The Perils of an Eager Runner: Lewis Craig’s Story
I’m an Eager Runner
Running is a constant juggling act of balancing smart, hard training to maximise performance; against rest, recovery and all things injury prevention. One’s attitude and mindset towards training can be your biggest strength or your biggest weakness. The “It’ll be right, run it out” attitude that I think all runners and athletes have (to differing degrees) can be our biggest weakness. A mindset you might not even yet realise that you have. It is, and well hopefully now was my biggest weakness. Here’s a self reflection as a runner and physiotherapist of some of my big mistakes over the past 3 years, resulting in multiple injuries and how my “Nah, it’ll be right” approach was my downfall.
What do you mean “It’ll be right”?
As runners or athletes of many different levels, when it comes to something we love or enjoy, whether it be running, playing soccer or netball or climbing mountains it can be very hard to simply not run or sit on the sidelines and watch. We all run or play sport for different reasons and when we passionately know why we do it, the thought of not doing it or being injured can be daunting and terrifying. We reflexively don’t want any little issues to be problems or injuries brewing so it is often easiest to push those thoughts to the back of your mind, say ‘it’ll be right,’ and keep on keeping on. Part of this is ingrained in our competitive nature and the need for hard training; we have sore bits all the time. It’d be naive to think that these are all injuries waiting to happen or require attention. Additionally the time and cost it takes to look at injuries and complete rehabilitation is a commitment we’d all prefer to avoid. The just ‘suck it up’ approach is still also apparent in the community, not wanting to be a hypochondriac for thinking something is wrong when its not. Finally we don’t want to miss out. We don’t want to miss running with our friends or training with the team. It is from these foundations that the “It’ll be right” attitude is born. It is that big loud voice that tells the little voice in the back of your head to be quiet and ignore what it has to say. For example, my shins been sore all week, I’ll still do my long run; I tweaked my hammy in last weeks game, I can jog ok, it’s a big game so I’ll play this weekend; I rolled my ankle last week but I’ll tape it up and it’ll be right. The list goes on. And on. I’ve told myself “It’ll be right” A LOT.
It’ll be right and It’s Relationship to Injury
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Reflecting back on my past injuries I’ve been able to see the many errors in my ways. My clients will almost always see theirs too, it may take a bit of investigating and unpacking training, strength, mobility and or technique to see where things went wrong. Many of my own errors are preceded by a “It’ll be right” moment or series of moments.
Here’s a list of some of my injuries and my rookie errors:
- Multiple Lateral Ankle Sprains – incomplete rehabilitation, taking a “It’ll be right approach” and returning to running and Football before developing full range of motion and high level stability.
- Calf Strain (tear) – A spike in training load, a big week of running and speed sessions combined with an extra Football game and incomplete strength training after a recent ankle sprain.
- Patellofemoral pain (anterior knee pain) and ITB pain – being lazy with poor diet and recovery after an ultra, combined with reduced strength training resulted in glutes and quads strength and muscle loss. Error of not listening to the recovery needs of my body and the holistic aspects of my health.
- Achilles Tendinopathy – running an ultra soon after coming out of a moonboot, the error being a big case of too much, too soon (training load error). My calf and Achilles didn’t have the load and strength needed for the event. I knew this but it was something I really wanted to do and knew I could put up with to finish the race.
Runners and athletes commonly tell me similar stories, such as; I knew I should have seen you a few weeks ago, or I was just hoping it would go away. The “It’ll be right” approach overrides the common sense, I know what I should have done approach. The good news being that if you recognise these bits and pieces you’re already a step ahead, because you are listening to your body.
Listening to your Body
I firmly believe that the number one, most important and critical thing for a runner is to listen to their body. Listen to your body. At first I didn’t like this phase, to me it was wishy washy, how do I do that, don’t you need years of experience to do that, it seems hard to measure and well sometimes I don’t want to listen to myself. My attitude has greatly changed over the past years, treating runners and listening to a little voice in the back of my own head I have started to hear what my body tells me. For me listening to my body needs to be simple and practical. Here’s how I do it:
- Pre-run/sport – quick scan how am I feeling overall? Thinking what’s tight, fatigued, sore, am I tired? Ect..
- During run – Every 10-15 min what is struggling most? If you listen to this one often you’ll know!
- Post run – as for pre-run how am I feeling overall
- I keep a diary of the most important factors (3 at most)
- Mentioning the same thing 2-3x in consecutive training sessions means I need to give that issue some extra attention and evaluation.
- Train using RPE (rating of perceived exertion) – a simple 0 to 10 rating of how hard you are working, these often correlate well to HR zones. For example a recovery run, or easy conversational aerobic run should be a RPE of 4 or 5. I multiple my RPE by the length of the session and that’s my session workload and add it up for the week – more on this can be found here.
Translating Listening Into Actionable Items
Unfortunately we are not all able to work hard, stay focused and motived, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for months on end. I can be really motivated or couldn’t be bothered when it comes to my running at really any point in time. This is also common when it comes to rehabilitation or prehab (pre-rehabilitation or prior to injury). Motivation to do exercises and the 1%’s (stretching, foam rolling, active recovery, massage, physio ect), tends to drop off once your back running, out of pain or things are just going smoothly. I encourage myself and other active individuals to continue rehab exercises long after their pain or injury goes. In cases of tendon pain, this may be for several months after or even to a regular lifelong routine. If you start listening to your body here are some recommendations for using that information.
- If you are recovering from an injury ask your treating practitioner what end stage rehab should include and ensure you reach and complete this aspect
- Write things down, keeping a regular record or training and the body’s response makes things much easier to recall later.
- At the very minimum stretch and strengthen what gets sore most often
- If something continues to bother you, seek further information. If it doesn’t get better with rest or the same issue 2-3 times in a row or over the course of a week, seek some help.
- Do regular strength training, there is great evidence to support even two 30minute strength sessions a week significantly reduces the risk of many injuries and builds the body’s capacity to manage training loads.
- If you are listening to your body but don’t understand what its telling you, seek the help of a health professional. For example, my calf gets sore towards the end of my run, why? Is it strength deficits, reduced hip range of movement, my week volume is significantly increased ect ect.
“It’ll be right” versus mental toughness
As we have talked about above listening to and understanding your own running or sporting self is a key foundation for all things training and performance. In the quest for adaptations and self-improvement there is a need for hard work. Training hard, pushing your limits and the physical and mental toughness that this develops doesn’t mean you have to take the ‘It’ll be right’ approach. What you choose to do with the information your body tells you is your call. Learning to know what’s general soreness, recognising what is different or repeatedly sore and acting on it is key. There are times where it is important choose to ignore it, say kilometre 38 of a marathon. I’m advocating for listening to your body and and deciding whether what it tells you has merit.
Listen to your body and then next time you say ‘It’ll be right,’ it’ll be because your body is telling you that, rather than wanting or willing it to. Listen to your body and avoid those ‘it’ll be right’ injuries. I think I’ll start to too.
Lewis Craig (APAM)
Masters of Physiotherapy
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