OK, I can’t say that I suggest you go out and injure yourself as a means to becoming a better runner, but I can tell you how it’s helped me.
I’m a pretty stubborn person, just ask my wife. There are good aspects to being stubborn (like not backing away from a challenge) and bad aspects (like ignoring what’s best for you). Had I not injured my knee in October, I’m certain that the stubborn side of me would have simply continued doing what I had been doing: logging miles. Don’t get me wrong, logging miles is an important part of distance running and something that can’t be skipped. But, it’s only one part of what it takes to improve as a runner. And prior to my injury, I pretty much ignored three other very important aspects that could have helped me get better.
- Cross training. Prior to the injury, I did none of it. I simply ran and ran and ran. Anyone who has payed attention to running at all knows that cross training is very important. It works muscles that aren’t used as much during running (even in your legs) and it reduces the amount of wear and tear on the tendons, ligaments and muscles in the hip, knee and foot. Because I had to go a full month before I was allowed to run again, I was forced to give cross training a chance. While I didn’t learn to love it, I now know I can put in time on the elliptical, bike and pool and benefit from it. And maybe enjoy it, just a little bit. My current training plan now includes cross training every week.
- Strength training. Again, I pretty much ignored this while training for Chicago, and it may have played a part in the knee injury. Underdeveloped quads (common to for runners) can allow the kneecap to float around too much under stress and cause injury. And, at the end of long runs, I could feel my form starting to go south as my upper body and core strength were just not up for multiple hour efforts. When your form deteriorates, you start to compensate and you become far less less efficient. Your injury risk increases too, because compensation usually leads for terrible form. Which brings me to …
- Running form. This past summer, I attended a seminar on Chi Running, one of the handful of running form methods that attempt to help runners move from heel striking (and the injuries that can result) to midfoot/forefoot striking. While I loved what I learned there, at the time I felt that I was hip-deep in marathon training and didn’t want to risk making a wholesale form change. Looking back, maybe I should have. As I have eased back into running, I’ve given myself the time and focus to change my form. I wouldn’t say I’m 100% there yet, but it’s feeling more natural every day.
An interesting thing happened on the way back from injury. Since October, I’ve really spent a lot of time cross training, strength training, and as I’ve eased back into running, getting my form right. And wouldn’t you know it, my results are already reflecting those changes. Last week alone, I had two 4 mile runs and a 7 mile run under 8:00 min/mile average pace. To compare, prior to that, I had only ever had one run in my whole life with a sub 8:00 average.
It shouldn’t have taken an injury layoff to realize these things. They were there, right in front of me all along, but I bullheadedly kept doing the same thing. Someday, when up is down, and black is white, and dogs and cats peacefully co-exist, I’ll learn to be less stubborn. Until then, I’m enjoying the benefits of teaching this old dog some new tricks.