know when to skip or DNS (did not start) a race and deal with the disappointment of not being able to do something you’ve been training for and looking forward to.

Trevor faced this recently with what would have been marathon #10 at the Tupelo Marathon. A couple weeks before the race he started experiencing Achilles soreness, a lump, redness and discomfort.

This got progressively worse until he was feeling discomfort with every step. This is annoying for a 4 mile run but potentially dangerous during a marathon.

The Marathon That Got Away – When to Skip Your Race

In our current fitness climate there’s a lot of extreme examples out there of people who’ve run on a broken leg or while horribly sick. It can be inspiring to see how people are able to overcome so much.

But when it comes to your own health it can be hard to know what decision to make. Do you tough it out no matter what or listen to the voice of reason and live to run another day? I’ve heard the acronym DNS described as did nothing stupid. But it can be hard to weigh out these decisions when we’re really invested in training for a race.

We posted about Trevor’s dilemma on FB and got a lot of comments from people who had or were currently experiencing the same thing.

Tough call but sounds like the right one. I think your listeners would benefit from an episode on that. We can go through with races when we shouldn’t and it makes things worse. I have my own experience and it ended up with me not being able to walk properly for three weeks, let alone think of running. -Alison

People weighed in with times when they had to make the hard decision to pull the plug on a race or when they should have done so. If you’ve never experienced a DNS so far, count your blessings. But hopefully us talking about this issue now will help you make a smart decision if you ever have to deal with this dilemma.

So, let’s talk about reasons not to start a race (or long run)….

Reasons Not to Start a Race (or Long Run)

Don’t run:

  • Sickness: There are various illnesses and symptoms that are simply not wise to run through. Things like the stomach flu where you may be dealing with vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness; any type of sharp abdominal pain which could have a bigger underlying issue; a respiratory illness like pneumonia or severe bronchitis, exacerbation of asthma, shortness of breath, productive cough; and fever which means that your body is currently fighting off some kind of infection.
  • Injury: If you have a nagging or sharp pain or area of discomfort that causes you to change your running form; persistent redness, tenderness or swelling to an area these are all reasons to not run. You may do more damage by pushing through something like this. Another reason not to run has to do with any type of fracture to your lower body or if you’re just healing from a fracture.

I was just listening to the latest podcast and I wanted to tell you, Trevor, that it’s actually quite comforting to hear that someone else has had a DNS due to injury. I don’t talk about my stress fracture all that much here Angie gets the bulk of my whining) but I had to give up the Tropical Triple Crown, the Kauai Half, the MCM, and the Honolulu Marathon this year, the Glass Slipper Challenge in February, along with 4 other shorter races, due to my injury. It is frustrating and I am so jealous of all the race day pictures I see every week. The only thing that makes me feel better is knowing that I’d rather tough it out now and not do these races so that I can heal and live to run another day. This ordeal has taught me a lot about patience and, I think, it has ultimately made me stronger…mentally and physically. -Jenny from Hawaii

Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself when making this decision:

  1. Have you been told by a doctor or other trusted healthcare professional not to race?
  2. Have you been told by your coach not to race?
  3. Have you missed a lot of training causing you to not be prepared for this race?
  4. Have you had a serious illness in the week leading up to the race?
  5. Do you currently have a fever?
  6. Will doing this race create the potential for serious injury that will require an extended rehab period?
  7. Will doing this race compromise some other big racing or running goals in the future?
  8. Will doing this race cause you to miss a major life event or harm a significant relationship?
  9. Will it be unsafe for you to travel to the race?
  10. What would you advise your child or best friend to do in this situation (sometimes we give people in our care better advice)?

Smart decision Trevor. I was not so smart a few years ago when I decided to run through and injury and then couldn’t run for 6 months. One race is not worth it. Live to run another day. John (Facebook Comment)

Cancelled my Boston Marathon trip in 2012 due to a foot problem that was getting worse. I always consider the long term more than the short term. I want to be running next year more than just running the next race! -Marty from Colorado

How to deal with the disappointment of not doing a race

Even when you know that you made the right decision not to do a race there are still a lot of emotions to process.

