Throughout my 38 years of running, I have had my share of injuries along the way. I have often been accused of never being injured and also being called an “anomaly.” Maybe I have been pretty lucky with no career ending injuries but I have had my share, including plantar fasciitis. That was probably the worse injury. Even now, I still battle little injuries from time to time. The question is, when should we continue to run and when should we take a break to heal? I can tell you, I am just as stubborn as anyone and I will typically choose to run no matter what.
For starters, let’s make one thing clear, I am NOT a trained medical professional. I have several runners ask me on a regular basis how to get rid of or deal with certain running related injuries. I usually give them the basic answers and these days with the use of Goggle on our phones, the information is always available within seconds. You can read as much on injuries as you have time for; it is a good place to start no matter what.
I do know that when it comes to running injuries, everyone is different. There are so many different things to factor in. Male/female, weight, age, training errors, muscle imbalances, improper footwear, and the list goes on and on.
I am personally guilty of running through injuries. Maybe it is something that comes from within me, I can’t answer that. Maybe I am just old school or just plain dumb. I can remember an old saying among runners “If the bone ain’t showing, keep on going”. I took this pretty seriously. Some folks do know this; I did run 17+ years straight without taking one single day off. I didn't run less than 3 miles and I averaged over 8 miles per day during that 17 year stretch, roughly 60 miles per week on average. Do you think I limped through a few runs? Of course I did, even ran when I was sick. This is pretty crazy when I look back on this and I would not recommend anyone try this little stunt. I am older and wiser but I still have a tendency to train through aches and pains, I am just a little smarter now and pay more attention to what I am doing.
Here are some of the reasons that I believe that I have been able to continue running consistently for so long. I have never skimped on running shoes or equipment, even long before I had my own running store. I have always kept several pairs of running shoes in my weekly training rotation. Different types of shoes for different type of training runs. From recovery days, to the track, trails whatever the day, I have a specific shoe for each kind of run. I pay attention to the wear patterns on my shoes and make sure I do not put too many miles on them. Running is important to me and so are my running shoes.
SOCKS AND INSOLE: Technical socks keep my feet in pretty good shape. I would never run in anything else, never. Probably the most important thing that has kept me running has been my insoles. It wasn’t until my bout with plantar fasciitis in 1998, when I found out just how important they are. My current favorite insole is the Superfeet Carbon insole. Everyone has different types of feet but I can promise you that you will benefit from a good insole. Insoles protect your feet and make you more biomechanically efficient. I still believe that my marathon PR, as well as most of my PRs, came after I started using a good insole; it had a direct effect on my performances.
WARM UP: I start all of my runs with the first mile as the slowest. Gradually work into your runs. You should always do a good warm up before speed workouts. This also teaches you to run negative or even split running.
COMPRESSION: These days, you can wear compression socks and tights and they work. Compress the muscles and you will reduce the friction. Pretty simple, this reduces soreness and decreases the chances of injuries.
MASSAGE AND GENTLE STRETCHING: Anyone can do some easy stretching. I am guilty of not stretching enough, but I do like to stretch post run and in the evenings. Massage is awesome and comes with a pretty good price tag but I believe it is worth it. It helps get me through aches and pains of running.
CROSS TRAINING: One of the things that I have changed in my life of running is cross training. I have always done a couple of upper body/core workouts per week. Two workouts, 30 minutes each, makes all the difference in the world, but it wasn’t until I turned 47 that I added biking and swimming to my training. Biking and swimming won’t make you a faster runner but with less pounding on the body, it makes for great all around fitness and reduces chances of injury. Especially when you have a nagging ache or pain, you can run fewer days per week and substitute a bike ride or swim and maintain fitness. I also like to ride my bike or swim the day after long races to help with recovery. Adding swimming and biking has been the biggest change in my life recently. I am running fewer miles per year but I feel like my overall fitness and health are better than ever.
TRAIL RUNNING: This allows you to get off the roads and onto a softer surface. It is nice to get away from the neighborhoods, daily routes and traffic. It also forces you to use different muscles in your body. The pace is going to be slower but it adds value to your overall training.
OVER TRAINING/RACES: Most of us do not have the problem of over training but some of us do. Go out and start running 80-100 miles per week and see what happens. Chances are you will get injured. Over racing; this is something I do see in lots of runners. Run too many races, too long of distances and in too short of a time period. I am guilty of this myself because I like to run races, but it will increase your chances of injury, no doubt. I try to pick and choose my races carefully, make time to train for a specific race and allow time to recover.
ICE: Lastly, this is one thing that can keep you running. Anytime you have anything that aches, ice it. Ice it 1-3 times a day - it works. I have a small pool in my back yard. I keep it open all year round so I have easy access to ice baths in the winter time. Just this past Sunday after a 16 mile run, I got in my pool, water temperature was 40 degrees. It only takes a few minutes and it is great injury prevention. You just have to do it!
Whether you should run though injuries or not is a personal decision. Some injuries will stop you whether you want to run or not. Other injuries are just inconvenient or just a bother and you can continue to train through. I can’t answer what you should do because I am not a medical professional. But what I can tell you is there are things you can do to increase your chances of continued running. We want a long healthy life of running, training and racing. If your running is important to you, you will find ways to increase your chances of avoiding injuries. Make some of the changes I suggest and you will have a much better chance of continuing to do what you love to do, run.