I am a Strength Coach and within the last week I have assessed a new athlete daily. I’ll be asked why an assessment is needed since the athlete/client is not injured. During an assessment I’m not looking for an injury but rather the red flags that the athlete may not even be aware of that lead to injury. In a runner’s world a nagging injury that they can run through is irritating and draining but an injury that prevents running feels devastating! Those who run and suddenly cannot are not happy campers! Sure, I’ll hear the regular “I have tight hamstrings” or “that foot always points out” but that is not what concerns me. What worries me more is the fact that people, runners especially, will continue to ignore the red flags and not change anything about their training. In fact they’ll continue with practices that will only exacerbate the underlying physical issues! Not sure what I mean? Let me know if this sounds familiar?
One runner I know was training for a half marathon and was intent on beating her last personal best. Despite being overrun at work and having terribly sore and tight calves from an eco-adventure race she decided to run another race (an unplanned half marathon that a friend convinced her to run)! This was eight weeks prior to the race she wanted to PB in. So, away she went running a pace that should have felt easy but was feeling really difficult. Although she finished the race with stupid pride (struggling the entire second half) her calves had seized up and she could barely toe off of the left one. Wow, nothing like the nagging pain of a 2nd degree Achilles strain! Nothing like missing the race she’d trained all year for because of the injury! That runner was me four years ago. As a professional who trains high performance athletes, I should have known better. I was exhausted, had a body that was not ready to race again and ignored my long term goal and training plan. As a runner, that is typical behaviour.
Runners tend to continue training with a slew of issues that can sideline them. Examples of this are all around you. In running groups have you ever seen someone whose stride is so short it could be a walking stride? This is usually due to very tight hamstrings. Have you ever seen someone whose hips tend to wiggle back and forth as they run? This is usually because one hip will drop because of the weakness in the other hip’s glute medius. Have you ever seen runners that have toes pointing out while knees are pointing in? This is often because of pronating feet along with very tight glute medius. What about the bobbing upper body? I call this an “energy leak” due to poor core stabilization. There is also the upright runner or “puller”. They may never have been coached to have a slight forward lean for better speed and acceleration efficiency or may not have the strength endurance/efficiency to hold that posture. Most or all of these characteristics should sound familiar…now how are they corrected?
Many runners believe if they miss a run workout it will be the beginning of the end! In reality, if that workout is modified or supplemented with additional exercises to reduce injury or prevent what running does to the body (thereby enhancing performance) –efficiency, strength and stamina can be improved. For example, take the athlete with chronically tight iliotibial bands. They may struggle through run after run feeling low to moderate pain only to spend five minutes post workout stretching. Then they sit at a desk for their day job. The tightness/weakness becomes worse until they can no longer complete a workout. What should have happened is the following…they prioritize with their hip strengthening, lengthen the IT band with intensive stretching multiple times/day and sometimes with a partner. The strengthening needs to be more intense than your occasional glute bridging and the stretching must be more frequent and more intense than the post workout five minute mini stretch! Running is demanding on the body and the repetitive nature and impact causes certain areas to break down. The short stretches and small exercises will only maintain and will not improve the situation. Usually a greater intervention is required.
Now is the time to reanalyze your running strategies. If you run because you love it and it is a key component to your happiness, stress relief and time outdoors then don’t let running injure you! Prioritize with your weak areas so you can continue to do what you love. Despite a great time on your latest 5km race you will be defined by your tight hamstring or nagging patellar tendon since they will always have the last word when they stop you from running. Workouts dedicated to your strength and muscle balance go a long way to improve your running and really don’t take very long. By prioritizing your training with your weaker areas you’ll be amazed at how you feel running and the kinds of improvements you’ll generate with your running times!
About the Author: Kari Schneider is a well-respected strength coach who has been training nationally competitive and world-class athletes for the last 13 years. She owns Empower Conditioning in London, ON and seeks to improve the health and fitness of her community by providing clients with optimal training programs and instruction. Kari is an accomplished runner with a personal best of 1:32 in the half-marathon and is a two-time winner of the Fort Whyte eco-adventure race.