Thoughts on injury

The main challenge as a distance runner is riding that fine line between health and injury. We’re always on the verge of getting hurt. The trick is being aware enough to feel when something is going wrong, and knowing what to do to keep it from getting worse.

It seems to me that the body works as a whole system. Too much attention is placed on certain aspects of form, like foot strike, in isolation from the rest of the body. However, what you do with your upper body can greatly affect what happens in your lower. Pain that appears in the ankles or feet could have its roots in poor mechanics in an entirely different part of the body.

I went nines miles today after a 5K and pig-out session yesterday. I was slow to get going, with the first 5 miles being in the high 8:00 min range. I felt some tightness, or the beginning of soreness in one knee during this period. I made sure my form was working, as I understand it, and immediately started moving faster and more efficiently. The slight discomfort in my leg ceased, and hasn’t returned yet today.

For many, the process of figuring out how to run efficiently is a long one. Some may never have to figure it out, and may have a more intuitive sense of how to comfortably run many miles. Others may never figure it out completely, and may limit their mileage to prevent injury. My goal is to know what it takes for me to be able to keep doing this in a relaxed and pain-free manner, while getting faster and adding miles.

Still getting back into shape

I went another nine miles the day after the last run I blogged about. I decided I would take a day off, then do a 5K today. Today’s race offered cash awards for the top three finishers, so I was hoping to do well, but thought perhaps the money would encourage more people to show up. It did, and many of those people were pretty fast. So, I was not in the top, and ended up 4th in my age group with a time of around 21:14.

I am encouraged that I felt good, and am not injured, despite cramming in a fairly high amount of miles trying to get into shape. I kept a nice, steady pace just under 7:00 min/mile and never felt like I was straining. I’m also glad I didn’t get a side stitch, which tends to happen when I’m not in the best condition.

I thought perhaps I would do a 10K tomorrow, and I still might. However, I don’t really need to spend another 25 bucks to go on another tempo run, with no award at the end to show for it. I also just pigged out on some chicken pot pie and sweet potato pie (temporarily back on gluten because pie just sounded so good) so my stomach might not be especially cooperative tomorrow.

Great video about form

Here’s a video which gives a good description of and reason for using the arms the way I advise. The whole video is not very long and is full of good tips. Skip to 2:45 if you want to see the part about using your arms. You might remember that I’ve talked about how the arms shouldn’t simply move forward and back as some running coaches advocate. Rather, there is a somewhat diagonal component to the movement. I describe it as your forearms sweeping downward across your chest. This video describes the same motion a bit differently, which some may find helpful. It also explains how this motion contributes to the important counter-rotation of our upper and lower body.

Good form makes for easy improvement after long layoff

I’ve had 3 runs in the past four days after laying off for a couple of weeks. Work and family commitments made it hard to find time to run during that two week period. My first run was 4.5 miles, and the next day I went 5. After a day off, I ran 6.2 or so today. My average pace increased from around 9.11 min/mile the first day to 8:38 today. Here’s the info from my Garmin for today’s run. Not too bad after so much time off:
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It seems that the elements of form that I’ve come to believe in are so ingrained that I can get right back into running like riding a bike. Other than some soreness in my calves (from only running in zero-drop minimalist shoes) my body feels good. I’m looking forward to many days of moderately paced running, and am eyeing some races next weekend.

I’ll go over the elements of good form again, because I haven’t in a while. First is the most important element: a fairly fast cadence. A cadence of around 180 steps per minute helps our feet land under our center of mass, rather than out in front. This helps keep us balanced, efficient and less injury-prone. Next is proper, poised posture: not too upright and rigid, but not letting our head drop too much either. Most people adopt a good sort posture when walking. It helps to walk a bit before starting to run, to get the right positioning of our body. The last very important element is good arm carriage. Most elite runners keep their arms higher than most amateurs. Keeping our arms higher helps our balance and efficiency. The movement of the arms should not be simply back and forth like a robot, but should instead be a slight downward sweeping motion in front of the chest with the forearms.

If you want a good model who I think adheres to all of the elements I’ve mentioned, check out the great Ethiopian runner, Haile Gebrselassie. Search for videos of him on Youtube, and you’ll see a runner who has had a long and fairly injury-free career, probably because his form is so good.