Ironically I’m writing this article with a sprained ankle. No, I didn’t use any of the tips from this article. After hundreds of miles of trail running this past year and a dozen Spartan races filled with blood, sweat, and tears, my bottom step in my basement took me out. Who knew the ankle bone wasn’t supposed to touch the ground (while standing)?!
But I know this list below too well because although my current injury is a result of dumb, stupid luck, I can’t say as much from my other past injuries. I’ll never forget my Achilles injury back in 2015, my IT band that flared up during my Montana Spartan Beast last year and shin splints that seemed like they would never go away those early months in my running career. Each one of these a result a few of the tips from the list you read below.
Unfortunately, if you’re a runner, there’s a good chance you know about this Top 10 list a bit too personally as well. You’ve heard the statistic that between 65-80% of runners get sidelined with an injury each year – a statistic that is painfully too high and one that is more preventable than we’d like to admit.
I’ll share in another article about how my strength training over the last year has contributed in significant ways to keeping me injury free. You’ll probably even hear below how “breaking all the rules” below has helped me on my journey to an injury-free year as well.
But if you’re a runner (honestly any sport) and are bound and determined towards letting an injury creep into your life, then follow the list below. I’ll pretty much guarantee you will be injured soon.
Honestly, there are many benefits to injuring yourself. Sometimes we runners are a bit too worried about injury, thinking of all those hours of wasted training and goals just waffling away from us. Sometimes we don’t remember that getting injured can be an amazing time in our lives with tons of benefits.
Here’s just a few:
- Time – Think of all that time you’ll get back that you used to waste running out on trails, clearing your mind, and doing the thing you love so much. Just think of those hours you’ll find that you almost forgot existed – all those hours you’ve wasted running, rolling on your foam roller and even planning your next run.
- Money – We all deserve a bit of money now and then – now it’s your turn to fund your favorite chiropractor, physio, or doctor. They have bills to pay and need to take care of their families. They might even need a few extra bucks to buy their own running shoes, gear, and race entries. Especially with you being injured, someone needs to enter those races and keep those race directors earning a few extra bucks themselves.
- Maybe you’ll even save some money – When you’re running 35-45 miles per week, buying shoes and all the gear you need can cut into your pocketbook pretty deeply – just ask my wife. But with an injury, when you sit home on the couch there’s no need to keep shelling out all that money. That’s money you can keep in your pocket for a rainy day (one in which you won’t need to buy jackets, ponchos, or other rain gear you would have otherwise spent for your run)!
- Break the addiction/obsession – Let’s face it. Runners’ brains are wired differently. Seriously, just earlier this week, before my x-rays came back from my sprain, I was already asking my doctor when I could start running again. She shared with me how much she hates treating runners. And maybe she’s right. Maybe we just need some time off to break our addiction.
However you slice it, make sure to follow these tips to get yourself injured, and depending on the tip, to get yourself injured quickly and severely enough to take you out for months. Let me know which one was your favorite and even the injury you wound up with below. We’d love to share in your pain and misery.
Top 10 Ways to Get Injured
1. Embrace the phrases, “No Pain, No Gain” and “Pain is just weakness leaving the body”
You’ve heard these phrases a million times before. You’ve probably uttered them both a few more while pushing through that sharp (or dull) pain starting to nag you towards the end of a run. It’s those runners that push through the pain that come out the other side as winners, as stronger because that pain means you were conquering your weakness, and because the only other way off that course is on a stretcher.
I’ve been there before and even uttered those words, “I’m finishing this race in one of two ways: 1) on a stretcher or 2) on my own two feet.” I did finish that race and struggled with an IT band injury for the next eight weeks. To this day I still know I made the “right decision”.
2. Start Your Running (Exercise) Program Too Fast
You’re determined and ready to conquer your goals. There’s nothing that can keep you from quickly getting to the goals you’ve set for yourself. Nothing. Well, that is, except for that nagging pain that just started after your second week because your musculoskeletal system wasn’t quite ready for the stress you would exert on it. But don’t give up now, I’m sure that pain will go away. I’m sure the experts that warn you from ramping up too quickly just don’t know how determined you are. Keep it up and that pain will simply go away. Right?
3. Ramp up your mileage too fast
Those same experts that cautioned you about starting your exercise program too fast (what do they know?) also warn you about adding too many miles, too fast. Sure, everyone knows the 10% rule (where you ramp up your mileage the following week no more than 10% of the prior week’s mileage), but 10% of just a handful of miles seems like too small of an increment. Maybe when you get to the point you’re running 35-40 miles, then the 10% rule (meaning adding 3-4 miles per week) will be applicable to you. But surely those experts aren’t talking about you. They don’t know your body. They’re just trying to avoid any liability from giving you advice that might hurt someone else. Besides, that advice isn’t one-size-fits-all, is it?
4. Follow your plan “no matter what”
You have a race that is just 16 weeks away and you’re two weeks into your 18-week training plan you downloaded off the internet. That training plan needs to be followed at all costs. If you deviate just one training run over that 18-week schedule, you won’t perform and peak at just the right time for the race. Don’t worry when a new ache and pain starts to show up in your left Achilles or when you start getting a dull ache behind your knee. The person that developed this program knew these aches would show up and just days later would disappear into nothingness. Besides, as we’ve already established, to succeed on race day, you need to follow this plan to the letter of the law. Don’t use common sense, think that this plan should be adapted to you, or even consider that following this plan (even through every pain known to a runner) could be disastrous to your health. Keep pushing forward – you’ve got a box to check and a mileage goal to hit for the week.