You’ve probably thought, trained and planned (and paid) for this race for quite some time. You may have friends doing the race (or acquaintances who post stuff on Facebook about it). This can all be hard to deal with.

But you really have to leave your ego out of the decision and ignore any “friends” or training partners who may be trying to egg you on to an unwise decision.

1. Acknowledge your disappointment. It’s probably not healthy to pretend that it’s not a big deal when it is to you. Take the time to have a small pity party, cry, scream into your pillow, whatever makes you feel better.

2. Refocus and make other plans. If you have some advance notice then here are some things to check into:

  • Can you defer your race to the next year? Some races offer this option so it may be helpful to check this out.
  • Can you switch to a new race distance? If you’re undertrained or have a mild issue then a 5k, 10k or half marathon may be a better option?
  • Can you volunteer at the race? This may be a good option if your significant other or friend is also doing the race so you’ll be going anyway.
  • What other things could you do that day to avoid having it turn into a gigantic pity party? This basically is all about distraction. You could schedule a massage, go somewhere with a friend, tackle a project you’ve wanted to do for some time, attend another sporting event, binge watch a TV show, etc. Above all don’t make other people who are still able to run feel guilty or sorry for you.

3. Remind yourself of your long-term goals. Is your goal to run healthy for life? Do you want to eventually PR or BQ? Do you want to take on an ultra-marathon? All of these goals will require that you do what’s best for your health. If you try to take shortcuts along the way you won’t have the best results. Don’t feel guilty about things that may have been within or outside of your control. These things happen to everyone. I try to remind myself that all my problems are “first-world” problems which helps put things into perspective.

4. Refocus on a new goal. This may mean taking time to rehab an injury, focusing on some strengthening exercises or stretching, doing more low impact cross training. With your new goal make sure it has a realistic time frame so that you don’t end up pushing yourself to do too much too soon and make things worse.

Last year had to DNS a trail race because of an ITBS issue. Good thing, too. When I tried to run 3 miles the next day, every step hurt. I made amends this year — started and finished the trail race. -Henry from Indiana

I am one who rarely gets sick. However, just a day before my favorite half marathon, Mill Creek Distance Classic in Youngstown OH, I came down with the worst flu I’d had in years complete with major chest congestion and a high fever. I was so disappointed I cried! My hubby ran it, and I sat in the car with the heat on until it was time for him to cross the finish. Just walking across the parking lot was agonizing so I knew I made the right decision. I am finally over the disappointment, I suppose! -Christine (Facebook Comment)

Sources consulted:
Some great articles have been written on dealing with a DNS.

Also Mentioned on this Episode

Our thanks to Dr. Ben Shatto at for appearing in this episode.

Episode sponsor: Harry’s Razors – Great shave for less than half the price. Use the code “marathon” to save $5.00.IMG_3561

Tissue Rejuvenator from Hammer Nutrition. The product that has helped me avoid injury and recover more quickly. This link will generate a 15% discount on a first time order.

8 Responses to The Marathon That Got Away!

  1. Ben Shatto September 21, 2015 at 10:14 am #

    Angie and Trevor,

    Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak about Achilles tendinitis. Trevor, I’m sorry you weren’t able to race, but I’m glad that you are feeling better!

    In this podcast episode, I mention several rehabilitation strategies, including utilizing mobility bands and Kinesiological tape. I have created a special resource for the MTA audience that includes specific strategies on how to rehabilitate Achilles tendinitis.

    For additional quick tips, be sure to refer to

    Thank you, Angie and Trevor!

    • Trevor Spencer September 24, 2015 at 8:38 am #

      Thanks for all your help and the great info. 🙂

    • ricardo September 27, 2015 at 9:45 am #

      wow!!! Thanks for the tips. It really is going to help me to get bether.

