Risking damage - Running with an Injury
April 22, 2016 3:33 AM   Subscribe

I've just received a group email from a relative telling us that she is pulling out of the London Marathon on Saturday due to injury.

It goes without saying that she has worked hard for it and is bitterly disappointed. (I think that those of us who regularly do long distances forget what "working hard" really means for someone doing that distance - or anything close - for the first time.)
I want to persuade her to "do it anyway". And I'd really appreciate a few comments from this forum for and against.
So how bad's the injury? Not sure, but she's walking. So my argument centres around balancing the once-in-a-lifetime nature of the challenge (she's in her fifties, chances of doing the marathon again...) against the physical damage which may result.
On the face of it, a no-brainer. Protect yourself. And do things sensibly.
And yet.
I can't help feeling that in some circumstances you should just go for it. Injuries heal or sometimes don't. The notion of "saving your knees" presupposes there's some epic struggle on the horizon for which you are holding yourself out for. My argument is that the epic struggle for her has arrived. And it's on Saturday.
I know some of you have run through injury, and much else besides. Could you help me with my argument? Or bring me to my senses?
posted by dry-jim to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (45 answers total)
You should definitely not do this. Trust that she knows her own body better than you do. How would you feel if she took your advice and ended up with a much worse injury than she has now?

I had to drop out of a half marathon due to a femoral stress fracture, and if you had tried to convince me to do it anyway I'd have been irritated and bewildered as to why you were involving yourself in my health-related decisions. Leave this lady alone. She's probably already disappointed in having to back out and your guilt-trip will not help.
posted by something something at 3:40 AM on April 22, 2016 [105 favorites]

(she's in her fifties, chances of doing the marathon again...)

If she seriously screws something up trying to run, then yeah, her chances are pretty low.

If she rests and lets the injury heal properly, and starts training up again when she's better, chances are pretty high.

She's already thought about running on the injury, balanced the pros and cons, and has made the responsible decision. Don't do this.
posted by damayanti at 3:47 AM on April 22, 2016 [40 favorites]

The notion of "saving your knees" presupposes there's some epic struggle on the horizon for which you are holding yourself out for.

Or possibly she wants to "save her knees" so that she can climb stairs without pain well into her 70s?

Don't do this. My dad has a running injury, and after rehab AND surgery, he still limps and deals with pain, and he's super cranky about it. One race, even a really prestigious race, is not worth torpedoing your body for. You have to live in it until you die.
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:55 AM on April 22, 2016 [59 favorites]

(she's in her fifties, chances of doing the marathon again...)

My dad took up competitive cycling again at 60 after a nearly 30 year break. It's not like people have a set expiration date.

If she's able to run/train for a marathon in her 50s at n, she'll be able to do it at n+1, unless she fucks something up by running while injured and does irreparable damage.

Trust her to know what's best for herself. Don't be that guy.
posted by phunniemee at 3:55 AM on April 22, 2016 [29 favorites]

On the face of it, a no-brainer. Protect yourself. And do things sensibly.


The notion of "saving your knees" presupposes there's some epic struggle on the horizon for which you are holding yourself out for.

Maybe she wants to be able to walk easily and without pain for the rest of her life? Knees are Serious Business. Don't Fuck With Your Knees.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:56 AM on April 22, 2016 [24 favorites]

There is no more glory or achievement in finishing London Marathon to finishing any other marathon. Or if there is, then it's the brand of London Marathon she would be sacrificing her health for.

Don't make it an once-in-the-lifetime chance when it isn't. Another event, when the injury has healed.
posted by Free word order! at 4:01 AM on April 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

This is not your place. It is HER body, HER decision.

It took a lot of courage for her to make the call and to send that email. Don't make it worse.
posted by mama casserole at 4:01 AM on April 22, 2016 [46 favorites]

I'm bewildered as to why you would try to convince this woman to do something that she has already decided she shouldn't do in the interest of her health and could still do down the road when she isn't injured. It's none of your business, frankly, and yes, knees are a HUGE deal. We use them every day and, as we age, they can become a trouble area, especially if she lives another 40+ years, which if she's in good health and takes care of herself, is quite possible. Ever known someone who had to go through knee replacement surgery? Pre-surgery, they are in an incredible amount of pain, post-surgery same thing. Respect your relative's very difficult decision and stay out of something that doesn't involve you at all.
posted by katemcd at 4:03 AM on April 22, 2016 [27 favorites]

