The BEST way to avoid injury and be your BEST.

The pungent smell of the icy/hot patch on my hip filled the warm night air. The edge had rolled up during the night and now my right forearm tingled where it had been resting on the medicated side of the patch. These are the moments it is not easy to be a purveyor of distance.

The aches and pains are cumulative at times. Speed had been thrown into the mix last week and every fast-twitch muscle in my body has joined forces in a revolt. Without proper management, they will most certainly vote on an immediate and indefinite strike.

There have been four consecutive years without major injury. Occasionally I have exceeded my limit and resorted to a few days’ cross-training or rest, but gone have been the 8 weeks of total recovery.

Runners believe they are invincible, quite honestly. It’s not that we are oblivious to the aches and pains, we simply believe we can work through them. Eventually, we rationalize, these muscles, tendons and bones that are so overused will realize we’re not going to stop and they will finally get on board with the program.

I have spent a great deal of time studying injuries, and my fair share of time talking about injuries with other runners – every chance I get actually. There are a few things I’ve learned in the process:

If you strive to achieve long enough, eventually something will hurt. There were decades that I ran, walked, played tennis and even softball and never got injured. During these years, I did not attempt to reach further, never devoted an inordinate amount of time to any given sport and I was mostly content for whatever I did to be recreational.

When I play the piano, I may choose a song I have played dozens of times and I will quite possibly play the song in its entirety without error. There’s great comfort in that ability, if perhaps, not too much challenge. If on the other hand I challenge myself with a new arrangement, one that is more difficult than the last, I will undoubtedly miss notes, repeat measure after measure in an attempt to get it right, cuss and even slam the book shut in frustration. Eventually, I will play the song quite well though, and it will have made me very happy indeed.

Whatever ails you, look in the opposite direction. If your back hurts, your abdomen is probably weak. If you have shin splints, your calves may need strengthening. I have written before about our muscles and their wingmen. Everyone needs a wingman. But if you don’t take care of your wingman, you will suffer as much as he does.

Take fast action. The invincibility runners feel is in large part denial. We don’t want to believe anything can go wrong… and, it always goes wrong just when we think we’ve figured out how to go longer, faster or master the perfect stride. To ignore a problem is to beg for disaster. Don’t let it fester. Tackle the issue head on. In other words, don’t run away.

Injuries are an opportunity to become stronger, to fix things that have grown weak. If we take fast action, our down time will be short.

The best way to avoid injury, therefore, is to stop working hard, but the best way to be our best is to never stop working hard.

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