If you’ve ever experienced a running injury, you know how absolutely frustrating it can be to sit on the sidelines until your body decides it’s ready to play again. When I became injured in 2011, I cycled through optimism, frustration, and anger every single day until I could run again. Not exactly fun. Neither is sitting on a spin bike for 3 hours trying to simulate your long run.
So to keep from going insane when these injuries pop up, here are some laws of injury prevention to follow:
1. Don’t rock the boat. Know what your limits are with running and stay well below your injury threshold. The #1 cause of self-inflicted injury that we all know so well is doing too much, too fast, too soon. Any time you make changes in your training (increasing mileage, more speedwork, etc) you need to allow your body time to adapt to the new stresses you’re introducing to your body. Jumping straight into speedwork after doing long slow distance for a long time will probably leave you sore and achy. It’s best to incorporate one day a week and increase from there over time. Your muscles and joints need time to recover so they can match up to training demands. Rushing that process can break you down rather than build you up.
2. Listen to your body. Injuries are a product of aches and pains over time. Rarely do they ever come out of nowhere. The first few times you experience pain or a different sensation that isn’t normal, it’s up to you to acknowledge it and be smart about it. The biggest mistake you can make is ignoring pain, and more than likely it will get you nowhere but sitting on the sidelines with a longer recovery time. Take some time off or take up cross-training for a few days until your pain subsides.
3. Form matters. I’ve noticed that when I get halfway through a run, my form generally starts to slack in structure, which can lead to small aches and pains that can turn into a bigger problem. I usually try to be cognizant about it and re-evaluate my form each mile. Shortening your stride is also something that can increase efficiency and allow you to land softer, making the impact easier on your knees and ankles. Aim for 180 beats per minute.
4. Pay attention to where you’re running. It’s great to vary your running routes for many reasons, but the one that jumps out at me the most is a specific terrain that I frequent pretty often: the side of a road. For obvious safety reasons, runners should always runs against traffic. However, this gives you a discrepancy with leg-length, meaning your left foot hits the road lower on the slope than your right foot. This places your left foot on a slant that limits pronation, and causes your right foot to overpronate. Running on this type of unbalanced surface over and over can quickly cause an injury.
5. Cross & strength train. I’m notoriously terrible at this one because I’d rather just spend most of my time running. Despite that, running is hard on the body and it needs a break every so often. Cross-training and strength-training can supplement running by improving muscle strength and balance and work on your aerobic fitness.
6. Recovery. Rest is the name of the game! Ice, stretch, foam roll, stick — whatever helps you stay loose and pain free. I’m excellent at this one. If you’ve just finished a marathon and aren’t feeling 100%, take some time off to let your body heal. Don’t race hard all the time. Remember how much stress running can put on your body and allow it to recover.
Follow these tips and you’ll surely avoid ending up like me a few years ago as an angry, disgruntled wannabe marathoner.