I would like to talk to you all about a practical note concerning your running. As I look back on the past thirty years of my own running I have noticed a certain theme that often developed before I became injured. That theme is a lack of variety in my activity and training. In essence I have found that before I have gotten injured in times past I have often stopped doing “other things” besides running- and have found that in those times even my running had grown a bit monochromatic.
I was at a running clinic some years ago when a doctor suggested to me that sometimes all a runner needs to lower their chance and severity of injury is to wake up in the morning, go out the door, and just turn right. What does that mean, you ask (and I did too, of course)? Well what he had said was that he had been speaking with a patient who had knee pain and found out that this patient ran the same route the same direction day in and day out for the past year. Every morning he would lace up his running shoes, head out his door, and turn left to run the same 3 mile route counter-clockwise from his home. He would not vary his distance, rarely vary his pace, and he was continually running in the same counter clockwise manner.
The patient was always turning left and his hips and knees were being affected. So the doctor asked him, “have you ever considered running the same route in the other direction?” The patient had not. He was a creature of habit. It had just never occurred to him. So, armed with a new plan, the patient went home and began alternating the direction of his run every outing. Four weeks later he came back to the doctor for a follow up visit and excitedly told him he had no knee pain. This introduction of variety in the running had made a noticeable difference in less than a month. That was what he had meant by the phrase, “sometimes you just have to turn right.”
Now I am no doctor and I am not here to give anyone actual medical advice (of course), but it got me thinking about the time I first got shin splints. I had stopped lifting weights for a race season thinking it might slow me down. I had also lowered the number of other outdoor activities I had been doing- and I had not changed my running shoes for quite some time. When I finally got a PR I had been hoping for I couldn’t run for a week after and actually walked with a limp for longer than that. It had not occurred to me that I (like the aforementioned doctor’s patient) could have stood to keep some variety in my training and movement. I likely would have benefited greatly if I could have remembered to, “sometimes turn right.”
Having grown older (and hopefully at least a little wiser) it occurs to me that one piece of advice I would give any runner is to include variety in your movement. I now know that lifting weights is not antithetical to running. I know that cross-training is a benefit and not a distraction. And of course I know that my body does not really care if I call movement (or lack thereof) “training” or “living”- as far as my body is concerned movement is movement.
Stillness is stillness. My body wants variety. I try to listen and I recommend everyone else do the same.
So while I completely understand the creature of habit (being one myself), I know that my body does not care so much about my descriptors such as good or bad in regards to exercise or lifestyle choices. It only understands inputs and consequences. And as such, if it desires variety of movement then I better give it what it wants. I will ride my bike. I will do strength training. I will run at different speeds. I will do my best to not sit for 8 hours in the same position every day. I will mix it up. And of course, sometimes, I will even turn right.