Running: A Pain in the *$%!

By on 13 January, 2014 in Fun, Meg Lewis, Outdoors with 0 Comments

Photo by Kekka

I recently read a running quote that went something like “Success in running is learning to love your discomfort zone.” Sentiments like this are why many people believe that runners really are insane. I guess that’s because only crazy people would willingly continue to do something that is uncomfortable, sometimes painful, and actually enjoy it. If so, call me a crazy.

Pain is a fact when it comes to running as it is for most physical activity that results in a change in the body. There’s no way to go from not running, to being a committed runner without experiencing some pain. First there’s general muscle soreness and tenderness. Most people experience some runners knee within the first weeks of running that may recur for the first year or so from time to time. This is a little pressure and pinch in around the knee cap that you experience when running or a little after your run. It should improve over a little time and never be so painful that you can’t run through it. Shin splints will happen and are a cue to get your gait and form analyzed. Side stitches will teach you not to run on a full stomach and to hydrate properly. These and many more are temporary and just part of conditioning the body to tolerate the impact of running mile after mile.

Like any athlete, runners will also experience aches and pains from inflammation and injuries from time to time. Our bodies all have certain conformational characteristics that will present advantages or challenges as we run. For example, I’m extremely lucky that my feet have been problem free. Not even a black toenail. On the other hand, my hips are not the same height, and this causes hip joint and lower back issues. As my hamstrings tighten, my hips get twisted and my entire spine gets out of alignment. I have been through physical therapy once for pain in my hip joint and I am about to return to PT for a persistent inflammation in my lower back.

When visiting my general practitioner for the referral to physical therapy, we discussed the fact that this would be a fact of life as an avid runner. The good news and something I didn’t know, was that I can manage most of these occasional flare ups on my own and made some recommendations that you, too may find useful.

Don’t be afraid to use anti-inflammatory meds.  I tend to try not to take more than a few doses of an anti-inflammatory, because I’ve been afraid to “mask the pain” and further injure myself.  The good doctor explained that the anti-inflammatory would actually help in healing as long as I use it in addition to proper stretching, icing the injury for about 10 minutes throughout the day, and modifying my exercise to reduce impact. This could be done for 1-3 weeks and the injury should improve and heal over this time.

Incorporate stretching and cross training. Proper stretching lengths muscles and reduces the risk of injury. If you run more than a couple of miles a couple of times a week, you should really be spending more than a few minutes before and after your run doing some stretches. Invest in a mat and some stretching aids like a foam roller, a stretching strap, a couple of tennis balls and even a rolling pin can all be very useful in attacking specific areas of soreness.  Here are  few cool videos on how to use those:

I find that at least one hot yoga class a week at MJ Yoga really improves my flexibility (and peace of mind, as well). You can also pop in a yoga dvd or youtube some basic stretching sequences to find something great to add to the mix.

There are many articles out there about cross training for runners and I highly suggest that you spend some time researching what might work best for you. Swimming and biking seem to be the most popular, and have excellent benefits for runners. Both provide excellent cardio workouts, and swimming lengthens muscles with no impact whereas biking is also low impact on leg muscles and because it can be done both on the road and on the trail can provide a similar sensory experience to running for when you need to give your legs a break but want to get “out in the world.” I personally have experienced tremendous benefits of a tabata/bootcamp/cross fit style workout about three times a week a NShape Fitness with Casie Scott (334-233-8675). There are many places that you can work out like this, but the key is to do a total body workout with a lot of cardio and some light weight bearing. This improves overall fitness and can help carve away extra pounds that runners sometimes struggle with as your body becomes conditioned to the repetitive movements and pace of running. I cut minutes off of my half marathon, lost several pounds and improved my stamina tremendously by adding this kind of workout to my regimen.

Having said all of the above, please remember that persistent pain or pain that stops you from a run or a workout demands attention. Always err on the side of caution and see a doctor if you are experiencing pain. It’s far better to be sent home with an icepack and a bottle of Aleve than to cause a permanent or long lasting damage. Like running itself, it’s all part of the process of getting to know your body better and finding out exactly how amazing it is!

Meg Lewis is a runner and cupcake baker who lives the loft life in Downtown Montgomery. She regularly makes her rounds through downtown and midtown Montgomery evaluating the beer selections, live musical performances and the social atmosphere of local establishments in the company of a small and close-knit group of fabulous people.

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