Lessons from a Bad Half-Marathon

My husband ran his first half-marathon on Satuday, and he ended up in the ER.

I didn't put any pressure on him to join me in the running world, I promise! It was his decision. One day in December, he randomly decided to train for a half-marathon.

As for the race, it could have gone better. I didn't coach him like I should have. I seemed to forget he's a newbie runner. I just gave him a training schedule and let him go....

He had ankle pain for the past 5 weeks of his training, since his first 9-miler. Up until then, I had him running 1 mile, walking 1 minute, and he avoided injury up through the 8-mile distance. He ran fast, at goal race pace, that day instead of at the recommended slow, easy, conversational pace. He continued to run on a sore ankle and did another 9-miler and a 10-miler, again pretty fast. Each time, his ankle was killing him by the end of the run, usually after 7 or 8 miles. His longest run was 10 miles. He reduced his week day mileage, but never actually took time off from running. He went into the race on a sore ankle (against my advice!). He didn’t want his training to go to waste, which I absolutely understand.

The ankle was ok until 6.8 miles when he felt a pop and it started to hurt. I’m sure he altered his form to compensate for the sore right ankle. That put more pressure on the joints of his LEFT leg. At 11 miles, he felt a shooting pain in his left knee. He could barely put any weight on it. Adrenaline was going at that point, so he managed to finish. He still made his time goal, which was 2:30, with a 2:29:19 finish. When the adrenaline left, he realized how bad his knee was and hobbled to the car. Six runners offered him help—it was clear he could barely walk. (Runners are good people!) By the time he completed the 45-minute drive home, he couldn’t extend his knee out straight or bend it. He called me from the driveway because he couldn’t walk into the house, and I immediately drove him to the hospital.

I had to go into the ER and get a wheelchair because he couldn’t put any weight on that knee or hop on the other foot because of ankle pain. It’s a sad thing to have to wheel your husband into the ER in a wheelchair. After 4.5 hours and one set of x-rays, he was discharged in a full-leg brace and on crutches. They diagnosed a torn or strained ligament or tendon in the knee. Because of that sore ankle, he must have altered his stride so much that it affected the knee on the opposite leg. He didn’t fall or wrench it in any way, it was just from running with a different stride than usual. By the next morning, inflammation had subsided and he could walk, just painfully. It was a little better today and he can go up and down steps. He’s seeing an ortho on Thursday.

Lessons I'm taking away from this experience and will be sharing with runners I coach:

1. Don’t go into a race with pain. There is annoying discomfort/soreness that goes away as you run and there is PAIN that gets worse as you run. They are different. If something hurts, especially when you are just walking, you need to take 5-7 days off from running and see a doctor! There will be other races. At the very least, run/walk (mostly walk) if you feel like you must do the race. Adjust your finish time expectations accordingly.

2. Don’t’ start half-marathon training without a 2-3 month base of running 3 X per week. The joints, bones, tendons, and ligaments are the bodily system that take the longest to adapt to running. Every run, even short ones, serves to strengthen your skeletal system. My husband was a once-a-week runner when he started training. Having a good base of mileage might have prevented this. He could knock out a 3-miler, then not run for 2 weeks or a month, then knock out another one with no problem. But, I should have KNOWN he needed more of a base.

3. Take at least 5-7 days off when you are injured and ease back into running with a run/walk, even if you have to miss a long run (or two). When you can walk pain-free, start adding back minutes of running. You’ll catch back up.

4. Try to stick to your training plan (when healthy). Those weekday runs are important. You can’t just be a weekend warrior and knock out the long runs. You need the weekday runs to strengthen your body. My husband often missed 1 or more of the weekday runs due to 60-hour work weeks, which made his base of mileage lower than it should have been. Missing 1 occasionally is ok, but don’t make a habit of it. Winter training is just hard anyway--it's cold and dark when you leave for work and it's cold and dark when you come home. I should have encouraged him to train for a different race.

5. The long runs should be at a slow, easy pace at least ONE-TWO MINUTES slower than you are able to run that distance. That was the number 1 thing I learned in my coaching class.

I feel like I let him down! I knew all this, but I didn't want to nag, nag, nag him about it, so I let him do his own thing. I'm not sure being a wife-coach works out too well!


Kate said…
Oh no!!!! I'm so sorry to hear that. Bless his heart (and yours!). Even when one warns someone of such things, it's hard for the recipient to even heed the advice. I know (I learned the hard way in training last fall!). Should have listened to my body!
I hope he recovers fast and it's nothing too serious!
Meg said…
Your poor husband! I hope he gets back into running though...but slowly! My husband has had his share of "issues" too but he's been increasing his mileage more slowly this time and he seems to be doing well. No pain. I hope your hubby sticks with it and gets better quickly!
Chris said…
So sorry to hear! Hope this doesn't sour your husband on running forever. We're praying for a quick recovery!
2010 in 2010 said…
Those are all good things to know and be reminded of! I hope he's feeling better soon, injuries are such a bummer!
So sorry for your husband and I understand your not wanting to nag him, too. I hope he heals quickly!
Oh no!!! I'm so sorry you guys had to do this. Just remember, it wasn't your fault! And now you guys know more for next time. Hoping and praying he gets better soon!

lawmonkey13 said…
Holy schnike! I didn't realize Chris was going a half so soon! I kind of expected him to do the CMM which would have given him another 6 weeks of training. I feel your guilt, Donna. I never know how much to hold back a newbie. I know they're excited (and so am I), but I have to keep reminding my friends and family that they shouldn't try to run at our level yet. It's much better to finish the race healthy than broken! Tell Chris, I hope he recovers soon.
Yikes! I hope he gets better soon. I can't imagine being a wife/coach! That wouldn't work for me :-)
Anonymous said…
Great advice. I hope your husband mends quickly. I have enjoyed reading your blog.