Today's the day: the 2016 Boston Marathon. I'm reminded that, a few years after completing my first marathon in 2007, a wave of friends began focusing on a new goal: Boston Qualifying. While speed had never been a particular goal of mine—I was usually focused on running longer and enjoying it more—suddenly I was consumed with the idea of joining them. After all, running is a sport where you can always improve, and this felt like the ultimate goal for an everyday runner. I dove headfirst into speed workouts and focused on a time goal that was probably outside of my reach. But hey, “dream big,” right?
After a few months of these workouts, I developed iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), one of the most common, painful, and hard-to-recover-from running injuries.
My first injury after four years of running was a textbook case: too much, too soon, without enough cross-training. Unfortunately, I did what many injured runners do: I continued to run, right up until I couldn’t even walk, which led to six months of being unable to run at all. As with most lessons that are learned the hard way, this one stung. It was a wake-up call to my supposed invincibility, and it eventually required me to put my pride to the side if I ever wanted to run more than a mile without pain.
Luckily, that injury helped me reclaim my true focus: running healthily for as long as possible. In the months of recovery and years of running that have followed, I’ve remained largely injury-free thanks to the following five lessons. If today's race has inspired you to step up your own running game, bear these in mind to learn from my mistakes.
1. Physical therapy isn't just for the injured.
Turns out PT isn’t just for injured runners; it’s one of the keys to preventing injuries! PT focuses on instilling good movement patterns and strengthening weak areas. Spending just a few minutes each day on one-leg balance drills, squats, and core-strengthening exercises can keep you out of the doctor’s office.
2. The warm-up isn't optional.
Not only have studies shown that five minutes of warming up can allow you to more easily run farther, we know it prevents injuries. Try a few dynamic stretches and a couple minutes of walking to prime the body for running.
3. Multitasking is sometimes OK.
I love to spend time thinking on long runs, but during the months I spent walking to recover I realized that it was a great time to get inspired, motivated, and smarter as well. Audiobooks and podcasts are amazing ways to pass the time.
4. Pain is in the brain, too.
From one of those podcasts, I learned about the idea of physical pain being caused by our thoughts—that was a game-changer. What if we chose to embrace discomfort as a sign of progress instead of shying away from it? What if that little niggle in our knee is actually us creating an excuse to stop and not real pain?
That said, it's important to listen to your body when it is telling you to stop. I know how hard it is to avoid doing too much, too fast, too soon. In fact, as a coach, I’ve had to prevent runner after runner from making the same mistakes. While the lessons I learned have helped me tremendously, they really are avoidable from the get-go!
5. Accolades aren't everything.
I love running for the pure sake of running, and sometimes that’s all that matters. My pride may want the PR for all my efforts, but my heart prefers knowing I have a long running life ahead of me. Focus on your primary goal above and beyond any ego goals.