As thousands of runners cross the finish line Sunday in the California International Marathon, many will do so with smarting injuries brought on by months of training. Others who paid up to $150 to enter won’t be there at all, having made the difficult decision that they were too badly hurt to run.
Karen Bartells, a 42-year-old Sacramento resident who has been training for the CIM all year, was distressed when her ankle began to hurt during a run two weeks ago. She spent one week resting in the hopes that the pain would ease. She sought last-minute help from a physical therapist and learned stability exercises to do at home.
When she went running again just days before the race, the injury was still giving her trouble – but not enough to keep her from competing.
“We’ll see how it goes,” she said. “We’ll see how bad it hurts. If I have to I’ll stop, but I hope not.”
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The “runner’s mentality,” as physical therapist Meggie Safford called it while working on Bartells at Results Physical Therapy and Training Center in Sacramento, is what motivates many runners to complete the race even when physically compromised.
“You just kind of want to push through it,” she said. “You see the end goal in sight; you’ve been training for something for a long, long time. The last thing you want to do is be sidelined by some ‘small’ injury.”
Industrywide research indicates that 10 percent to 25 percent of registrants typically drop out of a full marathon, said Eli Asch, director of race operations for the Sacramento Running Association. Although the CIM rules do not provide registration refunds for injured runners, they do allow participants to switch their entry to the Relay Challenge, which allows a team of runners to complete smaller portions of the marathon route.
Sports medicine practitioner Lino Cedros, known in the local running community as the “fix it” guy when things go wrong, said he’s had his hands full with distraught runners for the past two weeks – all trying to will their bodies into race shape in time for the CIM.
Cedros, who owns Kinections Inc. in midtown Sacramento, said he saw three to five CIM clients per day leading up to the race, most with ankle, foot, calf, knee or lower back problems. He gave about 80 percent of them clearance to race and told the rest to sit it out.
For many marathoners, running issues surface late in the training process due to the repeated overuse of muscles for an extended period of time. After weeks of practice, runners get lax about stretching, wear out their shoes or start treading on tip toe due to rain and leaves when the weather changes, Cedros said.
As race day approaches, some women group into “comfort zones” with friends despite having trained individually, which forces them to modify their pace in an unhealthy way.
Cedros has a three-day rule. If the pain eases after resting for that time, a runner can battle through. If the injury still hurts when bearing weight, it’s time to seek professional help and possibly put the shoes away.
“If I think you can do it, I’ll do everything in my power to get you to do it,” he said. “If I think you can’t, then you’re done.”
Cedros still remembers a client with hip pain who insisted on running the Boston Marathon against his recommendation. The runner later required a bilateral hip replacement due to avascular necrosis, a bone-tissue condition made worse by weight-bearing activities such as running.
Whether a runner can overcome an injury by marathon time depends on what the injury is and when it was sustained, said Dr. Kevin Kirby, podiatrist and former UC Davis track team member. When injuries occur a few months in advance, Kirby recommends swimming or cycling to maintain endurance while nursing running muscles back to health.
If it’s two weeks to race day when an injury strikes, the chance of sufficient recovery is slim. And if it hurts at the starting line, it’s only going to get worse.
“If you get in the race and you can’t run normally, you should just stop,” he said. “Just stop. Take the bus home. It’s not worth it.”
At Fleet Feet Sports, a midtown shoe store and runner’s hub with its own CIM training program, general manager Dusty Robinson said he sees scores of people in the days leading up to the race asking for last-minute tips and tricks. They purchase products intended to stabilize injuries – particularly compression wear, which decreases vibration in the muscle, allowing it to fatigue at a slower rate.
“In most cases, it’s stuff that with some massage and products and really strong willpower, a lot of people just get through,” he said. “Then there are those that along the way the injury kicks up on them and they have to pull out halfway through. Nobody signed up for it that way.”
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