Should You Drop Out of a Race?

Here's how to decide whether to stick it out or if it's time to call it quits.


By Megan Harrington


You’ve done the training, paid the entry fee, and are ready to cross that finish line, but what if things go awry on race day? How do you decide to call it quits? Knowing when to stop is never easy, but hopefully these tips can help.

Before the race

Sometimes you know even before the gun goes off that it’s not going to be your day. Did an injury interfere with the final weeks of your training? Did you eat some bad sushi the night before? If you’re not feeling excited or in good health in the hours (or days) before a race, it’s a good indicator you should pass on the event.

Check with the race director - you may be able to defer your entry, transfer your bib to a friend, or even get a refund.

Out on the course

After the gun goes off, deciding to call it quits can be a tough thing to do. If you’re on the course and something seems off, the first thing you should do is assess the pain. If what you’re feeling is general discomfort, keep in mind that racing often hurts! Try slowing your pace a bit, relaxing your shoulders, and repeating a positive mantra such as “You’ve got this.”

If you’re experiencing a mild or dull ache, it’s most likely okay to carry on, but it’s smart to adjust your goals. Before every race, try to plan out an “A Goal,” “B Goal,” and “C Goal.” Achieving an A Goal might happen if the stars align perfectly and the weather cooperates, a B Goal might represent a solid effort, and a C Goal might simply mean crossing the finish line.

However, there are some occasions when dropping out is a no-brainer. If you’re experiencing sharp, stabbing pain, step to the side of the course immediately. If you continue on, you could exacerbate the injury, leading to time off from running or a visit to the ER.

If you feel or hear a pop or snap, this could signal a muscle or ligament tear. If this happens mid-race, it’s a sure sign to call it quits.

And finally, if you experience severe nausea or dizziness during a race, it’s time to find the nearest medical tent. No race is worth risking your health!

If You Still Can’t Decide

If you're not feeling your best, but the pain isn’t bad enough to stop you in your tracks, ask yourself how important and meaningful this race is to you. Is this a once in a lifetime event like the Boston marathon or a destination race? Have you raised money and dedicated your miles for a charity?

If that’s the situation, you may want to consider adjusting your goals, like trying a walk-run approach, and soldiering on to the finish.

However, if this was meant to be a PR (personal record) race or you’re simply using it as a training run, it might be worth bailing on it. If you drop out before things get too ugly, you might be in a position to regroup and race again in a few weeks. If you know you’ll be disappointed with anything less than a PR or a BQ (Boston Qualifier), this might be the best approach.

Whatever you decide to do, remember that one race doesn’t define you as a runner. Everyone has bad days, but even if you have to drop out, a great race is likely still in your future!

Megan is a writer, RRCA certified running coach, and new mom living and training in rural upstate New York. She competed in DIII track and cross-country at Wesleyan University and now focuses on the half-marathon and marathon distance.

Main Photo Credit: Rob Wilson/; Second Photo Credit: Halfpoint/; Third Photo Credit: Matthew Jacques/