Anonymous asked, “I’ve been reading your blog for a few years and remember that, especially at first, you were always suffering from some running-related injury. First it was your knees, then a spot on your shin. I remember you once had to take a three-month running hiatus due to the pain! More recently, it seems like you never get injured. What do you think changed, and why do you suffer from less injuries? I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong!”
Ah, yes. It’s true. In the early days of my healthy living journey / keeping this blog, I nicknamed myself the Queen of Injuries. It felt like I was always getting injured in some way.
My biggest trouble spot was my knees. It took me a long time to get properly diagnosed, but I suffered from Runner’s Knee (fancy name: patellofemoral pain syndrome), which is when the patella bone rubs against the femur. It can be caused by many things, but my Runner’s Knee was triggered by weak inner thigh muscles and strong outer thigh muscles. It was incredibly painful, especially when I ran for long distances, and for well over two years, I had to wear knee braces to prevent the symptoms.
Eventually, I found a great sports medicine doctor who got me the help I needed – mainly, physical therapy (a complete explanation of the techniques that ‘cured’ my Runner’s Knee is included in this post).
But staying injury-free has been about much more than strengthening moves and icing. For me, it was truly about re-envisioning how running fit into my life. All of my sports-related injuries were triggered by and exacerbated by running. Runners are very prone to injuries – it’s simply such a high-impact and grueling sport.
Here are the six ways that I stopped re-injuring myself, over and over again. Don’t get me wrong – some people can run back-to-back days and can train to run far and fast simultaneously without getting injured. The biggest mistake that I made when I started to run was that I assume since some people could do these things, I could, too. Like I said, to become injury-free, I really had to evaluate how to make running work for me – not someone else. Maybe some of these points apply to you, too.
#1: I stopped tackling two goals at once – Running long distances is hard on your body. Running fast is hard on your body. Why? Well, the further you run, the more often your feet strike the ground, sending impact waves through your entire body. Similarly, the faster you run, the harder your foot hits the ground. If you’re going to try to run further or faster, it’s very important to slowly incorporate this goal into your training routine. I found that I could not try to run far (increasing distance) and fast (doing speedwork) at the same time without injuring myself. That’s why I didn’t focus on time when training for my first marathon – I just wanted to finish the race. For my second marathon, when my body was better adjusted to the distance, I paid more attention to pace.
#2: I ditched the tunnel vision – My biggest running offense in the early days was that I didn’t ever cross train. Ever. I loved to run, and it was a fast and efficient workout. I had tunnel vision – all I wanted to do was run. I began to realize how important cross training was when I was injured while training for the National Half Marathon in March 2011. I compared my National Half Marathon schedule to my previous marathon schedule and realized that I ran twice as far a week during marathon training but suffered twice as many injuries during half marathon training. The difference? I did twice as much yoga while training for the marathon and slacked on it when training for the half. When I got into triathlons and started to do more swimming and cycling, I not only strengthened my body in new ways, but I also gave my body a break from the constant pounding of running… and that’s when I really stopped injuring myself. Bottom line: you must cross train.
#3: I stopped doing back-to-back runs – I got really into running when I lived in Orlando; fellow blogger Meghann and I were frequent running buddies. Meghann is a machine and can run every day of the week without hurting herself. I mistakenly assumed that I could do the same thing. But I’d wake up after three days of running in a row feeling beat up and sore. Finally, I wised up and realized that I needed a day off, especially after a hard run. My body just doesn’t bounce back as fast as others.
#4: I listened to warning signs – So many of us ignore the warning signs because we just don’t want to admit the truth! “Ouch! Hmmm. Is that a twinge? Meh. I’ll just ignore it… maybe it will go away… I bet if I go for a run, it will stop hurting.” Here’s the hard truth: You cannot run yourself healed. I finally realized that, if something hurt, I needed to take time off. I stopped sacrificing the short-term for the long-term and ended up much better off overall (How to tell if your pain is ‘normal’ or an impending injury.)
#5: I wore the right shoes – The right shoe made a huge difference in my injury frequency. It’s helpful to go to a running store and have an educated sales associate analyze your gait. Here’s more information on finding the perfect running shoe.
#6: I got a second opinion – The first ‘sports medicine doctor’ (and I use that term very loosely) that I saw about my knees told me the only solution was to stop running. Forever. I’m sure that, for some, the solution is to stop running… but that should be the last resort, not the first option! If you are suffering from an injury and you’re not meshing with your current doctor, get a second opinion. I highly recommend calling a local running store and asking for a recommendation – it’s really important to see a doctor who understands runners.
More on injuries from yours truly:
And for even more: Check out this article on Runner’s World for The 10 Laws of Injury Prevention, including whether you should shorten your stride, the best surfaces for running, and what part of your body you really need to stretch.
Can you run back-to-back days without injury? What’s your favorite form of cross training? And how do you prevent injuries?