As much as I love running, it’s not always pain free. I’m not talking about the “pain” I feel when I force my legs to work particularly hard and my lungs threaten to explode. I’m talking about the running-related kind of pain that I’m not actually proud of; the kind of injuries which can put us runners out of action and make us positively unbearable to be around.
My poor feet bear the scars of the battles I have ran in the form of blisters and black toenails. I have slipped and tripped over anything from dogs, children, logs, roots, puddles to my own two feet. I have tumbled gracelessly and fallen straight into nettles, dirt and mud – resulting in a plethora of cuts and bruises to most body parts, as well as my pride. The pinnacle of my running related (self-)harm came in the form of a tree which I somehow failed to avoid. The tree, in turn, asserted its presence by breaking two of my toes.
Ok, I admit, I seem to have an aptitude for – how shall I put this? – suffering foolhardy injuries (perhaps my partner was onto something when he asked if I like to watch documentaries about natural disasters “for inspiration”). However, true running-related injuries remain a mystery to me. When it comes to IT band syndrome, runner’s knee, shin splints, plantar fasciitis and other conditions that send shivers down any runner’s spine, I am very pleased to say that in ten years of running, I have not run into any of them.
I put my resilience to these conditions primarily down to plain old good luck. Perhaps I have good genes or youth is still on my side. Maybe I have just never really run hard enough to truly push my body to its limits. I’m certainly in not assuming that I will dodge the running-injury-bullet forever.
Nevertheless, I have five golden rules that I run by. While they aren’t particularly novel or ground-breaking, I wanted to share them here as they have genuinely become the cornerstones of my physical fitness:
1. Live a healthy life. I would never expect my body to be able to perform any feat of strength or endurance if I didn’t take the time to look after if properly. A healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, investing in my relationships with other people and keeping tabs on stress and chocolate consumption are all part of my everyday adventure.
2. Be an athlete. I don’t think of myself as a runner; I think of myself as an athlete who happens to love running in particular. I habitually engage in physical activities other than running, such as horse riding, yoga and swimming. I work a lot on my balance, core strength and when the stars align I might even be spotted lifting weights. I don’t do these things especially to improve my running per se; I do them to improve myself as an athlete.
3. Think about your running form. Few would deny the importance of a good running form, both in terms of enhancing performance and avoiding injuries. In general, I like to trust my body to know what it is doing. Rather than trying to somehow consciously change the way I run, I have made running form drills a part of my warm-up routine.
4. Vary everything. I never do the same workout twice. I change the speed, distance, intensity, surface, time of day and direction all the time. That doesn’t mean that I never submit myself to a planned workout regime. One week, I might run a tempo session on the track, the next week I’ll take it to the beach and the week after I might run it on the hilliest trail I can find. You get the idea. The variety keeps things fun and interesting, the workouts remain challenging and the ever changing surfaces ensure that different muscles get to bear the brunt of it.
5. Listen to your body. This is perhaps the most important point. When my body is telling me that it’s tired, I don’t attempt to get out of this hole by trying to dig deeper. By this I don’t mean that I don’t stick with tough workouts – I quite like them actually. But when something feels genuinely wrong, I am happy to walk away and try again another day. On the other hand, I also don’t hesitate to keep going for longer than planned when a run happens to feel particularly groovy. I refuse to become a slave to any training schedule and sacrifice common sense in the process.
While these habits have done nothing to thwart my sporadic displays of gracelessness, they are certainly not doing me any harm either. In fact, I rather suspect that they have a thing or two to do with my continued enjoyment of injury free running.
Happy, healthy running everyone!