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After running a tough four-mile race in hilly Central Park, I was basking in the glory of setting a personal best when I noticed a sharp pain in my calf. It was the moment all runners dread—when you realize that a nagging soreness is actually a full-blown injury that could spell months of recovery. For me, it meant eight weeks of limping and gazing longingly at my running shoes.
On the upside, I learned a lot during my rehabilitation. There are only a certain number of steps that runners can take after they're already injured—and rest will always be the primary component of treatment. It's what we do when we're healthy that truly makes the difference. If you follow these guidelines, you can prevent little pains from becoming big problems.
The single most effective way to prevent injury is to think before you train. Most running injuries are due to overuse—doing too much, too soon, too fast. Plan your training
so that you can track your mileage and ensure that you are building your base cautiously. Having a weekly plan will help you avoid the overtraining that often leads to injury.
Michael Conlon, running coach and owner of Finish Line Physical Therapy, suggests the following rules of thumb: never increase your total volume of running by more than 10 to 15 percent each week, or your weekly long run by more than two miles.
Always remember to incorporate time off into your schedule. Rest days are crucial because they help you repair the muscles you break down while running. Doing difficult runs back-to back won't allow your body proper time to recover. Overall, Conlon recommends, "Stay positive and keep focused by planning realistic, achievable goals."
Perfect Your Form
"Chronic pain and injuries are often caused and aggravated by bad habits in our posture and gait," says physical therapist Rik Misuria, owner of Central Park & Bryant Park Physical Therapy. Many runners trod along unaware of the imbalances in their form, and this can lead to problems down the line.
In my case, a videotaped analysis of my gait revealed that I was favoring my right side when I ran—likely the cause of the calf injury. I also discovered that I drag my legs forward rather lifting them up, and I land on my feet heel-to-toe, which can also cause calf and knee problems. Becoming aware of my stride's imperfections enabled me to improve these habits. Misuria believes that it takes the average person only one month of practice to make slight modifications in their form, which can lead to a lifetime free of chronic injury.
Having your run analyzed can be pricy: $100 to $300 for the first session, and $65 to $150 for follow-up evaluations. However, your health insurance may cover some of this cost. Think it of this way—spending money on your form while you're healthy may prevent you from shelling out even bigger bucks on injury-related medical bills.