Knowing When to Quit

Running really has just two basic rules:

  1. Don’t be an idiot.
  2. Don’t be a hero.

Any advice I could offer on running falls into one of these two buckets. It’s incredibly important to make smart choices about your health, your training, your surroundings. It’s equally important to make sure that those choices are rooted in your own best interests, and not an attempt to keep up with a friend or be able to brag on social media.

I kept these rules in mind when I decided to quit my run early this morning.

The last few days I’ve been aware of my knee. I wouldn’t even go so far as to call it pain, but my left knee feels enough off where I’m thinking about it. When a body is working correctly, you don’t think about individual parts. I’m not currently thinking about my right pinky or my third rib, but I am certainly aware of my knee.

I have my theories on the origin. Perhaps I let it go too long before retiring my old shoes. Perhaps I picked the wrong shoes to replace them. Perhaps my body isn’t used to how hilly my new neighborhood is compared to the flat route I used to run regularly. Perhaps I’m just to that stage in marathon training where the body starts to disintegrate one piece at a time.

This morning I set out on 18 miles, but I built in an exit strategy. I chose to run on a track, which has the advantage of being a softer surface than most pavement, flat for Chicago training, and easy to stop the moment anything starts to hurt.

Plan A was 18 miles. Plan B was get out before it’s too late.

I hate quitting, and I hate feeling behind schedule. One of my favorite parts about training is the feeling of satisfaction for having stuck to a plan. I like to see this as discipline and drive. In reality, however, it’s stubbornness and pride. In training cycles past, I would have gritted my teeth, popped some Advil, pushed through the pain, and finished all 18.

This has never ended well for me.

Today I attempted to learn from past mistakes and not let my ego get the best of me. I stopped running at 8 miles, when my knee inched from “vaguely aware I have a knee, but maybe I’m just paranoid?” to “no, I for sure have a knee and it definitely wants my attention.”

Chicago is less than two months away, so I’m walking a tightrope between not wanting to lose the strength I’ve fought so hard to gain, and not wanting to screw it all up this late in the game. Today I chose to err on the side of caution. I’ve learned the hard way how much time an injury can cost, so my odds for making it to both the start and the finish line are a lot better this way.

Stopping a run early doesn’t feel good, but today I walked — not limped! — away knowing that my pride will heal faster than my knee.

One thought on “Knowing When to Quit

  1. Dear friend runner!
    I have been there! I have been there where you are several times. Walking this tightrope that you have described. Falling from it twice…

    Anytime when such quandary arose, it was so hard for me to make decisions about further training . My experience seems to show that erring on the side of caution, as you phrased it, is a better solution than a gung ho continuation.

    Most of all, I would like to cheer you up, instill you with courage and hope. You can recover! I am so much older and i managed to do it several times. You may not be prepared to Chicago as well a you intended, but you may still have a wonderfully incredible experience.

    And why do such troubles besiege us?! Well, there are so many pitfalls… I hope that the longer we run, the more and more carefully and meaningfully we are able to observe ourselves, thereby being more capable to minimize the time when something gives us physical discomfort.

    Anyway, prudence, caution and optimism have to help us!

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