No. You can bet she's already done all the soul-searching she can bear to come to this decision, so your intervention won't be helpful or kind. Support her on the road to recovery, and in all the events she'll do in the future with her working knees.
posted by daisysteiner at 4:05 AM on April 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

It doesn't sound like you have experienced a running injury before. Even the non super serious ones hurt like hell. While I know you are coming from a good place, what you're suggesting really minimizes her injury as well as the sheer difficulty of running a marathon (even in good health). If you want to be supportive take the stance that this is NOT her last chance, and that she has many years of running ahead of her. Tell her this if she seems sad. Tell her that her training has not been wasted because she has future chances to run in any race she wants. Assuming she takes care of her body and doesn't injure it further! She's making the right choice. Don't make her second guess it.
posted by KMoney at 4:05 AM on April 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

My Mom had had both of her knees replaced. It's no joke. It's a really painful operation and the recovery period is about 3-6 months.

Since the surgery is no holiday in the sun she lived with excruciating pain prior to having the surgery, and then she had each knee replaced a couple of years apart. So that was about 4 years screwing around with Orthopedic surgeons, living on pain meds and being a cranky old lady.

I'm your aunt's age. Trust and believe that if I trained for a big event, and if my physician and I had decided that it was A VERY BAD IDEA to run a marathon, if someone challenged me on it...their feathers would be blown off.

People who have lived in their bodies for half a century can be trusted to know what's good for them. Think about the dynamic here. You are presumably a man telling a woman what's best for her. Do you really want to be THAT guy?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:08 AM on April 22, 2016 [14 favorites]

Rosie Swale-Pope ran *literally* around the world in her fifties. The chances of her doing another marathon are pretty high.

I can't help feeling that in some circumstances you should just go for it.

Yeah, in some circumstances, you should. And in others, you should listen to the experts and not go for it, rather than someone who doesn't even know how bad the injury is. What expertise do you have that make you think you know better than the doctors who are treating her for this?

It's good that you want to encourage your relative. But you are not the person who is going to have to deal with the fallout from this, possibly for the rest of her life. Sometimes, doing a thing is a stupid thing to do. There's no glory in hurting yourself like this.
posted by Solomon at 4:15 AM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Good heavens. 50s isn't even that old for marathoning. I volunteered at the Boston marathon last weekend and met racers in their 70s and 80s. I'm sure all of them have pulled out of a race at some point in their lives, because you don't run marathons into your 70s and 80s by running on injuries.

I guess I'm just piling on at this point but seriously what you're suggesting is a terrible idea.
posted by mskyle at 4:17 AM on April 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

Wow, no, really out of line for you to do this. If she were 98 years old I could maybe see your "once in a lifetime" and "what are you saving those knees for anyway" arguments holding some water. But she has multiple decades between her and 98. It is absolutely not your place to talk her out of this decision and attempting it makes you a jerk. I expect she and her doctor have talked this over.

I've had a trick knee since adolescence and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. Be kind to your knees, kids. Whether you're 8 or 80, knees are an excellent joint to have do your bidding.
posted by town of cats at 4:18 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Since she has had to train for months for this, I doubt she is pulling out because she had a slight twinge in her hamstring. To pull out, after all of this work, is a big decision and not one she will have taken lightly.

I assume you don't run - being able to walk pain-free is a really poor predictor of being able to run pain-free. Running also places much higher strains on bones and tendons - she may well have been told by a medical professional to avoid running. If her Achilles' tendon is partially torn, or she has a stress fracture, or something like that, she would be a bloody idiot to try to do a marathon against medical advice.

You insisting she run anyway, when she has made the decision that it would be dangerous to her health, is the equivalent of somebody hassling somebody to have another drink when they've already said they've had enough. It's a really dick move, though I assume in your case it comes from ignorance not malice. Don't do it.
posted by tinkletown at 4:20 AM on April 22, 2016 [11 favorites]

That sounds like a terrible idea. I think it's reasonable to assume she will not have pulled out at the drop of a hat and will have thought it through.

A friend of mine had to pull out of the London Marathon under similar circumstances. Her email made it clear she felt she was letting everyone down (especially those who had sponsored her). Putting more pressure on her would have been cruel.

