What to Do When You Are a Runner Who Can’t Run on Race Day

By | January 25, 2019

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On Thursday, I drove to Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia, picked up my race packet for the Phillies 5K, bought a Phillies dinosaur bucket hat for my nephew and drove home.

The race is today, and I’m not running it.

I signed up for this 5K before I was diagnosed with a stress fracture, and even though I am now out of that dreaded walking boot, I’m not close to being able to run again, and walking the 5K would still be a stretch.

Here’s what you can do when you aren’t ready for race day:

If you can’t run the race, you can ask how you can help out, whether it’s manning a water station, handing out medals, handing out bibs, or directing traffic. Just make sure that you’re not doing something that will aggravate your injury.

Of course you can cheer your heart out for those who are running, especially if it was a race you planned to do with friends. I will warn you, though, that this can sting a little. I wasn’t even supposed to run the Adrenaline 5K in Haddonfield, N.J., last weekend, but watching it still made me long to be in the middle of the pack.

I was supposed to run a 20-mile trail race in the snow earlier this month. Instead, I spent the day reading a book in my nice warm bed with my dog by my side. When I was too hurt to run what should have been my first marathon, I went to the race site anyway because my hotel room was nonrefundable, then hung out on the beach while runners raced along the boardwalk behind me. If you want to be distracted from the fact that you’re not running, doing something nice for yourself that day might help.

None of these activities are ever going to replace running the race — especially if you had been training your heart out for it. But keep the long view in mind: If you want to be a runner for life, it is not worth risking the health of your knees, your feet, your hips or (in my case) your tibia and running through pain for this one event. There will be another race ahead — and you’ll be healthy for it.

Even though I knew I wouldn’t be running the Phillies 5K, one reason I picked up my packet was that the entry fee included four Phillies tickets, and I wasn’t going to leave those behind. And the race shirt might serve as a good base layer when I go to the Phillies’ home opener on Thursday.

I know some runners feel that you don’t deserve to wear a race shirt if you don’t run the race. I don’t buy into that idea. Of all the things we could possibly talk about in the world of runner’s etiquette, I feel much more strongly about those that could interfere with other runners like playing your music on your smartphone speakers during a race, taking selfies on the racecourse or stopping to walk in the middle of the street. Whether or not runners wear a race shirt affects no one but themselves.