Like any runner, I have had my fair share of injuries. Luckily, none of them have been dire enough to end my career. Soreness is inevitable, especially with the amount that I train, and it takes time to come to terms with the relationship between pain and training. There’s the pain that you can tolerate through exertion and hard work, and the pain that compromises your body’s function and forces you to stop. The latter is the hardest to admit and come to terms with, even for the most experienced of athletes.
Here, I’ve outlined the basics behind injury prevention and recovery, plus what works best for me.
The top three components of a successful training strategy are the following.
Nutrition has a direct effect on preventing injuries. It has a massive — and often underrated — impact on how your body performs, both mentally and physically. Because your body is constantly under stress, a comprehensive nutrition plan will enable it to recover faster, remain strong, and make consistent progress. Without good nutrition, your body will start to break down, underperform, and show fatigue, which leads to slower mental responsiveness and more injuries.
Adding a simple and personalized strength program to my training has helped address imbalances and weaknesses in my body, allowing it to stay stronger for longer. A strong core and good posture can help you avoid favoring a certain leg, for instance, which in the long term would have resulted in overuse that can cause injury.
The best thing that I have done for my running career is start yoga. A solid hour dedicated to building strength and balance in your body works wonders when you’re training. One thing that I say to all of the people I coach is that becoming a fitter, faster, stronger, and more efficient runner is 100 percent related to what you do when you are not running.
The Most Common Running Injuries
Most running injuries occur in the lower part of your body due to the repetitive impact of training. These injuries include:
Runner’s Knee: Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), or runner’s knee, is the irritation of the cartilage on the underside of the patella (kneecap).
Achilles Tendinitis: This is generally an overuse of your Achilles tendon, which can be found at the posterior of the calf connecting to your heel. The largest and strongest tendon in your body, the Achilles tendon endures a lot of impact with every step. Achilles tendinitis most commonly occurs in runners who have suddenly increased the intensity or duration of their runs. Due to the low blood supply in that area, it takes time to heal and repair it after an injury.
Hamstring Issues: The hamstring is the collective name for the group of muscles (and their tendons) at the rear of your upper leg. This includes the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. The hamstrings perform several functions to allow your legs to move in multiple directions from the hip and knee joints.
Plantar Fasciitis: This is one of the most common issues with runners and is the inflammation of the thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes (plantar fascia). The best way to think of it is as an invisible sock that is made up of tissue. It is connected to the calf muscles through tendons, ligaments, and muscles. If these are tight, you can begin to feel pain at the base of your foot — commonly a stabbing pain that usually occurs after your first steps in the morning.
Shin Splints: Shin splints are defined as pain along the inner edge of your shinbone (tibia). Shin splints are usually caused by repeated trauma to the connective muscle tissue surrounding the tibia. If this isn’t addressed, it can lead to a more severe injury, such as a stress fracture.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS): ITBS is an overuse injury of the connective tissue that runs down the outside of the thigh from the pelvis to just below the knee joint. Through bad mechanics in your running stride, the ITB — which is used for stability as the knee flexes and extends — can become inflamed. This can cause a burning sensation on the outside of your knee when running.
My Top Recovery Techniques
To keep your body fit and healthy, be proactive with your recovery — never reactive. Think of it like taking care of your car. Instead of waiting for it to break down, you schedule regular maintenance checks to keep it running smoothly, right? Why wait for pain to occur before taking action for your body? By that time, the recovery and rehab will take much longer.
Once a week, I will have a sports massage to help address anything in my body that is stiff or sore, regardless of whether or not I have severe pain. It also helps flush out any toxins in my body. Additionally, I have one ice bath each week after my long runs over the weekend. I put eight to ten large bags of ice in the tub and cover my legs for about 15 minutes. It’s tough, but it reduces soreness.
Injury is normally related to an imbalance in your body during an activity. You are only as strong as your weakest link. I avoid injuries by implementing a predetermined recovery regime that I follow as strictly as I follow my running program. This regime includes:
- Dynamic Stretching
Dynamic stretching allows your body to move and stretch in different planes if a particular movement is required in the exercise. This is great for increasing your body temperature and blood flow.
- Static Stretching
Unlike dynamic stretching, this requires you to hold a position for 20 to 30 seconds and is paired with a steady breathing routine to reduce your body’s temperature.
- Foam Rolling
Think of this as a self-massage: the roller will increase the blood flow to any sore, tight muscles to promote recovery. It will then break down and loosen the fascia that covers the muscles. It also reduces inflammation by removing waste fluids from lactate build-up and promoting the delivery of oxygen-rich blood to any sore points.