      What do you think about cold therapy? and Platelet-Rich Plasma?

      thank you very much in advance

      • Ben Shatto September 29, 2015 at 8:28 pm #


        I’m not exactly sure what you mean by cold therapy, but I do advise an icing program initially as an acute case of Achilles tendonitis usually has a lot of pain and inflammation associated with it. As the injury lingers ice doesn’t tend to have the same effects. I would look more towards manual techniques such as cross friction massage or tool assisted mobilization. I have seen some evidence that platelet rich plasma and/or stem cell therapy can be very beneficial. It is hard to have these treatments in the US but should be available in Brazil. Be sure to work on eccentric muscle strengthening as well to help the tendon remodel correctly as you progress your rehab. This becomes even more important as the injury becomes more chronic. Based off your other comments you are likely to have a more chronic case and so eccentric exercise will be an important component. Be sure to read the additional information found at

        Good Luck!

        • Ricardo October 14, 2015 at 3:44 am #

          Hello Dr. Shatto,

          Thanks again for the tips.
          Following your suggestions, I am not running and I found a good physio to assist my recovery. She is doing a manual cross friction massage and acupuncture techniques.
          I am doing your eccentric exercises on my own.
          I am going to follow this proccedure until dicember.
          Best regards.


          Ps. I am brazilian, but I live in Spain.

  2. ricardo September 27, 2015 at 9:33 am #

    Hello folks,

    Thanks for this amazing podast and for sharing with us this personal issue.

    As the doctor Shatto sad I don´t think an aquiles rupture is posible for long run’s athletes. It’s more likely soccer playes and others explosive runners.

    This is a link for a recent famous Fernando Gago aquiles rupture

    I’d like to tell you, specially Trevor, my personal experience with Aquiles tendinitis. My reason to do this is show that you have made the best decision, undoubtedly. What would happen if have chosen run tupelo marathon?

    First of all, sorry for my english ’cause I am still improving it.

    In september 2011 I felt aquiles soreness and went to a orthopedic specialist. After doing same exams, I was diagnosed a left Aquiles tendinosis. They sad that was uncurable unless you have a surgery. So I decided take a one mounth rest. After that a felt good and start running again. Mainly I felt ache the 15 first minutes while running and the follow morning just after waking up.

    So I’ve been running 8-9 mounths and having mounthly’s breaks since than.

    At first, I’ve tought it was a good decision than 2013 was my best running year (1:23:12 in half marathon, 38′ in 10k, some olimpic triathlons, 21:30 in 6k….). I couldn’t aspire to do any marathon for obvious reasons, however I’ve done 22-23 races / year. When pain increased I’ve started to swin and ride bicycle more. As simple as that.

    Over time the run period become shorter (3-4 mounths) while the break period increased.

    Last year I started to feel the same pain in my right aquiles .

    This year, after 2 rest periods (January and August) I can’t run properly and I had to cancel all my next races. Even my easy runs are not so easy.

    Now I decided stop running again for an indefinite time. I’ll look for a specialist, make a good rehab. I prefer run for the rest of my life than keep running badly and suffering.

    I hope its words will help you and the mta members to have the best decision when it is necessary. Unfortunattely, in this lovely sport injuries free are the exception

    Is there any Dc Shatto in Córdoba? hahhaha.

    A big hug from a half brazilian half spanish


  3. ricardo September 27, 2015 at 10:29 am #

    post data:

    On 30 September 2007, Haile Gebrselassie won the Berlin Marathon in 2:04:26, setting the world record after suffering an operation on his left Achilles on 9 September 2004 in Helsinki, Finland.

  4. Ben Shatto September 29, 2015 at 8:23 pm #


    Amazing story. I don’t know if there is a Dr. Shatto in Brazil but I hope you have found a good physio to assist you and if not, then I hope the strategies I’ve outlined will be helpful in your recovery. Thank you for sharing the video. Amazing how such an amazing athlete can be running and then have the tendon rupture. In theses cases it is almost always due to over training. Professional athletes work their bodies past the breaking point many times.

    Good luck in your recovery and running journey. Let me know if you have questions I can help you with.

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