"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Yet a third preface

When people talk about some way to train to run that doesn't involve running, my first thought is "Are the top runners doing it?" If the answer is yes, my next thought is, "Are they doing it because they can't run more than 20 hours per week and they need to do something to feel they aren't a fraud as a professional runner to fill the week?" If we get past that - and it rarely happens - whatever is new invariably turns out to be just a rediscovery of something runners have done for a century that fell out of favor.

For every runner who says that yoga is the answer, there's another that says that static stretching only causes injuries or makes them worse (both could be true, as yoga is more than static stretching, but I'll get into that). There's little agreement on any cross-training and most runners avoid doing anything but running until they get injured and can't run. Individuality is the one universal.

When one gets injured, one generally goes backward through a chain of possible alternatives until they find the level they can actually do. The question is: would doing those exercises prevent injury in the first place? The answer to that is - of course - both yes and no.

There are runners who have perfect running form and who can meet the goals with light to moderate training and they rarely get injured. The rest of us, the injury-prone, have to do more than run to keep in one piece. I hope to cover the basics that will help with all the more common running injuries.

But what are the causes of injury, and can they be avoided in the first place? Overtraining leads to both fatigue and deteriorating form and eventual lack of mobility. Accidents, on the other hand, decrease with more training; in my first 5 years of running, I had 20 ankle sprains, then the surrounding tissues strengthened until that no longer happened, but at the cost of flexibility in that joint. Imbalances are the most common problem and can be seen just by asking others what you look like when you run - awkwardness is compensation for things like leg length discrepancies; major style flaws might need active correction, but generally, one becomes more efficient over time. Unfortunately, the compensation for those slight form breaks lead to long-term injuries. Lastly, what one does when not running can be a major problem and, as I found out the hard way, poor sitting posture - and even good sitting posture, if done for many hours every day - is a major cause of problems in the lower back, hip and upper leg.

For example, one problem I developed over 30 years was weakened gluteus medius muscles, which came from keeping my body in a sitting position too long every day. The standard exercises for this are lying hip abducions and clamshells:

Keep the upper leg behind the line of the torso, unlike what's shown.

They work - but what does this have to do with running?! The glute medius works in running when you push off to the side, like a skating motion (skaters never have this problem). Except on uneven terrain, which people avoid, this rarely happens; as you gain experience in running, you start to swing your leg like a pendulum straight forward and back, because it's more efficient. Eventually, this leads to weakening of the gluteus medius, but sitting for long periods really exacerbates the problem.

The running solution would be to push off harder and to the side on each stride. Failing that, doing short (50m) strides with exaggerating the push-off to the side would be an added exercise to help prevent the problem. But, if you do that with poor form, then you end up having to do the non-running exercises. And, if you can't even do them properly (and I couldn't for a while), mobility exercises for the hip are necessary.

So... you might not need do anything but run or you might have to do a lot of other exercises or you might need just a little work concentrating on form. That's enough for a long series of posts.

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