Are you struggling to injure yourself properly? Over 30? Or have a long list of previous sporting injuries? Follow these steps and you won’t stop short at a just a niggle or an ache, you will achieve a full-blown injury requiring several weeks recovery and plenty of physiotherapy. (Please note: I am not an expert on running, but by following these steps I did manage to tear my hip flexor and am now enjoying the physio table and an extended lay off from running. As a bonus I will also miss my first 10K.
1. New to running? Set yourself an ambitious goal.
While lying on the sofa with an ice pack wrapped around my hip I decided to read Peter Larson and Bill Katovsk’s excellent book Tread lightly: Form, footwear, and the quest for injury-free running. I came across the following conclusion of a running injury study which I think sums up the an important aspect of the psychology necessary to cause yourself injury: “if you are a new runner with a history of knee problems who picks up the sport with a goal of completing a marathon within six months, you’re pretty much doomed.” An important aspect of overly aggressive goal setting for a beginner is to encourage that stubborn and competitive streak inside of you. While at this crucial early stage, don’t push yourself beyond the limits while training; just ignore the idea that they even exist. Your body is not attuned to running so this is an important mindset to inhabit if you want to break it.
2. Dress lightly when you run in the cold.
Some of you from colder climates might scoff at my definition of cold, but for the body temperature is a relative thing. I live in Hong Kong where for around 9 months of the year the temperature averages around 27C/80F degrees with above 80% humidity. We get a brief bite of cold in winter when the weather can drop down to 4C/39F degrees; I consider this cold weather even for my native New Zealand. Running in cold weather with just shorts and a t-shirt is likely to put the kind of stress on your body that will lead to injuries. Perhaps you might beat your chest and challenge yourself to be “tough” enough to endure this type of weather, or perhaps you are like me, a student too cheap to buy warm running clothes – either justification will work. Cold weather combined with insufficient dress will provide the necessary conditions for you to pull, strain or tear a muscle.
3. Trust you know your body.
In my introduction post Running free I talked about a desire to run free and to go with what feels right. I have belatedly discovered that this is an excellent strategy for a beginner runner to follow in order to injure him or herself. As a beginner you are still learning how and what your muscles can cope with when running. After two or three months of running your lungs, heart and mind may really start to feel ready to push towards your aggressive goals. You are liable to ignore your legs and muscles whose screams are muted under the numbing cold. Case in point; It wasn’t until the morning after my fateful run that I realized I had torn my hip flexor, at which point I could barely walk.
4. Skip the dynamic warm up.
The cold alone may not be enough to cause you injury, consider skipping your dynamic warm up – a short walk to your starting point and a few high knees will suffice to keep your body relatively cold and stiff for when you run. If you start off at a quick pace you have a good opportunity to secure your injury.
5. Skip the 10% rule and ignore your KM/MI count for the week.
Focus on big increases in both the distance and the frequency of your runs, preferable increase these at the same time - and always run to the maximum distance - remember that Marathon is looming.
6. Finish strongly and don’t warm down.
You know in the real race you are going to run as fast as you can at the finish so push yourself to the limit at the end of your run – sprint if possible, because you probably haven’t done that since you were in college. At the end forget the warm down, you can stretch if you like, because the injury should already be yours, and there is a good chance you are now aggravating it. It is probably about time to get out your icepack and settle into the sofa, you might also call your physiotherapist and make an appointment.