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Your Running Surface May Not be Responsible for Your Running Injury

By , SparkPeople Blogger
As an avid reader on the topic of running, what I have discovered in reading over 80 books on this subject is that the theory of running injuries varies as far and wide as the number of books I have on my shelf. Some have gone so far as to blame the shoes we wear or elect not to wear, while others blame our running form, while others blame the running surface and some even go so far as to blame the sport of running itself.

Last summer I wrote a blog on the best surfaces for runners to hone their skills. I did extensive research on this topic and was a firm believer that the type of surface we ran on either prevented or was responbile for causing many running injuries. However, my thought has shifted after reading several articles disputing the fact that there is no an ideal running surface for any of us.

After speaking with running coaches in my area on this topic, even attending several running workshops and a running symposium earlier this summer led by running coach and runner, Greg McMillan, I am taking a different approach as to what I believe is responsible for the injury rate amongst runners. In an article published earlier this summer in the New York Times, Dr. Hirofumi Tanaka, an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas, states, "he could not find any scientific evidence that a softer surface is beneficial to runners, nor could other experts he asked." But what may be responsible for the running injuries is making a sudden shift to a different running surface.

Our bodies are quite adaptable. In other words our bodies become accustomed to the running surface we consistently train on which allows for the development of the muscles, bones and connective tissues to adapt to the stress we place on our body. The adaptation to running, or any exercise for that matter, occurs over a period of time. In other words, adaptation happens when one stresses his/her body and then allows time for his/her body to recover and repair from that stress. It is not unusual for you to feel some discomfort, even some soreness during or after a run, but if you should ever experience pain, you need to stop. Pain and running should not be in the same sentence.

While it's easy to blame shoes and a road surface for injuries, according to this same New York Times article, Dr. Stuart J. Warden, director of the Indiana Center for Translational Musculoskeletal Research at Indiana University,  is quoted as saying "abrupt changes are risky." And whenever we make an abrupt change to our running whether that is our speed, distance, time, shoes and yes, even the running surface, this is when injuries may occur.

I can attest to these so-called changes when I ran the Chicago Marathon in October 2009. Having spent a grueling hot Texas summer training primarily on concrete roads, the running surface many experts once touted as the worst surface to run on, I thought nothing about running on an asphalt road surface for most of the 26.2 miles the race covered. That was until I hit mile 22. I developed an issue with my Iliotibial (IT) band that caused me to walk in the last 4.2 miles. Having never experienced an injury, and never an IT band injury during any of my previous races or training, I was perplexed as to the reason.

Looking back I have since concluded that part of the reason may have been a change in the running surface—a surface I only spent a small amoun of time ever training on.
A lesson I now tell my runners is the need for them to find out the surface they will be racing on and begin the acclimation process to this surface, if it is different from the one they train on. If the running surface is not known, than you may want to vary your running surface just so that your body is acclimating to several different surfaces.

Just that little extra cushioning may have caused a slight deviation in my form, which my former running coach surmised may have been the cause of my injury. Thankfully, after taking a week off of running and then slowly returning to my old ways, including training on my beloved concrete roads, I have never experienced an issue with my IT band again.

Remember that the recommendations regarding how rapidly one should increase time, speed, distance or even the type of shoes you run in and the running surface you run on are just that-recommendations. One thing I have taken with me is when it comes to exercise, especially running, there are principles that apply to the masses, however, that does not mean they apply to everyone. There are exceptions to the rule.

You may have read about the runner who spent little or no formal training, who wears a shoe with no name brand association and does not take any refueling source and does just fine. But trust me these are the exception to the principles.

As a runner who has spent the past 5 ½ years sharpening my running skills, I have done everything from working one on one with a running coach, developing my own training program, changing to a the run/walk approach, even going so far as to join a running training group. What I have discovered is that my body loves to run. It loves the challenge of various training runs, especially hills and tempos, but I am also learning to appreciate the need to keep the slow runs slow and allow adequate recovery time between my runs regardless of the running surface.

For me, making myself an experiment of one has allowed me to remain injury free for most of my running career. But more importantly I have learned to never accept a one-size-fits-all approach to training. I do my homework and I ask lots of questions, just ask Greg McMillan. After all when I have a greater knowledge of the science behind running, it allows me to develop a running program designed just for me.

Do you believe that running injuries are preventable? Have you ever experienced an injury you can attribute to an abrupt change in running or the surface you run on?