What I did and what I think you should do is reply letting her know that you understand, that you respect the effort she put into the training and that you have faith that (providing the injury doesn't persist long term) she'll stand a good chance of completing it another year (I think there may be an option to defer the place or get priority entrance the following year).
posted by *becca* at 4:30 AM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Please don't do this - she has made a decision about her body and her health, and it is not your place to tell her this is wrong.

There's no value to the marathon other than what she puts on it - a great challenge and achievement if she chooses to do it but not a loss of she doesn't. Hopefully your aunt runs a marathon, but maybe she just wants to be able to run 5k races or casual jogs or to walk without pain. Maybe she just doesn't want to run a marathon. Don't make her feel worse about this.
posted by carbide at 4:32 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

You should encourage her to do it if you're willing to pay privately for her knee surgery and all consequent expenses, including travel and time off work, and adaptations to her home such as stairlifts, for the rest of her life.

Actually, even that's not enough, because money doesn't pay for pain and suffering. You aren't living her life in her body - she is.

How about you encourage her to do it on condition that, if her injury gets worse as a result, you promise to take a clawhammer and shatter one of your own kneecaps right in front of her. (You are allowed anaesthetics for the purpose of this exercise; I'm not an asshole.)

I don't think people should train injured. I think even people whose careers consist of physical training should not work injured if they can possibly avoid it. That's how people end up with injuries that drag on forever.
posted by tel3path at 4:44 AM on April 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

This has nothing to do with your relative and everything to do with what YOU have built up this race to mean. Epic struggle? She's dealt with it, with grace, and accepted it. The only epic struggle here is the one you have, in thinking you somehow know more about her body and her capacity, and your own ego to force a potentially life altering risk onto another person. Because not competing in this race is something YOU couldn't cope with. Do not do this. Just. No.
posted by Jubey at 4:48 AM on April 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

The notion of "saving your knees" presupposes there's some epic struggle on the horizon for which you are holding yourself out for.

You're right. It's called the rest of her life. It's hella more important than any marathon.
Trust her on this. You don't even know how bad her injury is. You'll have to find a way to let this go.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:01 AM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Your relative has made a difficult decision, presumably after much consideration. I think it would be disrespectful to try to persuade her otherwise.
posted by theora55 at 5:07 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

PLEASE don't do this. I am sure she is already incredibly disappointed that her training will go to waste this time around. The last thing she needs is someone questioning her decision. At best, it will make her feel guilty for prioritizing her long-term health. At worst, it will encourage her to do a race that she is not physically prepared to run, risking much more severe injury.

There will be other marathons in the future that she will be able to run. Focus on encouraging her to train again for another marathon.
posted by barnoley at 5:08 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

...epic struggle for her has arrived. And it's called living fully at an age when our ancestors were pretty much already dead. It's also all about not giving up on the rest of your life after a very disappointing experience.

Please don't do this to yourself either!
posted by amtho at 5:08 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

One thing to consider: why are you so invested in getting her to run a marathon? Why does this push your buttons so much? Does it speak to a way you've always seen her? Do you identify with her? Do you yourself fear aging? Do you subtly resent people for aging or getting sick because it scares you? Etc, etc. Because honestly, this seems to me like a pretty unusual response to "I hurt myself and can't marathon after all". Try to address whatever is driving you to push her.

You absolutely shouldn't push her. Even if she were a total hypochondriac, it's really, really rude to question others' health decisions in general, but double-plus rude when their health decisions don't impact you. Take away all the business about whether she is right - maybe her doctor's a quack, maybe she'll die at 65, maybe she has a mutation that gives her great knees - it's a question of the individual right to bodily autonomy. I'm sure there have been and will be many times in your life when you too rely on basic bodily autonomy to do things others don't like.
posted by Frowner at 5:18 AM on April 22, 2016 [19 favorites]

A once off event against long term mobility? Being able to hike or cycle or climb a sand dune or walk to work? I can't get my mind around your point of view, I can't imagine a race I never had a chance of winning being more important than being able to do everyday things. I'm not an athlete and i was disappointed in New Zealand when i had to miss out on some activities because my knee was dodgy. Dodgy in that twice while walking to work in an urban environment my knee gave way, and i fell to the ground (which is humiliating and undignified). How could a one-day event be more important than being able to walk without pain? I'm 48.5.
posted by b33j at 5:25 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can't help feeling that in some circumstances you should just go for it. Injuries heal or sometimes don't. The notion of "saving your knees" presupposes there's some epic struggle on the horizon for which you are holding yourself out for. My argument is that the epic struggle for her has arrived. And it's on Saturday.