5. Don’t listen to your body
You know the mantra, “You can do more than you think.” When your body starts to develop a new ache or pain, it’s your mind setting a limit on you that is meant to be broken. That pain you feel is likely mental, likely a figment of your imagination, and will probably go away after a few hours rest. Maybe that pain will go away after a good night’s sleep. Whatever you do, don’t succumb to your body’s request to slow down or even stop. That’s your mind telling you to stop and how will you ever get stronger or push to the next level if you don’t push through that threshold artificially set by your mind.
6. Make sure to cut your diet to the point your body can’t recover from exercise
Likely if you’re like most of the population you’re wanting to lose a few pounds. Who can blame you after the holidays, vacations where you ate a little more than you hoped, or after just eating the common, Western diet for so many years. So you start to exercise (see Tip #2 and make sure you ramp up your exercise program faster than the experts say you should) and combine that with this tip: crash your diet and don’t take in the calories required to fuel your body with the nutrition needed to rebuild and repair those muscles and bones. Justify to yourself that your whole goal is weight loss anyway, so whatever it takes to accomplish that goal is simply what you need to do.
7. Don’t get enough sleep
Yet another tip that the experts, doctors, and the elite athletes share continually is the importance of sleep. When you sleep your body gets rid of the stress hormones, gets rid of the toxins from your brain, and is a critical time for your body to rebuild the muscles and bones you’ve broken down as part of your exercise regime. But you just don’t have time between work, family and all the other activities you need to get done. The one place you can cut is the easiest – get your 5-6 hours of sleep (less when your schedule requires) and just make it all up with a few extra cups of coffee in the morning. Sure, those elite athletes sleep a lot (they are elite, wouldn’t that be nice to have their schedules?), but they don’t understand your life and your responsibilities.
Sure you won’t have the full sleep cycle needed to accomplish all those physiological processes mentioned above, but your goal is to get that workout done…no matter what. Maybe you’ll catch up on your sleep next year. Or then again, maybe not.
8. Don’t get that niggle checked early by a chiropractor/physio/doctor
No matter what you do, make sure to not go to the experts and get the help you need when they can actually help prevent that small pain from developing into a full-fledged injury. You know your body too well and can almost guarantee that niggle (thanks to the British runner and author Ira Rainey for teaching me that word) is just a small pain that will soon go away. Sure, it’s been 3-4 days and it just isn’t quite going away, but you have a rest day the day after tomorrow and know that one day of rest will help you recover. You might not even remember in 3-4 days ago that you had that specific pain. Besides, you definitely don’t want to hear the words, “Take a few days off,” or “Let’s have you decrease your miles for a week or two.” We runners don’t like those prescriptions as they keep us from doing what we love: you guessed it, running.
9. Run when you’re sick or recovering from sickness
I’ve done it time and time again. I can almost quote the answers from the websites when I ask Google, “Can I run when I’m sick?” I know that I can run through the sniffles, with a bit of a cold as long as it hasn’t dropped down below my neck. I know I shouldn’t run with a fever, though I might have to look up the exact level of raised temperature that might be allowable (and I guarantee I will look it up the next time I have a slightly elevated temp). I even know that running with the sniffles might help keep me from getting sicker.
But make sure that you underestimate your symptoms because you know you want to run no matter how you feel. I know this, running my 5-6 mile training run on the first day of having Influenza A just over a year ago. I’m sure that run had nothing to do with me being sick longer and with more misery those next few days.
10. Don’t cross-train, strength train and by no means ever take a rest day
No matter what, don’t forget that you are a runner. Runners don’t cross-train, don’t concentrate on strength training and never, ever take a rest day. Runners run. It’s as simple as that. Don’t think that a bit of strength training just might build up and resolve a weakness that just might keep you from getting injured later. Don’t think those squats, lunges or even planks might strengthen those glutes (a weak butt is responsible for so many injuries) or even your core to help you be a healthier and stronger runner. You’re a runner, so don’t let anyone take that away from you.
I hope you hear and follow each of these tips to the letter if you want to get injured. Unfortunately, as stated before, I know many of these tips and the results of following them all too well.
We runners are a weird breed. There really isn’t any other sport that I can think of that loves our sport so much that we willingly break every law of common sense because just want to run so badly. We are driven, our goals stretch us further than we thought possible and we love every minute of it. We cry when we find out we can’t run (yes, this is a guy writing this) and are mopey and down in the dumps as a result.
If you want to run, exercise, and keep it up for years without injury, I guess the only other alternative is to break every one of my tips above. Sure, you might not get the immediate satisfaction from completing a training run you have your heart set on, but you just might find yourself avoiding a more chronic injury that could potentially sideline you for months.
Trust me, I’m struggling even as I write this. I’ll be hitting the pool in the morning for a bit of pool running (I hate that) and my mind is trying to calculate how many weeks before I’m back up to last week’s mileage. My sprained ankle has me down and I’ve been a bit mopey at that. But I’m going to re-read this article until my mind is convinced that I need to follow (or rather break) all of my tips.
Let’s just say that I’m a runner. It might take me 3-4,000 times before I get these things through my big, fat runner head.
Running for Life…