Ever been injured? Must have been the shoes, right? Wrong fit… wrong size… wrong brand, or maybe it was the wrong color. Or maybe it was the cement surfaces you pounded up and down. Nope, you’re right; it was the asphalt; not as hard as cement, but certainly a worse surface than dirt and grass. No, wait; it was probably … well, let’s see what else we can blame it on.
Well, people, the above factors are far too simplistic explanations of why you were on the injured reserve list. It was much more likely that you had been, as my old buddy Mel used to say, “eat up with the dumb…(butt).” How so?
Because you cannot so easily determine cause and effect. Your shoes, or the roads, don’t cause injuries. There are simply way too many variables involved in training. You can’t control several givens while measuring what happens to one single variable. How, for example, could you have successfully run so many miles for so many weeks on the roads getting ready for that long distance race when suddenly the cement is too hard?
Same with the shoes, when there have been NO studies that unequivocally tell us how many miles we can put on our shoes before they stop absorbing foot strike shock.
In short, solving the causes of injuries is way more of an art than a science. As much as the scientist in me hates to admit it, this is true at least when it comes to the standard overuse injuries like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, chondromalacia, iliotibial band syndrome, and any muscle strains, pulls or spasms. Therefore, unless you were a participant in a scientific study with separate experimental and control groups, there is only one true explanation. And so you ask, “Well, coach, and what is that?”
Before I answer I must point out that there are no studies that really answer how we get hurt. Think about why, for example, there is absolutely no scientific proof that stretching prevents injures. Who wants to volunteer to get in the group that stretches until they get hurt and then can’t run till they heal? Yes, there are studies that show that stretching can help you recover faster from injuries. You just have one group with similar injuries stretch while convincing a control group to not stretch. And that has, indeed, been done.
So the answer to the eternal question, “Why did I get injured?” is simple: you made a TRAINING MISTAKE. No matter what other factors contributed, it always has to come down to training mistakes. You either ran too far too soon. Or you ran too fast too soon. Or you ran too hard too often. In worst cases, some runners have amazingly managed, but only for a short while, to make all three mistakes at the same time.
You can buy the wrong shoes, but until you train in them, how are you going to know? You have run to develop the symptoms of pain and discomfort that tell you they are curve-lasted shoes when you really need straight-lasted shoes with built-in varus wedges that correct for excessive pronation. Or vice versa. Or they were too big or too small and the blisters that you ignored until you changed your gait caused the problem with your ITB.
But who among us, as we overtrain, has ever stopped at the very FIRST onset of pain, the most important symptom that something is wrong? Don’t we all expect that between one stride and the next while we are floating in midair, another miracle will take place and the pain will mysteriously vanish by the time we float back down to the good earth?
So to this old coach, whose own 56 years of running have proven to himself how stupid it is to run too far, fast or often, it all boils down to training mistakes. How else can you hurt something? If you don’t run, you don’t get hurt. Run unwisely and something is going to hurt.
The key is learning, post-injury, how to go back and isolate what kind of over-training mistake you made. Then be wise enough to not make the same one again.
I’m not saying that playing scientific detective is easy. But you have to analyze your workouts to see what was different from what had been working. You have to play Sherlock Holmes while being brutally honest with yourself.
And you have to do this in the greater context of the whole life that you’re living.
Whether it is pace, distance or frequency, it always is over-stress that causes injuries. And running can be only one of many stressors. You, in fact, may not be over-training. Lots of us fail to consider the impact of life’s physical (yard work), emotional (wife left you) and psychological (IRS wants an explanation of those deductions) stresses on our training.
In this coach's opinion, the guy who wrote the best-seller about barefoot running did not get hurt because he wore shoes that made his knees hurt. He ran too far each time he went out on his own to try to get in shape. But when he met a guru who believed in barefoot running, he actually found a coach who took him very progressively and conservatively through a training pattern that allowed adaption to running… period. He could have done the same in shoes if he had found a coach who kept him from going too far, too soon, or too fast or too hard too often.
Have I said it too often with too many words and too slowly to make much sense? I hope I didn’t over-write as easily as I have over-trained myself the one or maybe two times that I can remember. Hey, at 71 I’m permitted to have a bad memory.
Folks, we have to stop running when it hurts. Figure out why it hurts and then wait until it doesn’t hurt to start up again. Use the lesson to train smarter, not just harder.
Let’s not be like poor old Mel and suffer from permanent cases of being “eat up with the dumb… butt.”
To paraphrase the actor in those great tequila ads, “Train wisely, my friends.”
COACHLY WISDOM 2
Amelia Island Runners is proud that nationally known running coach Roy Benson is a member of our club and an active volunteer. He provides free individual coaching advice at our Wednesday group runs and works with our 1st Wind Runners youth running group, and with the FBHS cross country team. Now Coach is sharing his decades of knowledge with us in written form -- with this column written especially for AIR.