It takes a lot of discipline to avoid overuse injuries. Many runners, of all levels and experience, are determined to follow their training programs to the last detail, even if it means running through pain. It’s up to each of us to listen to our bodies and toe the fine line between being sore and being injured.
Through experience, we can determine if something is either sore or injured. An example of sore may come from running hill repeats for the first time in a while and having some tightness and/or discomfort in the quads and calves for the next few days. As long as the discomfort isn’t too painful, it should be fine to train through this. I recommend doing easy runs until the discomfort is gone, and then proceeding with your next hard workout once the pain has subsided. Cross-training (bike, pool, elliptical) is another option. Also, if you haven’t done so already, start a stretching routine to allow the muscles to loosen up, and ice the sore area (following your run) while you are resting to reduce inflammation. Your legs are sore because they are not used to the hills and are in the midst of recovering. If you do a hard workout while there is still discomfort in the quads/calves, it could cause an overuse injury. If your legs aren’t feeling any better after three or four days, don’t be afraid to take a day or two off.
Being injured, on the other hand, is the circumstance when we should stop running. If the pain is unbearable to run with: stop. Injury pains are often sharp sensations that do not subside once the legs are warmed up after a few minutes of running. Find the method of cross-training that will help get your heart rate up without hurting the injured spot (for example, pool-running is suitable for an injured calf muscle). This is the time to be disciplined; when in doubt, cross-train and seek a physiotherapist for a recommendation. It’s better to take a few days or even a week off of running, rather than try to run through an injury, making it worse (which can result in numerous weeks or months off).
Another tip is to take a planned day or two off each week to cross-train instead of running, even if you don’t necessarily feel any fatigue or discomfort. This tip is especially geared towards beginners. The cross-training will allow you to rest some of the muscles used when you run while still getting your heart rate up. Also, if possible, run on different terrains. Instead of pounding the pavement every day, alternating between grass, gravel, and asphalt will reduce stress on your legs.
Matt Loiselle is one of Canada’s fastest distance runners, with a 2:15:59 marathon PB. He also has a personal coaching service for runners of all levels. More information available at www.thegoodtimesrunning.com