Running Questions – Running With Pain, Marathon, Ultrarunner, Racing, Training


Running Questions – Running with pain

running with pain

At mile 75 of a recent 24 hour run I was right on target for a 100 mile finish. Everything other than the weather was in my favor. What started off as a picture perfect day turned cold, wet and ugly when it began to rain a short 2 hours into our day. 17 hours later I was in the dark, soaked to the bone, muddy up to my knees, and on the far side of the course. Then things got worse. I felt a twinge on the backside of my left leg.

The sensation was not painful. The errant feeling got my attention more for its location then the degree of pain. The area of concern was located at the point where my left Achilles tendon connects with the back of my heel. By mile 78 the sensation was now a full time hitchhiker and although it was getting worse I was still able to run.

By mile 80 my stride was suffering, the pain was constant and very intense. My foot strike was all over the place as I tried to find an alternative way to land my foot that would not bring on the pain or aggravate it. My 100 mile goal was so close and yet so far. Reaching the starting line for another loop, 82.5 miles into the run with over 5 hours remaining I had to make a decision do I keep running or do I shut it down.

ice sleeves

I’ve been asked a number of different times/ways about the same topic. Do you run with pain? Or more to the point, how do you know when to stop running when something hurts?

Run long enough and sooner or later something is going to hurt. Pain in running comes from two (in my mind) different sources. The Good Pain and The Bad Pain.

The Good Pain:  The source of good pain comes from pushing your muscles to perform at new levels. Establishing a new long run distance or setting a new race PR. Asking your legs to do things they have never done before is painful. There is pain involved in running fast, and running long distances. To do these things you have to accept that pain is part of your running life. Pain is a part of expanding your limits. I categorize this as good pain. What makes this good pain vs. bad pain? If my leg turn-over, foot strike and stride do not change as a result of this pain. I consider this good pain. In a weird way the pain is the reward for my efforts.

The Bad Pain:  The source of bad pain comes from something in your gait, your normal running stride or foot strike going wrong; either from injury, over taxing your muscles or by a traumatic event i.e a slip, trip, or fall. This pain has to be dealt with.

Once bad pain has become part of your run, you have to figure out if this pain is temporary or more serve. You have to determine is this pain something you can run with or is it something more serious and you need to shut it down. I’m by no means a doctor, coach or expert, and I’m not giving medical advice. I’m simply sharing with you my rules on how I treat pain and how I make the decision to keep running or pack it in and go home.

Once I experience pain, I have two very simple questions I ask myself to decide if I should keep running.

Is the pain getting worse? If the pain does not get worse or if it tends to go away I’ll continue to run (assuming the answer to my second question is no.). I’ve had runs where a painful sensation will show up but I’m able to run in my normal stride, then the pain fades never to be heard from again. If the pain gets worse, its magnitude increases, or it changes from a dull sensation to a stabbing pain then I call it a day and pack it in.

Does it alter my stride, foot strike or does me cause me to compensate my leg turn over to deal with it?  If the answer is yes these questions, I shut it down, pack it up and live to run another day.

Above all if you have any questions on running with pain don’t get your advice from a blog, see your doctor.


  • JoMom

    During my last half marathon, the bottom of my right foot along the heel started hurting a bit around mile 7. It got worse as I ran on. Took some walk breaks. By the finish,it was awful. I did finish. Plantar fasciitis.

    • Brian Burk

      So sorry to hear that, I hope the road to recovery is a fast one.

      Brian

      • JoMom

        Ice,KT Tape and rolling a spikey ball underfoot helped a lot. I should not complain as this was probably the worst injury in all my years of running. It is one injury that takes quite a while to go away.