Young and old alike, runners get injured at an annual rate of about 55%, meaning 55% will miss at least one week each year due to injury. The best way to deal with an injury -- taking steps to avoid it in the first place.
It came from out of nowhere. One minute, I'm in the middle of several nice pace pick-ups and had just eased back to a jog. The next minute, the spasm in my lower right calf hobbles me and I'm done – done for the day, done for the race scheduled on the upcoming weekend, and maybe done for the season. Done.
It was October a year ago I had the same injury hit me. But at the time, I had ignored the symptoms and signs. The slight stiffness after workouts, the discomfort in the morning and the difficulty pushing off at up-tempo pace all indicated I was headed for an ouchie, but I ignored it. And it almost cost me a shot at running the indoor track national meet. But not this year. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice… I'm an idiot!
I know of no runner who wants to get an ouchie, boo boo or other malady that sidelines us from doing what we do. And I am keenly aware of the march of time and what it does to most of us as we continue to train and compete. This latest ouchie is not how I wanted to start my sixth decade! But young and old alike, we get injured at an annual rate of about 55%, meaning 55% of runners will miss at least one week each year due to injury.
Now this may sound a bit confusing, but the best way to deal with an injury is to avoid it in the first place. It's not like you can just cross the street when you see that boo boo racing towards you, but there are some proactive things runners can and should be doing as a part of their overall training programs to avoid ouchie-related downtime.
The biggest thing is to take your foot off the pedal from time to time and REST! The old me used to average 85 miles a week in my 20's, 65 miles a week in my 30's, and 45 miles a week in my 40's. Consistent training at a lower overall output coupled with built-in mandatory rest periods has allowed me to be competitive at a national level for a pretty long time, with minimal downtime.
Just a few weeks ago, I competed in the USATF National Masters Cross Country Championships on a team that placed 4th out of 16 competing teams. And earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to be healthy and toe the line in three events at the US Master's Indoor Track Championships, medaling in one. To be honest, my times have eroded only slightly over the past 10 years, including a 5:00.72 indoor mile just last year.
Most ouchies, boo boos and maladies stem from overtraining, over-racing, over-exerting and over-reaching. Runners tend not to think much beyond "I feel really good" or "I feel really bad." When we're good, we ignore that the "bad" is lurking. Something I learned a long time ago is that improvement does not happen from the effort but rather from the rest and recovery AFTER the effort. "Bad" lurks when we don't recover. "Bad" jumps all over us when we don't rest.
Author, scientist and runner Dr. Tim Noakes wrote in his book LORE OF RUNNING that, "Running introduced me to my body." By 'running' he meant the entire spectrum of running, including the cycle of improvement (run, recover, rest, repeat). Runners get that first and last R pretty well but it's the two in the middle that take us away from knowing our true body and our true capability. We need to learn to master the recovery and rest as well as we do the run and repeat.
So why did I just get hurt again? Why is my right calf all knotted up like a sheep shank? (and this is where running logs come in handy…)… as I look back over my 2013 training year, I note one subtle trend – I did not recover and rest as much since my early year successes as I should have. Guess this little ouchie wasn't so "out of nowhere" after all.
Former Lock Haven University stand-out runner Andrew Shearer is the Middletown Athletic Club secretary/treasurer. Shearer has been running since 1978.