Running without injury

So far I have been very lucky: I have been running for two and a half years, and have never suffered a serious injury. As a runner, a serious injury would be one that keeps me from running, anything that does not keep me from running is minor. In the "minor" category I have suffered from mild shin splints, a pulled calf muscle, and iliotibial band inflammation, all during my first year. Since then, the worst that I have had to suffer through are minor aches and pains, i.e. soreness in the muscles and joints that goes away on its own with a bit of ice to help it along.

Why have I been so lucky? Clearly my low weight (160lb) is a major factor (three years ago I was over 180lb, and in case you are wondering, running is not what caused me to lose weight, the not-so-big secret was eating less). Shoes are a help, my early bout of shin splints was undoubtedly because I started out running with an old pair of well-worn cross trainers that weren't up to the job. But still, there are lots of low-weight runners out there with decent shoes who injure themselves. Am I just lucky?

No, it isn't just luck. I think that I am a better runner than most. A lot of that has to do with the fact that while I am running, I am thinking about running. I prefer to run alone, it allows me to concentrate on what my legs are doing. How do they feel? If I lengthen my stride a bit, do they feel better? Am I still in the warmup stage? Am I ready to cut loose and push hard? Do I have any minor aches that I can reduce by adjusting my gait?

I believe that my biggest improvement in running came when I had iliotibial syndrome a year and a half ago. This syndrome results from an inflamed tendon at the side of the knee, it is not especially serious but it can be painful. Since it is the kind of problem that a person can generally run through (unlike, say, shin splints), that is what I did in addition to some stretching and strength exercises. I experimented a lot with adjusting my takeoff and landing, this was all with a very cheap pair of runners that didn't fit very well and provided poor support. Eventually I could run virtually pain-free, even though going up or down stairs, and even ordinary walking, were painful.

The three tools in my "recovery kit" are cold water/ice, short runs (2 to 4km) followed by stretching, and concentration while running. The first two are excellent ways to relieve soreness, the latter is to ensure that I do not aggravate any inflammation or overly strain my muscles and joints. Paradoxically, the thing that I have to concentrate on most is staying relaxed. My legs know what to do, and while I'm running my main job is to listen to them.