Problems and injuries on a run; or, Knowing your body

by nomeatbarefeet

Ok, this picture is a BIT hyperbolic…just a bit (though for adventure and ultra races maybe not…). But the fact is as runners we will, inevitably, get injured. Period. As trail runners the chances are probably, but don’t quote me on this, higher: roots, rocks, mud, steep hills, switchbacks, and on and on. So beyond the normal wear-and-tear on our your body there are LOTS of environmental factors (i.e., nature itself) that can lead to injury.

So you are going about your run and WHAM! something happens. Now, I think that a problem (injury) can come from three different sources:

  1. Physical This is what we usually think of when we hear the word “injury.” It could be something like a pull, a tear, or a broken bone; it could also be a digestive or hydration issue.
  2. Nature This is the type of problem that can plague the trail runner: the “natural obstacles” encountered on the trail. These kinds of natural problems can often (though not always) lead to physical injury. If you are lucky you will just trip or scrap or scuff or whack…but come away cursing rather than limping (or worse).
  3. Mental This kind of problem can sneak up on you or be like a boulder blocking your path; it can whisper in your ear or scream in your face. It can be just as detrimental an injury as the other two—sometimes even worse.

But what do you do when an injury happens? Is it serious enough that you need to stop or can you gut it out and continue on? What if you are far from your car? Is there anything you can do immediately to remedy the situation?

These are the kinds of questions to ask when a problem/injury occurs. The best way to deal with them, I think, is to know your body. This sort of awareness comes with time; it is not easy to attain. Katie and I are still learning to interpret our body’s signs, but we have come a long, long way from when we started. We are much more in tune with when we should keep running and when to pack it in.

A great fountain of information, perhaps one of the greatest of all time, is Scott Jurek. While there are countless anectotes and remarks in his book Eat & Run (review coming later) that are relevant, the following one points to just how connected we can be with our bodies:

Two years earlier I might have just gritted my teeth and gutted it out. But I was smarted now. I knew my body better. I knew ultras better. Most important, I knew that will wasn’t just a matter of strength but a matter of focus. The health of the body was critical to running an ultra. But to run it well, my mind was what mattered.

The more you are out there, running the trails; listening to your breathing; feeling your heart race—the more you “do” the easier it will begin to learn your body’s signs; to hear what it is telling you about you. What is also very helpful is the little check-list that Jurek gives as a tool to help deal with problems or injuries.

  1. Allow yourself to be hurt, sad, angry, or whatever other emotions can come with facing a problem, loss, or injury.
  2. Take stock: Is something broken? Is your life in danger? No?—can you continue?
  3. Is there anything I can do to remedy or improve the situation?
  4. Mentally separate all of your alarmed and distressed thoughts and emotions and put them someplace else.

Now this is certainly not an easy check-list to follow; it requires knowing a lot about oneself, which can take years to attain. The first and last points can be the hardest: how do you let yourself be ______ without letting it consume you and taint the rest of your run? Furthermore, even if you can continue there is no guarantee that the run might still suck. Sometimes a run just sucks—dealing with, and coming to terms with that fact is a challenge. But I can see how using this list can help to pull you across the seemingly impossible impasse that a problem or injury creates.

Problems and injuries happen—sometimes more often than we would like. How we react, how we deal with them is the important issue. What we focus on can shape our existence—no less in life than on the trails. Over time, learning to listen to your body can help you know when to push through a problem or injury, and it can give you the awareness to know when to stop.

I would be really interested to hear what other runners (or anyone for that matter) has to say about encountering problems and injuries. What tools do you use to overcome them? Do you always push through them? Is it hard to tell yourself to stop? Thoughts and comments wanted!

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