By Jeff Hake
There was once a period of time when I called myself “a runner.” That era was known as high school. Running was an important part of my life and my body and mind were trained for the task. Fast-forward six years to this semester, and I’ve just recently recovered from several weeks of unnecessary injury resulting from elementary mistakes in an effort to become “a runner” again. In light of misfortune and in the spirit of the lovely spring days that call us to don our shoes and hit the road, I’ve combined my personal recommendations with those of a fellow injured runner and the coach of the Tufts Marathon Team in order to provide some tips to prevent running and jogging injuries.
TIP #1: Be properly equipped with fresh, comfortable, and appropriate running shoes.
Your shoes can be your best friend or your worst enemy. When I went to an orthopedic surgeon about my knee pain, I told him that I was using the same shoes that I had been using for the past three years. He cited this as a primary problem. Even though I hadn’t logged a lot of miles in those years, the combination of wear and natural degradation of the materials in the shoes meant that my shoes were not performing their duties of shock absorption and joint stabilization. Don Megerle, coach for the Tufts Marathon Team, noted that wear and degradation are not the only problem. Runners should also be selective about the type of shoe they use. Shoe companies make a wide variety of shoes for different types of runners and feet. I recommend going to a running store staffed by professionals, such as the South End Athletic Company from where I recently bought a new pair, who can observe your gait and help you to chose a brand and model that is most appropriate for you.
TIP #2: Start gradually and avoid overtraining.
This is one of many useful tips coming from Renee Reynolds, a nutrition student at the Friedman School and a member of the 2010 Tufts Marathon Team. She went through a painful bout of Achilles tendonitis that placed her in a boot for weeks and disrupted her marathon training. Even after beginning to feel pain in her Achilles tendon, she upped her running from 4 days a week to 6 days a week. This exacerbated her condition and is a classic cause of Achilles tendonitis. This was the same mistake that I made as I went from no running to running 3.5 miles per day for 4 days straight. This overexertion was simply too much for my out-of-shape joints to handle. As Don says, “Less is more in the long run.”
TIP #3: If you feel something wrong, seek knowledgeable help immediately.
Waiting to see if your pain will go away, as I did, or continuing to run, as Renee did, only guarantees that the pain will continue. Take the time off from training and seek professional help. Don recommends seeking help from therapists and trainers who specialize in running. He says that he often sees runners take advice without question from general therapists, which may not be appropriate for all runners.
TIP #4: “You can’t cram rest.”
Recovery time is crucial to any training regimen. Renee recalls advice from Coach Don: “The idea is essentially to take as much time as you are advised, or your body is telling you it needs, to rest and recover so as not to further aggravate minor injuries.” There is little that you can do to speed your body’s ability to recover other than to rest well.
TIP #5: If you’ve hurt yourself, stay in shape by other means.
Resting is a great idea when you’ve pushed yourself too far, but you can continue toning muscle and building endurance through other low-intensity activities like swimming and biking. Renee adds “when I couldn’t run, I took up stationary biking at the gym and tried out pool running. In retrospect, it kept me psychologically sane…and it was nice to try something new.”
TIP #6: Have fun!
If the previous tips were not clear enough, it’s important to relax and have fun. As a marathon coach, Don is adamant about the importance of attitude in running. “Enjoy every moment you’re out there,” he says. He’s proud of his team for their positivity and credits Renee for her great outlook.
If you heed the first five tips mentioned above, you’ll reduce your chance for injury and hasten your recovery. However, you can’t hope to enjoy your running or recover in a meaningful way unless you foster a positive attitude towards your exercising lifestyle. So, take your time, put a smile on your face, stretch one leg in front of the other, and stay safe!