A few weeks ago I suffered a minor injury on the inside of my right knee which resulted in feeling pain when climbing up and down stairs. I suspect that following a week of ”inactive rest” (or call it recovering from the fiendish Rugged Radnage 10k cross country race), sprinting up the highest hill in High Wycombe at top speed, followed by a hard core forest rave run in the mud was not a great idea after all. Even though I felt quite chuffed completing my run without getting lost (I rather carefully plotted out using various tourist and ordnance survey maps), I could certainly feel the punishing effects of these runs in my glutes and legs the next day.
As a self-confessed hypochondriac, I was convinced for a few days that I could never run again, and that I was developing one of the most common (and dreaded) runners’s injuries called patellofemoral pain syndrome, or as we runners nickname it ”runners knee”. Suffice to say that just being young, fit, and someone who has a qualification in personal training, does not make me invincible. Replaying my mother’s concerned words in my head that my body ”is not fit for such demanding type of sport” was also not proving to be helpful.
However, I dragged myself out of self pity in the end, and have embarked on a journey to discover more about how to run safe, why injuries occur, and how we can lower the likelihood of getting injured.
I have gained some really valuable insights and learnt some good lessons during my week long recovery:
Looking back, I think I must have got injured because I made one of the most common mistakes runners make – I returned to my usual training routine too fast and too soon and by doing too much at once, instead of gradually building everything back up again. Sometimes pride stands in the way of training smartly.
Having read a number of resources, I find that the recommendation is to increase the weekly mileage by no more than 10% as he body needs time to adapt from training changes and jumps in mileage or intensity. Muscles and joints need recovery time in order to handle more training demands. If we rush that process, we could break down rather than build up.
The importance of a good warmup session
Even though I have always tried to pay attention to warming up, I feel I could have done better.I feel guilty remembering how many times I rushed myself into a full blown session because I felt under time pressure. I believe that in our busy lives, many of us tend to think that spending precious minutes limbering up for a run is a waste of time. Someone once told me that ”if you don’t have time to warm up and stretch, it means you do not have time for a proper training session”, i.e. having these elements in your training routine is absolutely non-negotiable…
Warming up has several benefits, as described in Sam Murphy and Sarah Connor’s book called Running Well. Most importantly it raises body temperature and heart rate. Warmer muscles are more pliable and less susceptible to injury. A good warm up also prepares joints for running by mobilising and lubricating them. A raised heart rate increases blood flow to working muscles, bringing them fresh oxygen, nutrients and removing metabolic waste products. Trying to run at speed before warm up doesn’t allow time for the body to re-route all this blood, so muscles are not able to work as effectively. Need I say more?
Maintaining and improving flexibility
Running involves repeated contractions of specific muscles over a longer period of time. This can leave the muscle fibres shorter in length than normal and misaligned. Stretching is the process we can and should use to restore them to their resting length and realign these fibres. Without regular stretching, we risk them shortening permanently, and in doing so, altering the function of the joints they are connected to, which can have all sort of knock-on effects. Stretching is best to do when the muscles are still warm, i.e. before and/or after exercise.
This year I added Yoga into my exercise routine for the very first time. I regularly do Rodney Yee and Nicole Saidman’s DVD for beginners. I find that Yoga is a great way not only to relax and re-energise but also to stretch and work my body in ways than no other form of exercise targets. It reveals areas in my body that are tight or where my range is limited because of running and need to pay more attention to.
The importance of what is under the feet
In a previous blog entry I wrote about how important it is to get proper running gear which should always involve a proper pair of running shoes and socks as a bare minimum. However, I do not think I have realised until now that even if you have the most supportive, protective shoes money can buy, you still need to think about what is underfoot. Most of us have to resort to running on asphalt and concrete, because of the lack of alternatives. Unfortunately, these are not very forgiving surfaces because they place stress on the joints: they can be very hard or the surface may be slightly tilted which can contribute to injury problems. The suggestion is to run on varied surfaces (grass is the softest and best for the joints) or if this is not possible, perhaps it is time to rediscover the treadmill…
At the same time, different surfaces challenge the muscoskeletal, neuromuscular and cardiovascular systems differently. For example, research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that heart rate was slightly more elevated when runners ran on off-road surfaces (e.g. foresty trails). A softer surface can create more challenge for the legs as we need to work on stabilising ourselves on an uneven surface and use up more energy on a more natural type of terrain as a result.
The human body is a wonderful tool, the complexities of which we are yet to fully understand. All bodies have imperfections, weaknesses and imbalances. For example, a recent visit to a sports massage therapist and physiotherapist revealed that I am not perfectly symmetric, for example, my left hip flexor is tighter/shorter than the right one. I have no idea why, because I work on both sides the same way, but it’s just the way I am. I have a great range of movement in my hamstrings, but my calves are tight so I need to stretch my calves more frequently. My pecs are pulling my shoulders forward, so I need to give my chest muscles a break in the gym and stretch them more often. The arch in my back is slightly bigger than it should be and it causes my pelvis to rotate forewards. I have ”kissing knees”, which means they roll inward slightly. I am told this is due to the fact that my feet are a bit flatter than they should be.
Exercise therapy which addresses these imbalances, or something as simple as wearing orthotics in shoes to give a lift to the foot’s arch, can alleviate most of the problems and lessen the risk of injury.
Our body is connected in more ways than we know. When there is a long standing orthopedic problem somewhere in the body, chances are the problem is connected in some way to another area of the body, this is often referred to as the ”kinetic chain”. To stay injury free, the whole kinetic chain needs to function properly. The first step is to be aware of our weaknesses, find out which part of the body is the culprit, and address these with help from a professional.
Thank God, my knee is back to normal again and I can run without too much paranoia. In fact, I am now preparing for another local race on the 02 January (weather permitting) at Cliveden.