Preventing Injuries and Taking Care of Your Body

This is part 4 of a 9-part series where I cover various topics in preparation for the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon on my blog. Today I’ll discuss preventing injury and taking care of your body. In the previous post, I discussed how I find the time to train for a marathon.

Before I discuss why preventing injuries and taking care of your body is so important, I thought I’d share my experience when I didn’t do these things.

When I first started running, here’s what I knew: I needed running shoes, a running watch, and running clothes. At the time, there was so much I didn’t know about running, but would find out there hard way. Frequent injuries not only frustrated me, they sidelined me for weeks and months at a time. Was I supposed to stretch before every run? Why was I sustaining so many injuries? What else should I be considering?

The first time I got injured, it was sort of a fluke. In November 2013, 5 months after I first started running, I stepped on a piece of broken glass in our kitchen and a week later it got infected. Running was no longer an option and the results were devastating. I ran twice in December, once in January, once in March, and twice in April; the total number of kilometers I ran from December 2013 to April 2014 was a staggering 48.3. The good news is I avoided running all Winter! The bad news is my future as a runner was in jeopardy.

Being a novice runner, I didn’t fully understand the need to ease back in to running following an injury. By the end of April, the infection on my foot finally healed and I was ready to start running again. The timing was perfect as my first road race, the 2014 Yonge Street 10K was just weeks away. On Sunday, April 6th, 2014 I laced up my running shoes and ran 7.5 kilometers. I rested Monday and headed out again on Tuesday, 5 days before my race, for a planned 9 kilometer run. At the 7.5 kilometer mark, I felt a sharp pain in my left knee. I decided not to run for the rest of the week so my knee could be well rested for the race.

There are two things I remember well about my first ever road race. I wore cotton knee-high socks that kept falling down (yeah, I still didn’t know anything about running) and it was VERY painful! Thankfully the euphoria of running down Yonge Street dulled the pain, but there was no question something was wrong.

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My first ever flat runner race photo! There are no documented photos of me wincing in pain after the race.

In the days following the race, I started researching physiotherapists in my neighborhood and came across one within walking distance of my home. I was quickly diagnosed with an IT Band injury. When asked if I had any more races scheduled in the near future, I mentioned I was registered for the 2014 Sporting Life 10K on May 11th. I was advised not to run the race as my injury would not be healed by then.

I was getting treated for an IT Band injury throughout the month of April and beginning of May. By the time my second race came around, my knee was feeling better, but nowhere near 100%. Against the recommendation of my physiotherapist, I decided to toe the start line. The race started of well enough, but around the 7 kilometer mark, I started to feel the same pain in my left knee. By the 9 kilometer mark, I couldn’t run any more. I pulled over to the side of the course and tried to stretch to relieve the pain, but it was overwhelming! The last kilometer of the race was awful, but it was a valuable lesson in the need to take care of your body.

Preventing Injuries

Running puts a lot of stress on the body. You don’t need to be a professional runner to know this. I realized this the first time I ran and now as a seasoned runner, can better understand how stress impacts my body and how to respond. While I was being treated for my IT Band injury, I was advised to purchase a foam roller. Whenever I felt a little sore or needed to work out some kinks, I rolled with it!

There was still one piece of the puzzle I was missing and that was stretching. I consulted a number of individuals on the subject of stretching and learned two things.

Disclaimer: It’s OK to disagree with everything I’m about to say, but I’ll share what works for me and what has helped me prevent injuries.

The advice I received as to not stretch before a run. to clarify, static stretching is not recommended before a run. According to Wikipedia, “Static stretching is used to stretch muscles while the body is at rest. It is composed of various techniques that gradually lengthen a muscle to an elongated position (to the point of discomfort) and hold that position for 30 seconds.”

According to individuals I consulted, you could actually sustain an injury by straining your muscles. Who knew? You probably did, but I didn’t! Stretching after runs, however, was highly recommended.

Taking Care of Your Body

While the stretching was certainly helping to reduce injuries, I was still struggling with recovering from workouts. My legs were often very tired even after resting the next day. It wasn’t until I participated in the “Building Better Runners” program at The Runner’s Academy. Yes, I know I mentioned them all the time, but when you participate in a running clinic and you truly become a better runner, you associate that experience with everything good that happens to you along the way and that includes preventing injuries and taking control of your body.

The Runner’s Academy provided the tools I need to strengthen my legs, my core, and other parts of my body (shoulders and back for example), but also provided the techniques I now use to prevent injuries. To compliment the rolling I was already doing, I started to add active isolated stretching to my post run routine. For me, this was a game changer. When I don’t stretch post-run, I feel the impact the next time I run. Conversely, my legs usually feel much fresher then next time I run when I do stretch!

I’ve been training since January and for the first time since I start running, have not experienced any injuries thanks to the techniques mentioned above. I truly believe it’s important to not only listen to your body, but take care of it in the process. We’re not getting any younger, but we can slow down the process so we can continue to run healthy as long as we continue to take care of ourselves.

I purposefully didn’t cover nutrition in this blog post because I did cover how my eating habits change as I train in a previous post. I recommend you check it out to see how the two activities compliment each other.

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The tools I use to recovery faster and prevent injuries
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An example of an active isolated stretch for my hamstring

QOTD: Do you stretch before you run? What about after? What tips and tricks do you have for preventing injuries and taking care of your body?

Next week I’ll be discussing where I train and run.

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