I’ve been running for about 12 years and doing races for about 7 years. Unfortunately I dealt with persistent running injuries for 5 of those years, particularly IT band issues. There were numerous half marathons where I had to walk for about 5-6 miles (sometimes more) because the pain was so severe.
I cried from the pain during training runs and during races. I cried even more from the frustration. I gimped around with ice packs on my knee after races, so frustrated knowing that I could have had a better time if only I hadn’t been injured and had to slow due to pain.
I vividly remember the first time I ran a half marathon without IT band pain. It was so exciting and gave me hope of being a good runner. [I'll tell you below what got me to race day injury free.] But then the IT band issues returned again, this time with SI joint problems as I trained for a marathon.
After countless physical therapy co-pays, orthopedic surgeon visits, x-rays, hip strengthening moves, and tears, I’ve been [nearly] injury free for two years. I’ve had two injuries in the past two years and they came from fluke things, not from running (e.g. dashing down the street in J.Crew ballet flats – not advised). Being injury free is a BEAUTIFUL thing. Let me tell you how I did it and hopefully will continue to do it.
How I Stopped Getting Running Injuries
Ditching my IT Band and SI Joint Demons
The first sans-injury race came in 2008, 6 months after I starting practicing yoga. I was amazed. In 2007 I had run multiple races with severe pain (despite a prescription for prednisone to help with the injury) and was under the care of an ortho and a PT. Despite their treatments, I was still running injured. I started yoga and the IT band issues went away.
Moral of the story: My doctors weren’t looking at me holistically. Yoga addressed a root issue that I didn’t know I had and my doctors didn’t address: severely tight muscles and heel striking. (second moral: find a good doctor!)
2. Running in Vibrams
I’ve preached about this before, but honestly Vibrams changed my running life. The two years of running sans injury that I mentioned above have been the same two years I’ve been running in Vibrams. They aren’t the only reason I’ve injury free, but they are a huge part of it.
Moral of the story: Vibrams improved my running form which allowed me to put less stress on my body. [No, I do NOT think Vibrams are for everyone. But they eliminated my severe heel strike which drastically reduced my injuries.
3. Not running through pain.
When I was training for my first marathon (which I ended up not running because of - surprise! - running injuries), I was very very hard on my body and mind. If I had to walk part of my 18 miler run because of pain, oh well. I needed the mileage! If it hurt, I tried to ignore it and keep running. I needed to run for X minutes, no less! Besides, no pain, no gain right?? Wrong. I feel discomfort all the time when running these days. But it's discomfort from pushing my body to run much faster at longer distances. It doesn't feel good to really push the pace. It's downright hard, dangit! My muscles are screaming. I'm gasping for air. But I'm not in tears from pain. If I'm feeling real pain, I stop running.
Moral of the story: There is a BIG difference between discomfort and pain.
4. Not running everyday.
I used to believe that a workout wasn't a "real" workout unless it involved running. Sometimes I still struggle with this belief. The elliptical feels too easy, cycling involves too much sitting, I don't get my heart rate high enough during weight training, and does yoga even burn calories?? But part of overall fitness is being strong in many aspects and all workouts improve different parts of your body and mind. I have learned that when I run everyday I start to get injured. Yeah, that sucks but it's true for me.
Moral of the story: Accepting the reality that running everyday puts too much stress on my body has helped me start accepting other "inferior" forms of workouts. And the more I let myself enjoy other workouts, the more I realized that they are not, in fact, inferior. Just different.
[For the record, I don't, I general, think running everyday is bad as long as you don't ignore other important parts of your overall health and fitness, and as long as it doesn't hurt you like it does me!]
5. Listening to my body.
This goes along with #3. Vibrams significantly helped my injury rate, but they weren’t the only cure. I still feel IT band tightness. I sporadically feel tender in my ankles and feet. But instead of pushing through pain, I acknowledge it and take a few days off (more if necessary) until the pain goes away. I do an extra yoga class. I spend more time on the bike and less running. Two weeks of reduced/no running is much better than dealing with bigger issues down the road for much longer.
Moral of the story: LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! Trust your gut instinct on whether or not you should keep running. Learn to trust yourself with identifying pain vs. discomfort.
How do YOU avoid running injuries?
The disclaimer you knew was coming: I’m NOT a doctor. This post is not intended to diagnose or treat any injuries you have or prevent any you may have at some point in the ever distant future. I’m simply sharing what worked for me. Now commence with sharing your experiences.