How I (hope to) prevent injuries while training for Boston

Runner problem #1: when a song ends right when you’re in the middle of a hill climb and there are a few painful seconds (slash an eternity) of complete silence except the ragged gasps of air coming from your lungs before the next song kicks in (and of course it’s a slow ballad).

Runner problem #2: INJURIES!!

So let’s talk injuries today. If you run, whether it’s marathons or 5ks, you’re bound to get injured at some point, unfortunately. The only thing we can do is learn from our injuries and try not to repeat the same mistake twice.

The biggest running injury I’ve dealt with that comes to mind are stress fractures. A few years ago, I wasn’t competing in any races but I was running every day. No matter what, I’d be out there running. (Ironically, I’m a faster and better runner now running 4-5 times a week than I was running 7 days a week for a couple years!). I know there are people who run every day and swear by it (here’s a guy who hasn’t missed a day since 1968!) but for me, taking recovery days and doing cross-training has made me a better runner, made me love running more, and made me less likely to get injured due to overuse/overtraining.

So in the winter of 2008, I got a stress fracture in my metatarsals but just fought through the pain and kept running (also borrowed a friend’s old pair of running shoes for a few runs – not smart). Two weeks later, I was in so much pain just standing while lifeguarding at work that I realized I needed to go to the hospital. Turned out the tiny fractures in my metatarsals had expanded into a full out fracture because I had kept pounding away and for the last two weeks, I had been running on a broken foot. Awesome!

So I ended up rocking a boot cast for three months:

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I won’t even go into how awful lugging this thing known as my foot around for three months in the snow was, with the cold slush soaking my sock and having to wrap my leg in a garbage bag as I trudged around campus while Western girls in Uggs cast pitying looks at me and Western boys let library doors slam in my face.

The absolute WORST thing about it was not being able to run for those 12 weeks. Gone was my running streak. Gone was my number one way of dealing with stress. What was really frustrating was knowing it was my own stubbornness and pride that put me in that situation, but I like to think I learned from it. Since then, I haven’t dealt with any bad running injuries and I really, really hope that’s a streak that continues!

So how do I hope to prevent injuries while training for Boston? Here’s my plan of attack:

– COMPRESSION SOCKS. Swear by these. Didn’t have any injuries at all last year while training for the Gettysburg marathon, and I put a lot of credit into these babies. I wear them for runs that are 10 miles + (16 km), and wear them after the run for as long as possible to aid in recovery and circulation (at least 5 hours, although sometimes that means wearing them under jeans haha).

– Stretch, foam roll, repeat. Foam rolling is new to me this year but so far I’m loving it. It’s time consuming (I do it every day and even though I tell myself it’s just for 10 minutes it usually ends up being more like 30) but it’s like a deep tissue massage for your muscles. I focus on quads, hams, calves, IT band and piriformis.

– nutrition: I take a calcium/vitamin D supplement every day now in addition to eating Greek yogurt every day (protein + calcium). You’ve got to keep those bones strong! Especially if osteoporosis runs in your family or you’re experiencing the female athlete triad. I also include anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric and ginger in my meals and smoothies. By eating anti-inflammatory foods you keep inflammation from intense exercise localized, meaning that your body recovers quicker and heals injuries faster. And last – beets! Apparently beets and beet juice are one of the best things runners can eat because of the healthy nitrates. Awesome news for the girl who lived in Russia for a year and ate beets all the time…

– new shoes. As soon as I feel any kind of pain/tenderness in my shins while running, I check out my shoes and usually end up buying a new pair. I should probably buy new shoes more often, but small town journalists don’t exactly bring in the big bucks so I make do with 2-3 pairs a year.
– be aware of your environment while running. Practice constant vigilance while running in the winter! I’m constantly terrified I’ll wipe out on the ice and end up breaking my leg or something. Watch out for black ice, traffic, deep snow banks, all that fun stuff. I usually have one or two wipe-outs every winter, but so far I’ve been lucky and gotten away with just some bad bruising and no breaks. If you’re going to fall, I guess my advice would be to try and break your fall with your hands rather than your legs? Better a broken wrist than doing anything to your knee, ankle or foot, I think. Oh and watch out for cars! Wear reflective gear and don’t trust that drivers will look both ways when making a turn.

– pay attention to your body. Muscle pain is okay. Joint pain isn’t. One of the benefits to running and training for a race is that it makes you a lot more in tune with your body. Don’t let little warning signals develop into bigger problems! Sometimes that means taking an extra rest day even if mentally you’re struggling with that. No matter what, I take one full rest day every week.

– strength train. Not my favourite kind of workout to be honest, but stronger muscles = less prone to injury. Also, including a strength training day prevents overuse. Yesterday I knew I SHOULD strength train, but sometimes it just seems easier or more fun to run instead. But I had a pretty intense weekend of running coming up, so I skipped the run and did Jillian Michaels’ yoga inferno plus my runner’s core workout (ie 10 minutes of death).

– SLEEP! That one’s easy, and I’m more than willing to do it 🙂 Sleep is when your body’s muscles repair themselves, and marathoners apparently require more sleep than the average person. So try and get as much sleep as possible!

What are your tips for preventing running injuries? What’s the worst running or fitness-related injury you’ve dealt with? Please tell me there’s someone else out there stupid enough to keep running on a broken foot for two weeks…

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