Several years ago Dutch researchers tracked injuries in a group of 629 runners training for a 4-mile event. In just eight weeks, nearly 26 percent of these runners had suffered at least one injury. Ouch!
Injuries are an unfortunate part of the running experience. Few runners manage to get through their first year in the sport without suffering some kind of breakdown that forces them to miss training. And it's not just beginners who break down. Elite runners do too. Most of the big names in American running today, including Shalane Flanagan, Dathan Ritzenhein, Jenny Simpson, Ryan Hall, Kara Goucher and Meb Keflezighi, have had their careers derailed by injuries at least once.
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Injuries always seem to happen at the worst possible time. You're five weeks away from a half marathon and in the best shape of your life when a foreboding pain emerges outside your left knee. In such a situation the wounded runner is usually desperate to find some kind of magical treatment that fixes the problem instantly. Once the injury has healed, a mental scar remains, often leading the runner to search for some kind of magical measure that will prevent the injury from ever recurring.
Regrettably, most of the measures that runners experiment with to fix or prevent injuries aren't magical. But there are a few products on the market that work very well to prevent or treat specific injuries in many runners, and some of them cost less than a pair of running shorts. In 30 years of running, I've experienced just about every running injury you can name, and I've tried almost every product that is designed to fix or prevent these injuries. I've accumulated a few favorites to share with you here.
A foam roller is a dense foam cylinder roughly eight inches in diameter. It works somewhat like a rolling pin. Place the foam roller on the floor, rest a particular body part on top of it, and then slowly drag that body part back and forth across the roller. This simple but sometimes painful action loosens up tight spots that contribute to injury.