Musings of an Injured Runner: Listening to Your Body When It Matters
Editor’s Note: This post is written by Minneapolis Running Ambassador, Aaron Gregerson, and has been edited for length and clarity.
As a whole, I’ve found most runners to be very driven, self-motivated people who can, at times, have a hard time taking sound advice. After all, to most people, the idea of waking at the crack of down to go somewhere and endure relentless physical pain that you paid for is beyond the bounds of reason. In short, we runners have a hard time with being hard headed. Even with ourselves.
It’s no secret that running is a very intense sport that requires a lot of your body. The connectivity and coordination that is required for good running mechanics takes a lot of muscle memory and training. And, if you’re like many runners, there may have been a few times you’ve ended up on the injured list and unable to run.
But this article isn’t about what to do while you’re experiencing an injury. Or what exercises you should do to prevent injury in certain areas of the body. This article is about knowing when enough is enough to keep you off of the injured list and keep you running.
At the end of college, I decided to pick up the pace or my recreational running and start running more. I promptly developed IT Band Syndrome in my left leg. At the time, I thought I needed knee surgery it hurt so bad.
Since that experience, and having the desire to continue running, I’ve struggled off and on with various injuries over the years. IT Band Syndrome (more than once), lower back strains, patellar tendinitis, sore hamstrings, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis - you name it. As I look back on each one of the minor injuries, there’s one thing in common: I didn’t stop and listen to what my body was telling me. I kept at the training plan or shooting for that monthly mileage goal because I “just had to get those miles in.”
After an injury becomes apparent - that turning point where we know this isn’t just some little “niggle” that will get better in a day and work itself out - most of us are great at playing the “what if” game. What if I had stuck to the miles that day instead of going longer because I felt good? Or, what if I just hadn’t gone out on that run after a bad day? Maybe it’s what if I had just relented to the latest snow storm and ran inside that day instead of sticking it out on messy trails?
Listening to Your Body When it Matters
So how do you start listening to your body and know when to quit? Here are my top four things that I like to do:
Pain = No Gain.
First and foremost, you know when you’re running with pain. It’s not comfortable. If “something” flares up on a run and you feel it, stop running. Go home, roll it out, stretch it out, do what you need to in order to release tension around the inflamed area. If you try running the next day and it’s the same story, a longer rest is in order.
Talk Out Loud.
Admittedly, I’m terrible about this. I want to appear to be the strongest, most resilient runner out there, even to my family. However, with each one of my injuries, I’ve found great relief and a sense of direction when I’ve admitted out loud that something is hurting or achy. Talk to someone close to you in your running life - whether that be a running partner, friend who “gets” running, or a spouse that also runs. It will help make sense of the problem a lot faster.
Seek Immediate Professional Help.
This stage comes in varying degrees of severity, depending on what’s going on. Many runners have a preferred method for dealing with sensitive or weak areas in their running life. Some of us rely on chiropractors, others massage therapists, some acupuncturists, and other physical therapists. Or perhaps it’s a mix of all of those. If something is going awry, see your preferred specialist and get back to running healthy.
Related: Why You Need a Physical Therapist
Cut Some Mileage.
Even at the height of a marathon training plan, it’s okay to cut a scheduled run or two (or three) in order to stave off a large injury. When our bodies are talking to us through ongoing pain or inflammation, they’re literally trying to tell us something. Often that means that the body is at its physical limit right now and needs a break. Don’t be afraid to cut your next run in order to save yourself more pain down the road.
As runners, injuries can be devastating. It means having to cut ties with one of our passions in life. With a lot of practice, teach yourself to listen closely to your body and how much it can handle. It will keep you off of the sideline and running happy. Which, after all, is what we’re all after!