What to Do When Stranded on the Run

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By Sandy Adams

I went out today to do my last long run before the Akron Half Marathon. Next week is a taper week and then it’s go time.

I follow Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Training Plan, but I use it as a guide. I ran a lot of 5Ks and had some injury issues that kept me from following it to the letter. So, I decided what to do, was run the comparable workouts as long as I could. The days are mismatched a little and sometimes, the speed work isn’t exactly the same, but I’m better than I was.

Today, I was supposed to do 10-11 miles. I did 9.56, according to the watch.

My hip would not let me go one step further. I rarely have pain while running and I didn’t know what to do.

It was begging me to stop in mile 6 and I was able to block it out until the very end. But, I gave in to it out of fear of a real, race-preventing injury.

So, while I was slugging through mile after mile, landing and hurting, landing and hurting, I realized the endurance part of endurance running is almost all entirely in our heads.

My body hurt. If I thought about that pain, even for one step, I immediately slowed down and looked for the panic button.

If I kept going and flipped the thoughts about pain into thoughts about how much closer I was to being done, the mile passed quickly while I was in that flow.

There was a span of about three miles when I didn’t know what to do.

I never run with my phone, which was dead at home anyway. I was just a little less than halfway through the run and a good five miles from home when I started really hurting.

What to do now?

Do I turn back? Do I keep going? Do I walk? How does any other runner know what to do with pain when they’re stranded on a narrow shoulder far away?

I stopped for a couple lights I normally wouldn’t have. The pain stopped too.

I slowed my pace down, partially on purpose and partially because I could no longer push harder, but that meant I’d be out longer too.

I made the decision then, to get home at a slow pace, via the quickest route. I sat down, stretched out, took some Aleve and decided to evaluate the problem of not knowing what to do when you’re out there and can’t get back very well.

  • Wear ID. My problem wasn’t messing with my consciousness. I wasn’t bleeding, but if I had a real injury, my RoadID would help save my life. I have one. I never take it off. Get the bracelet, the dog tag, shoe tag, whatever. Wear ID.
  • If possible, take your phone. I don’t. It’s too bulky and I don’t use it for music. It would come in handy at times, though.
  • Don’t panic. If you start hurting, slow down. This doesn’t apply to life-threatening injuries. In that case, find a house, flag down a car, whatever. Get to 911 somehow. If you just hurt, pull back.
  • If the pain doesn’t stop, take a break and evaluate it.
  • Decide the best way to get back based on how you feel and where you are in your run. If you just left, you can turn around. If you’re half way through, more or less, decide whether to go ahead, go back or reroute to the shortest distance.
  • If you feel OK, go on slowly. Slowly. You’ll feel it if you push too hard.
  • Take breaks as long as you need them.
  • Don’t concentrate too much on the mile. Concentrate on making progress toward the stopping point. Imagine it getting closer and closer with every step.
  • When you make it back, don’t sit down and get stiff. Walk it out and stretch. Ice, heat, Blue Cream, a margarita, pick your poison to rest with.

Every road is 100 miles long when you’re trying to get home in a hurry. Especially when you’re on foot and you’re hurting.

The most important thing to remember is to keep your mind working in your favor by using it to figure out what to do next. Use it to stride over the pain, over the matter.

And, by all means, take your phone if you can.

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