A Year Without Injuries

This is potentially the most jinx-filled post I’ll ever write. But since I’m not a huge believer in that type of thing, I’ll just go ahead and write it.

(Knock on wood, knock on wood…)

As of this past weekend (Saturday to be specific) it has been one year since I’ve been injured. One year, you guys!

On Saturday, September 8, 2012, I was forced to cut short a 20 mile Chicago Marathon training run because my ankle blew up to the point of not being able to walk. It was heart-breaking, and although I ultimately was able to run the race and had a great time doing so, the injury was still a wake-up call of sorts.

And since then, I haven’t had to take a day off of running for anything other than basic aches, pains, and soreness. Kind of hard to believe! And if any of you are thinking, “It’s just a year Robyn, what’s the big deal?” let me recap some things for you:

In 2012 I was hurt three separate times, all of which were the result of improper (too much) training and general bodily negligence.

– In April, I got horrible knee bursitis which completely threw off my Tacoma Marathon training. It took a cortisone shot and a lot of Aleve to weasel my way out of that one in time for the race.

-In May/June, the evil IT Band Syndrome got me good, and I was limping with knee pain for nearly two months. No running whatsoever.

-In September (as previously mentioned) my ankle tendonitis nearly eliminated my chance to run the Chicago Marathon. It was a little miraculous that I actually made it to and finished the race, and it wasn’t without a lot of luck and prescription anti-inflammatories.

I was actually very fortunate in my year of injuries. While they definitely were the result of over-training, none of them were very permanent and could mostly be quick-fixed with rest and drugs. I definitely consider myself lucky in that regard, but I still knew that my luck wouldn’t hold up if I didn’t make some changes.

It’s one of those “Fool me once, fool me twice…” scenarios. But in this case, I was certainly the one to be shamed, and I knew that these running injuries were going to keep happening if my habits stayed the same.

Nothing changes if nothing changes, and it was time for me to change.

And here I am…a year later, and (okay fine, lots of knocking on wood) I’m healthy and running happily. I will be the first to admit that a lot of this is luck; running and injuries sometimes just go hand-in-hand, no matter how careful you are. For some reason, I’ve been able to avoid the inevitable injuries that can knock us out.

However, I have definitely made changes that I’m certain have played a role in eliminating overuse injuries. Here’s a few things that I think have made the biggest difference:

1 rest day per week. No matter what. I used to take a rest day once every 2 (sometimes 3) weeks, and now I don’t know how that was even possible. I start to crave my rest days, which I also think means that I’m working harder during the other days.

Foot strike. I know this is a debated topic, but between last year and this year, I have fully transitioned to a more minimal shoe and have completely changed from a heavy heel-striker to a mid-foot striker. It could be a coincidence, but I’m guessing that this has a lot to do with the lessened impact.

Added walking. I walk every day between the water taxi and my office building (~.7 miles each way) and often times this is right after I’ve run and showered. I could be wrong, but I think the prolonged striding and extra “shake out” that walking provides has helped my legs recover more from my running.

Strength. This is potentially number one. Up until last August or so, I never did any kind of leg strength training. I always wanted my legs to be fresh for running, so I never bothered with squats or lunges or anything like that. I kind of cringe to think about this now, given that I’ve done a 180 in that regard. Currently, about twice a week, I do all kinds of strengthening, flexibility, and balance (<–super helpful!) work thanks to the lifting class I found. Not only do we work the big running muscles (hammies, quads, and glutes) but also the smaller, less obvious muscles that ultimately make a big impact on both performance and injury-proneness (not really a word, but I think you understand). In a nutshell, I think I had it wrong before; cross-training for running should actually be more about strength and less about other types of cardio. This might not be the same for everyone, but I’m convinced that adding strength training and dropping spinning has been perhaps the number one injury prevention technique.

Here’s the kicker to all this: I’m actually running more days per week and more miles than I was last year when I kept getting hurt. I have built up to this in a totally safe way, no doubt, but I think it’s interesting to look at how I’ve actually been able to do more since I’ve made the above changes.

And let it be known: more running wasn’t even the intention when I decided I needed to reevaluate my habits; in fact, it was actually more the opposite of that. But along the way, I think I found that with the added balance and the added rest, running was granted to me more freely. Some weeks are better than others, and some weeks require more rest and less miles. Ultimately, though, I think I’ve finally gotten a handle on the balancing act of the sport. Much like any relationship, it’s very give and take; the more you nurture your running with things like rest days, stretching, rolling, and nutrition, the more it will give back—in the form of more pain-free and happy miles.

I’m constantly reminded of how much like life running is, and how much it can teach us about other aspects of our lives. This past year has really solidified my belief that nothing changes if nothing changes, but also that we are in control. I think for all of last year, I felt as if running owned me; like it was an abusive relationship, and running had all the power. Of course this was wrong, but it was hard to see things otherwise when the sport I loved so very much kept disappointing me.

Now, I realize I had the power all along, and in fact I was the one who was abusing it. Today, I feel infinitely more control over my training and my running, which is an incredibly empowering and comforting feeling. As a result, I feel like I’ve become both stronger and faster—and perhaps most importantly, more conscious of both my limitations and potential within the sport. So long as I continue to give and take, I have a feeling that that potential will continue to turn into results.

As evidenced also by this past year of three different PRs, it’s safe to say that there’s nothing wrong with being a little bit safer.

Take care of your bodies everyone. We all love to run as much as we can, but sometimes our running, just like us, needs extra TLC.

And if you are hurt right now…here’s one of the most wonderful things I discovered last year after sitting on multiple sidelines: running isn’t going anywhere. It will be right there to take off with you whenever you’re ready again.

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