I’ve been told, time and time again, that runners are a strange breed, aka crazy! We runners are passionate about our sport. Otherwise we wouldn’t get up a the crack of dawn to run; run though horrible weather conditions; leave a fantastic party early on a Saturday night to ensure proper sleep in order to run Sunday morning; and torture our bodies with miles of punishment several times a week. Hard day at work? A Run is our perfect de-stressor. Plus, it gives us the perfect excuse to hit the pavement yet again. When we’re training for a big race we eat, sleep, breath and dream running. We become preoccupied with food, miles, mapping out a new route and uploading new music on our ipods to ensure that every run is the best it can be. If any of this translates to strange, then I am definitely a runner!
There is one thing that will stop a runner in his or her tracks – an archenemy if you will … INJURY. Unfortunately, injuries do occur as they are part of the sport. Any hard core runner will tell you that they have experienced an injury at one time or another. I am one such runner who, 6 weeks ago, was diagnosed by a sports medicine doctor at Mt Sinai Sports Clinic with a quad tear. In addition to the quad tear, I had developed a ham string injury from over compensating for the issue with my quad. This was not good news and the timing was especially bad. I was in the midst of training for my 6th half-marathon, The Toronto Goodlife Marathon which took place this past Sunday, May 15th.
Disappointment doesn’t even come close to describing the feeling I had in the pit of my stomach. My mind started racing with questions: Without running how am I going to stay fit? How am I going to relieve stress? … and so on. Once I calmed down, I realized it wasn’t the end of the world. Injuries are temporary. I started to concentrate on healing my injury and researching different therapies that could assist in the recovery process. Maintaining my fitness level during this time was important as well to ensure all my hard work, pre-injury, wouldn’t be wasted. It would also make the return to running, when the time came, much easier. The added bonus, it would provide a much needed alternative to stress relief. I knew that I’d be pretty difficult to live with if I didn’t find some kind of outlet to replace running.
Finding therapies that work can be hit and miss as everyone responds differently to different techniques, but there are some that are fairly universal. I used a combination of the following therapies. They were recommended to me by various sources such as a physiotherapist, a doctor and a massage therapist.
1) Water therapy – Swimming is a great overall workout and it has no negative impact on your muscles. Running in the shallow end of a pool strengthens your muscles by providing resistance without impact. This also helps to maintain one’s fitness level and cardio.
2) Massage therapy – Massage helps break down fibrous muscles that have tightened due to being over-worked. The massage helps alleviate knots and tightness and helps the muscle to relax.
3) Acupuncture & Chiropractic – Acupuncture helps to release energy that is stored in the muscle. Once this energy is released the muscle will start to relax. Chiropractic helps to put your body back into alignment and unlock seized joints. Releasing the tension in the joint helps the acupuncture needles to further release energy stored in the body.
4) Stretching – I can’t emphasize this one enough. Stretching is the most important complement to running. It’s the best way to avoid stiffness and soreness from stressed, tightened muscles. As an added benefit, use ice packs to help alleviate any muscle or joint pain after stretching.
We all know that running is as much of a mental sport as it is a physical one. Injuries can sometimes be unavoidable, but taking care to be an intelligent, mindful runner can help reduce injuries in the future. The following tips are a proactive approach to prevent and avoid injury while running:
1) Avoid Overuse – Doing too much, too soon and too fast especially when doing long runs, hill runs or races. Take a break in between runs. Resting allows your body to recover and rebuild muscle.
2) Cross-training – If you find it hard to take a break, or you just want to stay active in between runs, cross-training is a great way to avoid running injuries. Cross-training will develop parts of you body that running neglects. It assists in muscle balancing, helps burn more calories and increases aerobic capacity. It also gives your running muscles a break. Cycling, swimming, stairmaster or walking are great ways to cross-train.
3) 10% Rule – It’s easy to want to push yourself and increase mileage quickly. It’s exciting to increase your distance, but too much too soon can lead to injury. Stick to the 10% rule: only increase your weekly mileage by 10% over the previous week.
4) Shoes – Wearing the right shoes that provide the right stability, control and cushion can make the difference between a successful run and one that ends in injury. Before buying shoes its important to do your homework. Stores such as The Running Room or New Balance have knowledgeable staff that can help find the right shoes for you. It’s also important to buy new shoes every 500 miles. Shoes that have excess mileage break down, changing your gait and throwing off your stride, leading to injury.
It’s important to start back slowly after recovering from an injury in order to not re-injure the weakened area. Muscle has memory so you’ll be back up to speed in no time. Beyond recovery, taking care of yourself will help you avoid new injuries. A variety of techniques should be incorporated into your running routine and used for maintenance.
Thankfully, my injuries are healed. I went for my first short run on the weekend. It felt amazing to be back pounding the pavement again and enjoying the sport that I’m so passionate about. I’m now in the process of searching for my next challenge, a new race in the fall. Following my own advice should hopefully keep me running injury free.