“Runners are the fittest group of sick and injured people in the world.”
That’s from the back of my well-thumbed copy of The Runner’s Complete Medical Guide.
I can’t prove it, but I bet everyone in the running community is either injured, or knows someone who’s injured. I bet that’s the case with you, dear reader — it certainly is with Yours Truly. I know multiple injured trail runners.
Sounds pitiful, doesn’t it? But after giving this issue some thought, I realized it’s not so terrible as it sounds.
Running is an endeavor like any other. Drawing, for instance.
Beginning artists will make mistakes. They’ll be beginner mistakes at first, but the artists will learn if they apply themselves. Soon they’ll draw simple pictures with ease, but will make more advanced mistakes as they tackle more challenging projects.
Same with us. Except instead of a sketch pad and pencils, our bodies are our medium, and running and racing are our projects.
Just like a rookie artist can get the perspective wrong, so a rookie runner might, for example, make a rookie mistake by running too many miles, without enough recovery.
Too many miles/not enough recovery can, and does, cause a variety of problems, such as “Runner’s Knee.” Our knees are often the weak link when we overextend, according to the Medical Guide.
Like the artist, if we learn and recover, we’ll be ok, in most cases. If only it was as simple for us as balling up a piece of paper and starting over!
We’ll make more advanced mistakes, too, as we tackle more challenging events. I’ve seen vastly experienced ultrarunners make mistakes that landed them in the hospital.
It doesn’t mean running is a bad sport or that we’re worthless and weak because we got injured. It just means that we’re trying. And when we try, we miss the mark sometimes. That’s how we learn in any endeavor, drawing or running.
Some runners are cagey enough to try to avoid mistakes in advance, by talking to experienced runners and researching possible pitfalls in books or online. This is admirable, and I highly recommend it, but it’s not always 100 percent effective.
For instance, I knew for a fact I shouldn’t run the Rockin’ K 50-Mile Trail Run last weekend on training that had prepared me for a marathon.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know it in my heart, soul, bones and muscles until I hit Big Bluff Loop at 37 miles, and was sick, sore and peeing red. Not sure I was going to make it. That’s when it hit home — Ah, don’t run 50-milers on marathon training — you could get injured!
I survived, finished, and happily avoided injury, but a lot of that was due to luck and good care and feeding by my spouse and a terrific race staff. I could have easily torn muscles or harmed myself in other ways by that stunt. But now I know, and am reasonably certain I won’t make that mistake again.
We get injured a lot — it’s part of the package. The trick, in running, like anything else, is to figure out what went wrong, fix it, and get back in business. In short — get over it.
People often take wrong turns when traveling to new destinations. I bet you could easily say “Everyone has either taken a wrong turn at some point, or knows someone who has.” Anyone who hasn’t probably never goes anywhere.
The fact is, the way to our goals isn’t always clearly marked. It’s easy to miss a turn in the excitement of making progress. That’s why there are books, magazines and coaches to help you stay on track, and get you back on track when needed.
If you’re not injured, good for you! Pay attention to the “course markings” and try to stay that way.
So that’s my two cents on injuries. Coach Coleen?
I am not normally superstitious but I really hate talking about injuries.. I’m always afraid I’m going to bring one down on myself. Of course, that’s just silly…. most of the time we bring them down on ourselves by not listening to our bodies and our brains. Like Coach Gary said, he knew he wasn’t prepared to run the 50 miler but he did it anyway. For so many runners, moderation is NOT in our vocabulary and learning that it’s OK to take one day, two days or even a full week off can be scary. I don’t think that I have ever been on a group run that hasn’t involved at least one person asking for advice on some niggling aches and pains… and most of the time the advice given from fellow runners is just to run through it. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t.
I think the kindest thing we can do for ourselves is to listen to our bodies… they talk to us, and if we listen carefully they will tell us the best course of action. Knee aching? How about a day of rest and ice instead of hill repeats? Exhausted and heart rate too high? Run an easy 5 miles instead of the hard 10 that you have planned. The trails and roads will still be there tomorrow after a good nights sleep and some recovery. Sometimes a day or 2 of rest just might prevent a trip to the doctor’s office a few weeks down the road. I know some very wonderful doctors… but I prefer to see them socially instead of professionally.
Of course many injuries are due to no fault of our own…. falls and slips and close meetings with farm animals and random dogs can be unavoidable. The hardest thing for most runners to do is take time off, but in the end most of the time it’s the best thing we can do for ourselves. The most important thing is to take it easy so you can heal, learn from it so you are smarter next time and, as Coach Gary says “get over it!”