Honestly man, thanks for your honesty, because that's some really fucked up thinking. Would you say this so flippantly if it was your body, and if someone else told you this? If you want my opinion, the epic struggle is LIFE ITSELF and the actual requirements it takes for the quality of life to be maintained. Her life isn't some Hollywood movie that ends at the London Marathon - she has many other chances to run races of importance and significance to her, her body is of significance, and she is an athlete who would know her own condition.

It boggles my mind. If you really want to push her to do it, then be prepared for backlash when she does get injured, and then expect to financially and psychologically compensate towards her recovery from injury, as well as the outlying effects it would ripple on all of her loved ones who would now have to care for her as a result of pushing her into that decision. You can't push someone to do things without taking responsibility for the outcome of that result.

You are coming off as seriously self-centered, and honestly, pretty shitty with toxic machismo attitudes, who is projecting a great deal of your own expectations onto someone else's narratives and agency, rather than being truly supportive of them making their own adult decisions. Let them live!
posted by yueliang at 5:28 AM on April 22, 2016 [21 favorites]

I'm sorry to say it, but this is about the dumbest (and nearing on the rudest) thing I've read on this site, or anywhere else. She's walking, so she can and should run? What? Does she need to be in a wheelchair for you to consider that a reasonable "excuse"? People can walk and yet be in a lot of pain. Or they can walk in a wonky way because of existing pains, and cause much greater injuries down the line due to compensation effects. And who are you to tell her what to do? I mean I guess you probably mean well, but honestly, this bullshit macho attitude (whatever your gender) needs to DIAF.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:29 AM on April 22, 2016 [27 favorites]

If I were her, this is an easy decision. You assume that the marathon itself is what defines success. I beg to differ. Success is in the lead up to the marathon. It is completing the hours and hours and miles and miles of training. While the goal may be mastery, the path is the true determiner of success. What if in three weeks she went and ran 26 miles on her own? I highly doubt she is running this marathon for you or needs your direction to complete it.

I think a question you should be asking yourself is why does her completing this mean so much to you? There will be other marathons.
posted by AugustWest at 5:38 AM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

My argument is that the epic struggle for her has arrived.
I think the epic struggle has arrived for you as a result of this, actually. An opportunity for you to learn how to support and to do the hard work of keeping your thoughts about someone else's life choices to yourself. Because this can't be the first time you've thought that you know better than someone else does about what they should do with their life or their body - everyone has these thoughts. Your epic challenge is to keep them to yourself.

Why not take the opportunity to do the hard work on yourself? What an opportunity, to learn to accept that other people might not do what you think is best and that it can still be right for them.
posted by sockermom at 5:38 AM on April 22, 2016 [27 favorites]

You could also just leave her alone and maybe not bully her into something that will cause further injury since it is her choice not to do so. Just an idea.
posted by paco758 at 5:39 AM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Her body. Her life. Not yours.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:46 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh, and, lest we forget, Pheidippides DIED at the end of his marathon, so...
posted by paco758 at 5:47 AM on April 22, 2016 [9 favorites]

Just a bit of anecdata - I had a hip replaced due to an accident. When I was in PT the people getting knees replaced were suffering much worse than I was.

And then of course most doctors are not going to recommend running after you've had a joint replacement, so there's that...
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:48 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's a toxic narrative that "real" athletes fight through injuries no matter what but we don't often read the narratives of the decimating effects these decisions can have on the rest of their lives. I really wonder why you are caught up in this one to such a disrespectful degree.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:56 AM on April 22, 2016 [18 favorites]

It goes without saying that she has worked hard for it and is bitterly disappointed.

She obviously, obviously doesn't want to pull out. She's doing it because she has to. Don't make her feel even worse about it, jesus.

