Running Injuries: Prevention + Recovery

Let’s just say it: injuries suck. ++ no one is *immune* to them — they can happen to anyone. Whether it’s an acute injury or one of those nagging pains that slowly becomes its own monster — they set you back not only in your training but can take a toll on your mental health too! 

As we’ve been gearing up for CHAARG Run Club, so many of you have shared your fears + questions regarding injuries. As someone who has been running for 15 years, I’ve faced my fair share of injuries + setbacks while running + training; I wanted to share what I’ve learned from my injuries, how you can *hopefully* prevent them, + what to do if you do get injured! 

I want to preface this by saying: I’m not a doctor. But here is what I’ve learned for *why injuries happen*: 

  • Doing too much too fast 
  • Structural imbalance or weakness
  • Bad luck!

I throw in option c because honestly, life happens. You might get in a bike accident, you might trip over a sidewalk crack on a run, you might sprain your ankle playing basketball with your little brother, etc, etc, etc. You can do everything right + still get injured — you still have to live your life! 

Given that all of us will have our fair share of bad luck — let’s focus on how to prevent injuries: controlling our controllables. 

A] Doing too much too fast. Well, this one is simple: don’t overdo it too fast. Start slow + slowly build your mileage. Start slow in the literal sense — keep your easy runs EASY + build your confidence with pace — I believe that being conservative in the beginning is a good way to stay healthy for the long term. It’s also recommended that you don’t build your mileage by more than 10% every week. CHAARG Run Club is 16 weeks long which allows you to really slowly build your mileage up to your goal of running 13.1! 

B] Structural imbalances + weaknesses. This is specific to everyone. You might have one leg that is a little longer than the other, maybe your feet overpronate, maybe you have weak glutes or tight hips… the list goes on + on. Figuring out your weaknesses + focusing on exercises to strengthen those weaknesses is the best approach to combating injuries that you may face. As you start running, you might find yourself feeling a gradual pain in different areas of your body — maybe it’s in your knees, your shins, or your hamstrings. Connecting with a physical therapist, doctor, or chiropractor + telling them about the pain you’re having before it becomes a full-blown injury is a great way to get some exercises that you can do to help combat the injury + prevent it from spiraling out of control! The key to this? Actually doing the exercises. I can’t tell you how many times I myself have had exercises to do but then I would stop doing them as soon as whatever was hurting felt better. 9 times out of 10, it’d come back a few weeks after I stopped doing my exercises. This is how I got hooked on doing a Strength + Mobility Routine — mine incorporates different exercises I’ve learned over the year + addresses imbalances in my body [weak hips, glutes that don’t activate, etc]. 

It can be hard to tell when you’re getting injured. You’re going to feel aches + pains in some runs ++ they don’t all become a huge cause for concern. I want to preface this by saying: I’m not a doctor — but just sharing my own experience with injuries. Here is how I typically determine what is an ache or pain vs maybe cause for concern: the walk test. 

Scenario 1: I’m on a long run + I notice my hamstring is feeling especially tight. It loosens up while I’m running + I feel good by the end of my run. Cause for concern? Nah. Keep doing my strength + mobility routine + give my hamstring some extra love with the foam roller + lacrosse ball later! 

Scenario 2: Let’s say the tightness in my hamstring does not go away by the end of my run. It stays + if anything is getting a little bit worse. However, I notice when I’m walking around later that day that my hamstring isn’t bugging me — it was only tight while running. Cause for concern? Not heading to the doctor yet, but definitely listening to my body. Continuing to do my strength exercises + definitely icing after my run. I’ll also definitely give my hamstring some extra love with the foam roller + lacrosse ball later ++ potentially give myself an extra rest day or cross train instead of run the next day. 

Scenario 3: The tightness of my hamstring does not go away by the end of my run + furthermore, I notice that I’m feeling super tight walking around later that day. My concern is raised — because the pain has progressed from run only to now it hurts when I’m walking around. Instead of heading straight to the doctor, I focus on giving it some TLC. I take a few days off + back off my paces — focusing on recovery efforts + conservative pacing. I continue my strength exercises, I ice for 20 minutes every day, + I continue hitting it with the foam roller + lacrosse ball. If after a couple of weeks of being conservative + focusing on strength/recovery I am still not feeling better, then I’ll head to the doctor to see what’s going on. 

Scenario 4: The tightness in my hamstring doesn’t go away by the end of my run + it hurts all the time — not only when I’m just walking around but even sitting at my desk. I’ve taken a week or so of resting + it’s gotten progressively worse. Time to make an appointment with the PT or doctor! 

Each injury is different + will have different protocols for rest + recovery. However, most will use the RICE method [rest, ice, compression, elevation] + encourage you to take an anti-inflammatory such as motrin or tylenol. If you’re feeling injured — being sure to rest + head to a specialist to get some more insight is the right move! Do not try to diagnose yourself via Doctor Google… leave it to the professionals! I’d also encourage you to work with them in order to develop a re-entry plan. 

It can be tempting to think “Oh. I’m injured. My training is over!” — but this all or nothing mindset does not really serve us when training. Focusing on recovery as well as cross-training activities you can do to maintain fitness is a great way to continue training. You’ll most likely have to adjust your goals [for example — if you had a goal of running 13.1 sub 2 hours, maybe your new goal will just be finishing 13.1] — but this is OK + it’s good to remember: injuries are [more often than not!] a part of the process! They happen to *almost* everyone [I’ve never met a runner who hasn’t faced an injury before] + it’s an opportunity to learn how to listen to your body + become stronger. 

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PSA: Looking for a running-focused workout program + community this summer? Always wanted to run 13.1 miles without stopping? Join CHAARG Run Club! Registration is open until May 29 — see more details here!

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