Twelve Ways to Avoid Running Disaster


As you may know, this summer I’m coaching for Fleet Feet West Hartford’s Half Marathon Training Program. One of my favorite responsibilities as a coach is to pass words of running wisdom along to my runners.

The race is less than a month away and I’ve been thinking about potential race-day disasters (always the optimist). In an effort to help my first time half marathoners avoid problems on the run, I offer today’s installment of Dr. Rachel’s Running Wisdom – Twelve Ways to Avoid Running Disaster:



Solution (whew!)

Blister! Buy socks that include either some synthetic material or wool. Thickness depends on preference. I prefer thin, with reinforced heels. Test your socks several times before wearing them in a race. Some people have luck with applying BodyGlide, or taping blister-prone areas with KT Tape or regular athletic tape prior to adding the sock. Ill-fitting or old shoes will also create blisters, so make sure your shoes are right for your feet. It’s also wise to carry blister-specific band aids if you’re prone to blisters If you notice a blister starting mid-race, don’t wait until it’s gigantic. Adjust your socks, retie your shoe, and give it another mile. If you are carrying a blister-specific bandaid , now’s the time to use it. Failing that, it’s time to get creative. I have used a leaf as a blister barrier. Some races offer Vaseline at the medical stations. A little Vaseline on the budding blister can sometimes help. If nothing seems to help, take off your sock and try that. Worst case, a blister won’t kill you.
Chafing! The best way to prevent chafing is to wear technical running apparel that is designed for fitness. What you wear is personal preference, but be sure that you test anything you intend to wear in a variety of conditions before the race. Do not wear something that you bought at the expo or your race t-shirt unless it’s that or naked. If you notice a bit of chafing, act as soon as possible. The salt in sweat will exacerbate chafing, so wash the area often with water (it’s great to wash the area at the water stops). Many races will have Vaseline or BodyGlide at first aid stations. If you see one on the course, stop. If you see a course official on a bike, ask what they have. You might be able to get something that will help. In a pinch, lotion, chapstick, and even deodorant will work as an anti-chafing balm.
Cramp! Ensure that you’re properly hydrated before the race and in the week leading up to the race. Drink some water, or take some electrolytes at the first sign of cramping. Walk, massage, or stretch the cramped muscle. Drink an extra cup of water.
Stomach upset (morning of)! Don’t eat anything new the night before a race. Go for something tried and true and heavier on protein just in case. Eat something bland and stomach-friendly before the race. Ideally, you’ve practiced eating a number of different things before the race and are prepared with a list of foods that you can tolerate.
Stomach upset (mid-race)! Don’t eat anything new before or during the race. Hope for the best. Sip water. Sipping cool water can help. Slow your pace and focus on deep breathing. Consider reducing your intake of electrolyte drinks or fuels if you know that carbs are a problem for you.
Side stitch! No one really knows what causes side stitches, so your guess is as good as mine. Some people think that applying pressure directly to the stitch works. Others suggest stretching the abdomen by leaning away from the stitch. Others suggest deep breathing, coughing, and yawning. I suggest trying them all. Sometimes, side stitches can be an early sign of dehydration, so make sure you’re hydrating properly.
Shoelaces won’t stay tied! Check out this neat guide to shoe lacing on Runners World, or another on Katie Runs This. Triple knot those laces and keep going!
Headache! Consider taking ibuprofen or another pill of choice, but don’t overdo it. Pain relievers can mask pain that tips you off to something bad going on. Headaches during the race may be a sign of dehydration – make sure you’re hydrated. If you need a pain reliever, most aid stations will have something.
Sick with a cold! Only take a decongestant if you’ve had experience with them prior to running. Some people experience adverse effects, ranging from mild to serious. Consult your doctor if you have questions or need advice. Perfect the “farmer’s blow” and hope for the best.
Breathing doesn’t seem right! Practice a variety of breathing techniques during training runs. Learn ways to relax on the run and to calm yourself, and your breathing. Try coughing or sighing. Many people find that the more they focus on breathing the worse it becomes. A sigh or a cough can trigger a resetting of the diaphragm. If that doesn’t work, try breathing in a three part breath, feeling breath in the chest, ribs, and belly.
Aches and pains during the race! Practice good training – rest, massage, stretch, foam roll, and treat your body right. Kinesiotaping (using KT tape, the best thing ever) can help support muscles and joints pre-race. Most large race expos will have KT taping. If not, learning the technique from a PT or sports medicine professional can be useful. Stretch, walk if you need to, and honor your body. If it’s something more than the normal aches and pains, stop and evaluate the situation. There’s no shame in DNFing one race to focus on healing and running happily into the future.
Embarrassing race photos! I’m sorry. I have no advice. Every single picture ever taken of me in a race is horrifying. I either look like I’m near death or being chased by zombies. Smile when you see the cameras and know that pretty much everyone looks hideous in race photos. If you need cheering up, check out this Tumblr devoted to terrifying race pictures. Their tagline – “if you look good, you aren’t working hard enough”. I like it.

11 thoughts on “Twelve Ways to Avoid Running Disaster

    • Me, too! I subscribe to the RSS because I think they’re hilarious. I should submit one of mine.

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  3. I found that what helped me the most with side stitches was building my core strength so my hips don’t swing around so much when I run. I hate stitches.

    Gotta check out those race photos!

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