It’s NOT supposed to hurt!
Chances are even if you are a new or novice runner, you’ve come across one or more of the following slogans:
No pain, no gain!
Pain is weakness leaving the body.
Seven days without running makes one weak.
Push past the pain.
Embrace the suck!
Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Motivational mottos such as these are a double-edged sword. Pain is your body’s way of informing you that something is wrong, and ignoring that warning can lead to a worse injury. Always listen to your body. Now when I say pain, I am not referring to the good pain that comes after a workout where you may have sore achy muscles and mild fatigue, I am talking about that bad pain where standing is an effort and every step hurts. The former is normal, the latter is not.
Running is normal and natural. It should NEVER be painful. If it is, you’re not doing it right, or there’s something physically wrong with you.
According to statistics cited by Yale Medicine, each year more than 50% of regular runners experience an injury. Sometimes it is associated with an accidental trip and fall, but more often than not the cause is poor diet, overuse injuries, and over training.
Common injuries include stress fractures, broken bones, torn ligaments or tendons, and knee pain. The good news is that most of these injuries can be avoided through proper diet and training. Running is NOT bad for you, it is in fact very good. You were born to run.
You are what you eat.
The power that made the body is the same power that can heal and restore the body, but that only works if you give your body the building blocks it needs to repair itself.
The typical American diet is high in fat and processed sugar, and lacking in protein and essential nutrients. As a result, two out of every three Americans is overweight and in poor health.
The human body requires calcium for strong bones, and protein and amino acids for strong muscles. As a runner, the first step towards insuring a strong and injury-resistant body is a proper balanced diet that supplies the essential nutrients you require. If you feed your body junk, you will have a junk body. Junk breaks easily and doesn’t last. You are NOT junk, you are a runner! If you are not actively working to make your body stronger, then you are actively working to make your body weaker! Now cut the crap, get rid of the junk food, and start eating healthy!
Switch it up!
You can avoid overuse injuries by alternating hard training with easy training Every run does not have to be done at your top pace, slow it down and save top-speed for race day . Don’t go for many long runs during the week, keep it short and save the long run for the weekend, either Saturday or Sunday, BUT NOT BOTH! Also, the day after the long run should be a rest day. Limit your mileage to 45 miles per week. (Yes, I know this is going to rub ultra-runners the wrong way but you guys are atypical, and awe-inspiring. )
SAY NO TO DRUGS!
NSAIDS (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs) are bad for you! Avoid painkillers like Ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen at all costs! All drugs have side-effects and they just mask the pain, they don’t cure the problem. If you can’t feel the injury, you also can’t feel how much worse it’s becoming as you keep running on it.
DON’T OVER TRAIN!
There are many training programs for runners of all levels, many available online and free. Stick to the program. It should keep you on track, but make sure the training program is suitable to your ability. If you are a NEW or novice runner, use a training program designed for new and novice runners. When I trained for my first marathon, I used the Hal Higdon plan. I assure you it does work, and there is a plan for the new runner. If your training program ramps up too quickly for your physical ability, you may need to modify it by repeating the earlier weeks until you can step up to the next level. BE AWARE HOWEVER, that if you are following a 20 week training program, you may miss your goal by adding extra weeks. That was why I started my 20 week program 26 weeks before my marathon was slated to allow time in case I was not ready. Always plan ahead and allow yourself extra time. Also, an essential component of training is the rest and recovery period between exercises. By following a training program, you will have set rest days listed on the grid to keep you from overdoing it.
KNOW WHEN TO STOP!
Okay, this next one’s a biggie, and I’m guilty of it! Sometimes, despite all the training and preparation, we get swept up in the moment. Maybe the excitement of the race or the spirit of competition was the spark that ignited our fire, but we chose to let it burn out of control. Sometimes it’s running beyond our normal pace and burning out before the end of the race. I’ve done that. Ran out too fast at the beginning and by the end of the race the runners I blew past are now passing me and I’m struggling to keep up. The worst however was my ‘accidental’ marathon on November 22nd 2020. I was running a 10-hour endurance race at French Creek State Park. My goal that day was to run the 4-mile course six times for a total of 24 miles, a personal distance record. (They also had milestone partial laps to gain certain distances like marathon, 50K, or even 50 miles.) I did the 24 miles in eight hours, with two hours remaining on the clock. I had achieved my goal. Suddenly I got a wild hair and decided to attempt another full lap, and a partial to complete a 50K! I would have been fine at 24 miles, but I didn’t know when to stop. I was tired, but I felt ok so I took off at break-neck speed. 1.23 miles into my 7th lap, I tripped on a rock and slammed into the ground full-force at top-speed. I had just past the marathon turnaround sign. The force of the impact triggered the emergence alert beacon on my Garmin informing my emergency contacts that I was hurt.
I bruised my IT band, and a few painful steps made it clear that I was incapable of finishing lap 7 and doing a partial lap 8 for a 50K distance. Since I was just 50 yards past the marathon sign, I turned back and limped in pain towards the finish line. It took me an hour to limp back that last mile. My knees and hip were bruised. I could barely stand and for the next three days I was hardly able to walk. Again, had I quit when I was ahead, I would never have gotten hurt. I was VERY lucky the injuries were not more severe. All because I wanted a 50K, but at least I got a marathon, albeit a painful one.
BUT MY FRIEND CAN!
Comparison is the enemy of contentment. I have running friends who can run six-minute miles, or can run distances of fifty miles or more. I also have non-running friends who are barely able to get off the couch. Last year I was training hard and I was able to run a half-marathon in under three hours. This year I’m struggling and my times are sucking. I’m envious of my faster running friends and my ultra-running friends. Someday I’d like to run a 50K or a 100K. My friends can do it now. I can’t. Likewise I have non-running friends who couldn’t run a mile to save their lives. It’s all a matter of perspective. Three years ago, I couldn’t run a 5K, now I’m capable of running up to 26.2 miles in a single day. You have to start somewhere, but the key is TO START! Nothing happens overnight or by itself. I am better, stronger, faster, and thinner than I was three years ago. I was inspired by a running friend then and decided to do something about it. Along the way I met and was encouraged by new running friends. Now I inspire and encourage other runners who are new or struggling. The bottom line is that your success or failure rests solely upon your shoulders. You are the ONLY one who can make yourself strong and healthy. You can do it, I believe in you!
You can find me at these upcoming races:
Be sure to check back on July 10th for another article.
As always, I wish you success and happiness!