So, as one may imagine, you have to work pretty hard in order to be good at something (namely running) and then from there, you must have a certain amount of God-given gifts to be great and from there, you have to take that hard work and talent, combine it with some of the most comprehensive knowledge and understanding of your sport and all of its nuances, and put it into practice, all while remaining healthy. A relatively simple formula if we weren’t dealing with human beings and all of their (and life’s) unpredictables, but humans are nothing if not unpredictable.
If there is one are two things that I have learned over the course of my running career- mostly post-collegiately when I started experiencing actual, significant injuries they are that getting injured sucks and with distance running, things never just pop up. Aches and pains are often a result of many, many dysfunctional steps that have stressed the body in a way that it shouldn’t have been stressed and whatever was taking on a job too big is fighting back by becoming inflamed, sore, fractured, etc. While the human body is not perfect, it is pretty damn amazing in what it can do… like take on high mileage week after week with long runs and intense workouts and just keep getting more fit. However, one needs to recognize that you have to give to get and by that I mean give your bod some love and respect for all that it does for you.
To account for, and not succumb to, the body’s imbalances/imperfections while making it tough as nails, we (runners) learn to do things like stretch, roll our legs out on foam rollers, do warm up form drills, plyometrics, hurdle drills, strength training, strengthening exercises, balancing exercises, take in proper recovery nutrition after runs and workouts, seek out the right support staff, get painful ART treatments, get equally painful deep tissue massages, etc. Often times we end up doing these great things for ourselves after we develop some sort of injury or nagging pain in order to make said pain disappear (Um, hello? Preventative care? Are you there?), but it is often in those moments that you realize how seemingly tiny things can affect the body’s health (one slight imbalance and your entire gait shifts, which puts stress on new parts of the legs and feet, which shocks muscles, tendons and ligaments that don’t usually carry that kind of load, which leads to injury), as well as just how much work the body can handle. And if you don’t treat it properly, it will get mad at you… leading me to my next rant.
Something that I often waved off as unnecessary? Rest and recovery. Stupid. In my getting-up-there-middle-distance-runner age of 29, I have learned that it’s OK to take a day off or run a recovery run as I feel, rather than experience a self-inflicted pressure of battling the watch for a solid pace or fearing how flat I will feel on a run the day after I rest. If I don’t let my body recover what it lost out there on the track or running path, it’s not going to be able to hold up for me in the next week’s training, so I need to check myself (before I wreck myself) and make sure I’m thanking my body in the form of rest and recovery as needed.
In college I didn’t really take days off, rather, I’d just do a lower mileage day, but I was in my early 20s then and my body was all, “Oh, hey, sure. Let’s do another run without too much recovery time in between. I’m game and you’re young and resilient.” I mean, I was young and resilient; I did not miss one race throughout my collegiate career due to injury (though I did run through a few bouts of Achilles tendonitis- whoops). I was good about stretching at the track with my teammates after runs and workouts, but when I got older and was balancing grad school with full-time training and a mortifyingly packed schedule, I started to let things like good, long stretches fade until I was only doing focused stretching after long runs on Sunday. Not a trend that could continue and mostly because my legs fought back.
In two years I had five (count ‘em, 5) stress fractures. 4 between my two tibias and one in my right fibula. I trained- terribly- through my first two (and coincidentally embarrassed myself at USA indoors one year –> not awesome) and by the time I got to the doc, I was told that the simultaneous tibial/fibular fractures were almost fully healed and that I only needed to cross train for a couple of weeks. Hot mess, I was, and of course I can look back now and see that the fractures were a direct result of not implementing all those little helpful strategies I shared with you a few paragraphs back. Now being in the Yoda phase of my running life, I know that I need to do all of those little, but crucial, things in order to help my body stay functional. Although, of course, sometimes freak things do happen (like my August 2011 slip and fall that took me out for almost two months) and you must take those in stride (ugh, worst pun EVER).
What I am getting at is that if you respect your body and all that it does for you on your mission to be exceptional, it will return the favor. I was once told that I should do at least one thing every day to make myself a better runner and I can confidently say that I am and I do. I have Team Parker to thank for their endless support in a variety of ways for helping me do this, whether it’s through coaching, reminders of the big picture, soft tissue work, reining me in, or providing verbal support. Make sure to build your own team of supportive people on your journey towards greatness and you’ll see noticeable improvements across the board. Seriously.
Now go grab your roller. I know your IT bands are tight.
Up for some squirming?