Friday, November 16, 2012
The other day I was reading an article that stated that every year 80% of runners suffer an injury.
I think this is an extraordinary claim. I know a lot of runners and injuries happen but I think the article I read failed to take several things into account. First and foremost - running attracts a lot of new participants who are prone to injury because they don't know what they're doing. Second, alot of people run on trails, which is also inherently dangerous and can lead to sprained ankles, knees, etc...
So I got to thinking about all of this and I have some thoughts on the subject. Novice runners, especially may want to take note of what I want to say but (of course) you have no obligation to listen to what I have to say. But, as a runner who has logged countless thousands of miles (going to have 2000+ this year alone) and finishes in the top tier in my age division regularly, I feel like I have some experience that might be worth passing along. I mean, after all, I've had my fair share of injuries over the years and I've learned alot.
So, with that in mind. If you are just starting out, or haven't been at this for too long - GO EASY.
Sure, you may want to race in the future (most of us do I think) or you may simply be a recreational runner, but injuries will set you back and may even discourage you from running and it doesn't need to be that way. My first run 5 1/2 years ago was a 2 mile jog down the street and back. Nothing amazing, but it was a beginning. I made the same mistake most new runners seem to make - I tried to do too much, too fast. And I got injured (on a regular basis I might add). I tried to add too many miles too soon. I tried to go faster than what my body was trained for or ready for.
PUSHING YOURSELF too hard and too fast is, I believe, the biggest cause of injuries in the sport. Even seasoned veterans fall into that trap sometimes, but it's less likely. It isn't your shoes. Any decent fitting running shoe that you feel comfortable in will do for the most part. Some people do, of course, have issues with over pronation and such (google it) or under pronation or some other thing that will require them to have specially fitted running shoes but that isn't true for most of us.
Another cause of injuries is people who go into a race completely unprepared for what they are doing. I've been to many races where people who were completely not trained tried to (for instance) run a half marathon. We had (have) a runner on these very forums who was set to run a half marathon but wasn't putting in the mileage. I tried as much as I could to encourage this person to increase their mileage. Their goal was to finish without a specific time in mind, which is fine, but they were only running about 4 - 8 miles per week. I tried to tell them they needed to work up to at least one long run every two weeks that exceeded that distance and that they should be putting in a MINIMUM of 25 - 30 miles per week. That person pretty much ignored my advice and I wasn't shocked when they reported back that they became injured during the race. Haven't seen them since either. That is a lesson I hope I can impart from their experience. Yes, it is bad for them, but hopefully we can all learn something from it.
Something else you can do to try and avoid injury is to alternate which side of the road you are running on. Roads have camber, for runoff, and that means if you are ALWAYS running against traffic, you are placing tremendous strain on the same muscles all of the time. You have to change sides, if only for the peace and mind of your joints, tendons and muscles. Take my word on this. Again, you can google it, however, if you think I'm missing something. If you have sidewallks, use them (they are flat) or, if you have roads where you can do it, run in the middle.
The recommended increases in distance are around 10% per week. Don't be shy to do less and give your body an easy week every few weeks as you increase your mileage so it has time to heal and get ready for more miles.
Learning how to recognize and differentiate muscle and tendon soreness from actual injury is NOTHING that anyone can teach you. It is simply learned. We will almost all get injured at some point or another. Not all of those injuries are running related - they could happen at work but effect our running. I tend to ignore tendon issues because with some heat and ice they generally resolve themselves without further intervention. Muscles are a different matter. A pulled muscle in a calf or thigh will sideline you. They are usually caused by running more miles than our bodies are ready for and though ice and heat will help, you will still miss a few days, at least.
Again, learning to listen to your body and knowing when to ignore the minor aches and pains that we all feel and recognizing a true injury is an art that cannot be taught. Only experience will be able to teach you when you can continue and when you should not.
Finally, let me leave you with this. Injuries happen in every sport. The key to prevention and minimization is knowing what you are doing and listening as best you can to your body. There is lots of advice out there. Sports doctors are great when you are having real issues but most injuries are simply a result of overuse and improper running technique. Do more research on how to build your mileage and how to protect your joints and tissues from injury on the roads and even when injuries occur, you will be better prepared to deal with them, recover from them and get back on the road where you belong. Don't let injuries stop you from running, even if they do occur. Quitting isn't an answer. Smart running is.