Written by DBR Ambassador Cherie Yanek.
It seems unavoidable: if you run a lot, you’re bound to get injured. Right? Well, not exactly right.
Sometimes, injuries happen for a reason you can’t necessarily control – you step on that rock that you’ve stepped on a thousand times, but today it was icy. You couldn’t see that, slipped, and now your ankle is torn.
We can’t control a lot of things, but here are some ways you CAN control avoiding injuries. STOP doing these things, START listening to your body, and you might be surprised at the results.
Overtraining sucks for your body – and not just your joints, muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons. Overtraining can lead to amenorrhea (for women), which can lead to longer-term fertility and reproductive issues (and there are plenty of other risks for men as well!).
Are you tired all the time, sluggish on your runs, maybe even gaining weight, and not giving yourself enough time to recover? Do you think you might be training a wee bit too much?
Chances are, you’re overtraining, and on the highway to injury. Check out these signs and symptoms to see if you are.
And please, stop or slow down. Overtraining syndrome sucks.
STOP Doing Too Much Too Soon
We all know the 10% rule... but how many of us ACTUALLY follow it?
A lot of us suddenly realize, “Oh wow, that 50-miler is actually this month, not next month,” or are raring to get back on the trails after recovering from an injury… but don’t.
Adding too many miles and too much intensity in too short of a time can lead to injury. So don’t procrastinate your training, and if you do, try to avoid suddenly ramping up the miles when your body can’t handle it.
STOP Not Listening to Your Body
Have you ever felt a little tweak to a joint? Or maybe your hip was a little tired on the run? Instead of listening, you kept pushing and then it feels like your body is falling apart? A lot of times, those little indicators are your body’s “pre-injury signs.”
Example: I had a shooting pain up the side of my IT band. I took off a few days here and there, complained a lot, but kept running.
When I finally went to the doctor, months later, she mocked me. “You felt a little pain and ignored it? And then kept going? And ran a marathon on it and were surprised at your sub-par results and extreme pain after?”
Um, yeah, I’m a moron sometimes? Three PT sessions later, I felt like a champ. And I have never ignored a pre-injury sign since.
STOP Not Eating Properly
What? Pizza and beer are not the only things we should be consuming?
Well, no. If we are not eating properly, our bodies are not getting the nutrients they need, and we can’t expect our bodies to recover from our hard runs without them.
In fact, long-term deficiency of certain vitamins can even be dangerous. So eat your greens, and while you’re at it, drink lots of water. Eating well ensures your best recovery!
Without proper nutrition, we slow our recovery – and risk injury.
STOP Not Sleeping Enough
Sometimes when we’re super busy, sleep feels like the one area of our lives that we can cut back on and not really notice results.
Well, sleep is when the body recovers, and with less sleep, there’s less time for recovery – which means your chances of injury can rise.
STOP Not Strength Training
If you are a long-distance runner, congrats, you’ve probably got massive calves. But you might have other weaknesses.
Adding a gym routine a few times a week – or squats and other strength-building exercises – can really help to prevent injuries.
How many times have we heard, “Well, yes, you do have strong legs, but this muscle here is actually pretty weak, and this muscle over here is over-compensating…”
Let’s not hear that again.
STOP Just Running
I know, I know. Running is the best thing, and it doesn’t require any special equipment other than shoes (and some even argue on that), and it’s so much fun and blah blah blah.
If all you are doing is just running, chances are, your body isn’t getting as strong as it can be – and it’s probably tired. Add something other than running and it will help to increase injury prevention.
Examples: Sub in some runs for some spin classes, mountain biking or swim workouts and give your running muscles a chance to rest. Add some regular yoga classes into your schedule to release stress and tension, and stretch your tight muscles (be gentle and remember that yoga is not a competitive sport!). Make core workouts a regular part of your weekly workouts.
Adding these non-running activities into your life will ensure you’re a stronger athlete all around.
STOP Procrastinating Seeing a Doctor (or Finding the Right Doctor)
This one goes out to my husband. He had some knee pain, kept running, then stopped but kept biking. Finally, he went to a doctor, didn’t really like the doctor, didn’t keep up with PT, and (surprise!) didn’t get better.
Finally, he went BACK to a new doctor, who sent him to a new PT, and (surprise!) he’s better.
When things don’t feel so great, don’t procrastinate getting medical help.
Sometimes, it’s a quick visit to tell you some correctional activities; sometimes, the doctor can confirm you have a very serious injury that you need treatment for.
Either way, you want to know – so get professional medical advice.
STOP Running on Super Old Shoes
Experts often recommend changing your running sneakers every 300-500 miles.
Remember: your mileage may vary. You might need to change more often if you are a heavier runner or have more intense speed workouts. Many of us, however, can get away with changing our shoes a lot less. Learn what is right for you.
Learn to recognize the signs of when you should change your shoes: when the bottoms start to deteriorate, or if your legs feel a bit more tired than usual.
Full disclosure: I don’t change my sneakers every 300-400 miles. Even at my peak of 100 miles a week, I only change them once every 3-4 months.
It all depends on the runner, the shoe, and so much more. Know yourself.
STOP Running in Dangerous Conditions
Ice. Narrow shoulders. Super slippery rocky trails. Dark areas without sufficient light.
These are all occasions where tripping and falling becomes a lot easier. The tripping and falling can then lead to injury. So when conditions aren’t right (ahem, if Grandma Ann would worry about you on that run), skip it.
Now that you’ve learned what you can control, focus on that. And hopefully, the things we can’t control won’t cause a running injury!
Check out another by Cherie: Why I Believe in Running Without Goals. Faced with an injury? Here’s an article on how to cope.