Nagging Pains – When (and when not) to Run

When training into peak shape you want to get everything you can out of your body.  Pushing your limits and stressing your body are essential in building your fitness, strength, and speed.  Whether you’re increasing or holding high mileage or high intensity workouts, there is a potential for your body to break down.  Actually, your body is breaking down every time you run or workout, but hopefully you’re able to recover and rebuild a higher level of fitness before your next workout or quality day.  When flirting with your physical limits of stress, even smart and experienced runners come across nagging aches and pains on a daily or weekly basis – not all are good signs of fitness gains but not all are necessarily terrible or dictate time away from running either.  Below are 5 tips to keep in mind when you come across your aches and pains:

1) Onset – Did that pain in your knee / foot / ankle come on gradually or suddenly?  A minor ache increasing over the last few days (especially after interval or track workouts) does indicate an irritation and needs attention but not in the same way a twisted ankle or broken foot (when you hear the SNAP!).  An acute break is different from an irritation.

2) Natural Stride – This is the number one indicator I address when determining if continued running is safe.  When my natural stride is no longer feasible without intense or shooting pain, it’s time to chill out.  You might be able to limp along and get in some miles, but this will almost certainly incur additional other aches / pains / injuries as your overcompensation will effect your now not-so-natural mechanics.

3) Tracking Progress – Keep track of HOW and WHEN your ache/pain is feeling … if you’re going to run through it, there needs to be a point when it starts to feel better.  You’ve got to do a gut check EVERYDAY at distinct times.  Now, don’t get carried away and dwell on your injury, this will lead to playing mental-chicken with yourself as you over analyze every creak and ache which can actually physically make it feel worse.  I like to track (on a scale of 1 to 10) my first steps out of bed, when I start running, at 1/2 mile, at 4 miles, end of run, and how it feels into the evening …. about 6 times /day ….. DO NOT stretch, walk 3 steps in work shoes, stretch more, jog 6 steps, repeat every half hour.

4) Care – Aches and pains are different from broken bones or acute sprains / breaks … different care for different trauma.  Most aches / pains include swelling and stiffness – alternate heat and cold for 15 minutes at a time to get good circulation flowing.  Ibuprofen can not only mask some pain to preserve proper mechanics but also act as an anti-inflammatory.  BE CAREFUL WITH STRETCHING … inflamed tendons (think Achilles tendonitis) can feel tight and swollen but stretching every 5 minutes can be the worst thing you can do.  Your micro-tears don’t need to be stretched (torn) even more, it needs blood flow (oxygen) and often times scar tissue flushed out via massage and/or even scraping by a professional.  Consult your sports medicine specialist for all appropriate treatment for your aches and pains.

5) Training Cycle – Be aware of where you are in your training cycle and how far out you are from an important or peak race.  It’s always best to be a bit more conservative the earlier you are in your preparations as you’ve got time to recover and get back into some quality training.  2 days off 7 weeks out from a peak race is better than 2 weeks off when coming right down to the wire.

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