4 injury-prevention tips from a middle-aged runner
Editor’s Note: This post is written by Jeff McCloud, Elizabethtown Middle School’s cross country coach, a 4X half marathoner (PR 1:37:40) and a regular runner just like you.
If you’re a runner, your greatest fear might not be that next big hill or the 800 interval workout on the track next week. It could easily be that you will pull a muscle, strain your IT band or develop plantar fasciitis, any of which could keep you from running for a few days, weeks or even months. And the thought of not running can make the fiercest runners among us quake in our Asics.
The good news is the Internet provides a wealth of tips and advice on how runners can avoid and prevent injuries. Google “shin splints” or “IT band” or “plantar fasciitis,” and you can find thousands of results. That’s also the bad news. Anyone with a high-speed connection and a blog can post information about running and what they think about injuries and avoiding them. And you can easily scour Twitter for running-related hashtags and read through terrible amateur advice from people who think they know what they’re talking about.
If you’re like me — a middle-aged runner who isn’t necessarily going to win a race or even his age group but who looks to improve each time — the overload of information is intimidating. So what can we do to ensure we find the right information? Four years ago, I started running again after a 25-year break, and here are four injury prevention tips that have served me well.
Research information from multiple, credible sources
In my experience, most of us dedicated runners love to read about and discuss the sport. Which is one of the reasons for the explosion of running blogs and websites, not to mention forums, Facebook, Twitter and magazines like Runner’s World. But just because someone has a blog and a following and is even an ambassador for a website or product doesn’t mean he or she is an expert. Even if I read a suggestion about injury prevention in Runner’s World, which I personally consider a trustworthy source, I like to see it in another credible source (e.g. blogs that feature certified running coaches) to confirm it.
For instance, when I ran cross country in high school in the late 1980s, static stretching was the norm before workouts and races. When I started running again in 2012, I started reading recommendations that this approach could do more damage than good. But rather than implement a new routine right away, I weighed my experience with what I read and heard from at least five expert sources.
This past season, I stopped doing static stretches before my workouts and races and started a series of dynamic stretches. Now, when I finish my workouts I do static stretches when my muscles are warmed up, more pliable and less prone to injury. To date, I’ve avoided any serious injuries.
Listen to your medical professional
In the spring of 2014, I was gearing up my training for a fall half marathon when my sciatic nerve in my left leg started bothering me. While it didn’t prevent me from running, the pain shot through my hip and tingled to my toes when I stood up or sat down.
I went straight to my chiropractor, and the diagnosis was that my piriformis muscle was pinching my sciatic nerve. On his orders, I stopped running for three weeks until the pain was gone. Throughout five weeks of his adjustments to my spine, my chiro also gave me a few stretches specifically for my piriformis, which I did faithfully. He also recommended using a lacrosse ball for some deep tissue massage. When I got back to running, he told me to run on softer surfaces rather than just the roads to lessen the impact on my body.
I’ve incorporated all of these recommendations into my regular workout routine. Instead of always running on the roads, I do at least one track workout a week. Here in Elizabethtown, we’re fortunate to live near the Conewago Rail Trail and its gravel base that helps to to switch up the surfaces occasionally. Occasionally, I notice a little twinge in my piriformis, so I just focus some post-run stretches there — and the twinges disappeared before they became a full-fledged injury.
Apply the knowledge
It’s one thing to seek out expert advice about shin splints or the other injuries and how we runners can prevent them. But what good is that knowledge unless you actually put it to use? For instance, if you’ve read from many credible blogs and sources that strength training can be effective in avoiding injuries, you need to incorporate it into your routine.
When I started running again after my 25-year break, I didn’t do any strength training to speak of. Fortunately, I followed a smart half marathon training plan that didn’t increase my mileage too quickly, and I avoided any injuries. But as I read more about running, I realized that making strength exercises a regular part of my training was critical to staying healthy. My routine includes a variety of squats, lunges, burpees, jumps and push ups, and plyometric versions of many of them.
Not only have they kept me healthy: The strength workouts helped me drop my half marathon time by 8 minutes.
Tune into your body and respond appropriately
Although I’m not running as fast as I did in high school, I still push myself as hard as I can. Since I’m in my mid 40s, I pay close attention to my body and to the aches and pains that come with being a middle-aged runner. Last year, I was experiencing some mild lower back achiness after my runs, which I treated with stretches and foam rolling. They worked well, although they didn’t prevent the pain from returning. It wasn’t until this year, when I started regular core workouts that strengthened my midsection and back muscles, that the post-run aches disappeared.
In summary, I am not a certified coach or an expert. I’m a regular middle-aged runner who wants you to enjoy the sport of running as much as I do — and to be healthy while doing it. It just takes some effort to research how to do it, and to incorporate injury prevention into your workout routine.