Her health, her goals, her decision - and she's made the right one. You get hundreds of chances to run a marathon; you only get two legs.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:56 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've been reading this site since 2000 and the last time a question had me this befuddled, it involved a banjo. This one could end up with the recipient in a wheelchair though, so I think you win. Bad, bad idea.
posted by Jubey at 6:01 AM on April 22, 2016 [16 favorites]

Some good points, well taken.
Consensus seems to be "Come to your senses". I have.
I've sent her a card wishing her a quick recovery.
posted by dry-jim at 6:06 AM on April 22, 2016 [62 favorites]

Very nice of you to send her a card. I'm sure she'll appreciate it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:00 AM on April 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Since it sounds like you are not only not *A* doctor you're specifically not HER doctor, and don't know any of the details of her injury, you need to not take it upon yourself to bully your "elderly" (!) aunt with your uninformed opinions.

As a 60-year-old myself, I've got to agree with all the folks saying the lady knows what she's doing, which is trying to prevent permanent physical damage that she, NOT YOU, would have to deal with for the rest of her life.
posted by easily confused at 9:43 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

The London Marathon will also let you defer your balloted place until next year if you withdraw due to injury, so she will have another chance to run the marathon next year if she is fully fit.
posted by penguinliz at 10:17 AM on April 22, 2016 [11 favorites]

I had a niggling injury in mid January and decided to run my half marathon anyway. It's three months later and the stress fracture is healing so if all goes well I'll be out of my foot cast by May and able to run again by June. Fuuuuuuck pushing through shit.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 3:08 PM on April 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Thank you for making the right decision!

Here's my story:

In 2001 I was named as a late (one month before the race in Edmonton) replacement to my country's Track and Field World Championships marathon team. This was based on a top twenty finish I'd had in Boston.

I got news of the fact that I was the alternate who'd be replacing a member of the team who'd developed an achilles rupture at a club championships road race, shortly after I'd tripped over a trailer hitch on the way to registration the day before (derp). Being that my club sent me to the race with hotel etc. paid for, I ran despite a big bruise and shin pain. The race went very well and I was glad I had decided to run.

Flash forward the next two weeks: I get a *giant* box of Team USA gear and uniforms in the mail. It's the Olympic Team uniform, a crap ton of amazing swag, lots of emails letters, interview requests, and the formal invitation from USATF . Meanwhile my shin is becoming increasingly painful on every run. I ignore the pain, trying to train through it, hoping it's just bruised badly. I can still walk without a limp so everything must be okay, right?

It keeps getting worse instead of better. Everyone tells me this is a once in a lifetime experience and the chances of me ever getting another chance to represent the U.S.A on the world stage at my level and age is slim to none. They all urge me to not withdraw.

It's now starting to become painful to walk, although I'm still not limping. A few days before the deadline for withdrawals/replacements I decide the ethical thing to do is to contact USATF and tell them I am too injured to race so that they can name the next alternate on the list to the team in my place. USATF tells me to stay on the team, they won't replace me, and I am TO RUN ANYWAY since they need 5 people to start the race, with only the top 3 scores counting, so running the first few miles and then dropping out is the best plan.

I spend the next two days testing the leg and then finally convincing them I absolutely cannot even make it a mile or two. They finally take me off the team.

Flash Forward: the leg never recovers and after 6 months an MRI reveals a huge spiral fracture up the center of the tibia. The doctor tells me he sent my images around and asked colleagues how they thought this injury was sustained (motorcycle accident was a popular guess).

Guess what? I was never able to run normally again and it broke my heart. That was the end of my career, and although I still run/jog regularly because I can't say goodbye completely yet (although I'll need to eventually, it's a long slow goodbye) it's not without pain from complications to my other ankle/achilles/heel due to the change in my gait. I also now walk with a slight hitching limp.

So please feel good about having made the right decision in the end.
posted by stagewhisper at 10:39 AM on April 23, 2016 [15 favorites]

You're doing the right thing, and I'm sure she'll really appreciate a tangible, handwritten card. Things like that are always way more comforting than you'd think, when someone is going through a tough time.
posted by tel3path at 1:10 PM on April 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm guessing you're young? Like in your twenties young? Wait until you're in your thirties and forties and realize how incredibly long (if you're lucky) the rest of your life is and how crucial to being able to do ANYTHING having good hips and knees is. If she's lucky she's still got thirty years to need those parts in good functioning order.
posted by MsMolly at 2:36 PM on April 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Here's the epic struggle she's saving her knees for. The rest of her damned life.
posted by wrnealis at 6:46 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

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