I’ve had enough time now with some really good runs, and no more nagging pain from my knee/IT band, that I finally feel safe in declaring “I’m back!” This injury put me out of commission for a good 6-8 weeks, and let me tell you, that wasn’t fun at all.
Along the way, I’ve learned a few lessons that I hope will not only help me to be a stronger – and smarter – runner going forward, I hope that I can help you avoid some of the same mistakes that I made. Some are things that contributed to my injury in the first place, others likely prolonged the injury longer that it needed to be.
- Don’t be a one-dimensional athlete. Cross-training is your friend. These past few weeks and months, I’ve been incorporating much more time on the bike into my routine, as well strength training and core exercises.
- Respect the 10% rule. An oft-quoted rule of thumb for runners to avoid injury is to not increase your mileage by more than 10% from one week to the next. When I was training for my first marathon during the last few months of last year, I’m sure I violated this rule many times. I was pretty much just running as much as I could reasonably fit into my schedule. I didn’t upgrade from the half marathon to the full marathon until only about 8 weeks out, so I was on a relatively condensed training cycle, and I wanted to get in as many miles as I could before the big day. I’m currently training for my 2nd marathon in June, and this time around, I’m being much more mindful of my weekly mileage.
- Avoid the “terrible too’s”. This is pretty directly related to the last point. Most running injuries are a result of overtraining: too much, too soon, too often, too fast, too hard, with too little rest.
- Become one with your foam roller. I know the foam roller isn’t for everybody, but it worked wonders for me. If it hurts, you know it’s working. It just tells you how much you needed it.
- 3 words: stretching, stretching, stretching. Ok, maybe that was just one word, repeated 3 times. So sue me. I repeated it 3 times because it’s important. There is a lot of debate about whether you should stretch before a run. The argument is that stretching cold muscles can actually do more harm than good. I tend to agree here. What I usually do instead is force myself to walk at a brisk pace for about 5 minutes before starting my run, and to then start my run off at a relatively slow pace for about the first 5 minutes. Then, when I get back from my run, I’ll do some “traditional” stretching.
- Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. If you’re injured, fess up to it. Don’t lie to yourself. Beth from Shut Up and Run recently wrote a great post about how the injury process very closely follows the 5 stages of grief. Step #1 is denial, where you don’t want to accept the fact that you’re injured. I know I went through all these stages myself, including anger, and even a bit of depression. The quicker you can recognize that your injured and learn to accept it, the quicker you’ll be on the road to recovery.
- If you suspect an injury, go see a physical therapist. I’m going to fess up and tell you that I never saw a physical therapist during this whole process, so this is more of a do as I say, not as I do kind of thing. Yes, I’m one of those hard-headed kind of guys that doesn’t like to go to the doctor unless a limb is falling off. I need to work on that, I know. But if you suspect an injury, I’d highly recommend getting yourself checked out. They should be able to accurately diagnose your injury, and get you doing some stretches and/or strengthening exercises to quickly get you on the road to recovery. And unless you’ve got a serious injury like a stress fracture, most physical therapists won’t tell you to stop running (at least not completely). As I heard recently on Dirt Dawg’s podcast “runners don’t stop running, they just stop going to therapy.”
One final point I’ll make is to never take for granted your ability to run. Running is a gift, and it’s important to remember that it can be taken from you at any time. Cherish every moment.