When Billy asked me to share my thoughts on injury prevention, my first thought was “But I’m injured all the time!” In fact, I had skipped my run the morning he asked because of lingering pains in my feet since the Longhorn 70.3. But here I am, just a few weeks later, with little or no foot pain, back to a somewhat normal training schedule, and realizing that I really haven’t had to take any significant time off from training in several years. I think this is due to the numerous lessons I learned after the even more numerous mistakes I made when I first started in this sport more than seven years ago. So maybe I am qualified to give advice on the subject. Or to at least tell you all what has (and especially what hasn’t) worked for me.
But first, let me start off by saying that I am not a doctor. I am not a physiologist. Or a chiropractor. Or physical therapist. In fact, I’ve had absolutely no formal training whatsoever as it relates to anything that I will write about in these articles. This is all based on my own reading and personal experiences. It’s basically going to be “Here’s what I do and why.”
Ok, on with the show . . .
It’s important to note from the start that we are talking about the so-called “overuse injuries” not injuries that you get from traumatic experiences such as twisting a knee or crashing a bike. So why do we get overuse injuries? It really has more to do with doing more than your body is ready to handle at the time you do it. More accurately, it has to do with doing more than certain parts of your body can handle at the time you are doing it. We’ve all heard this, but it bares repeating . . . Doing too much too soon, or going too hard too often, will eventually lead to injury.
I had an engineering professor that used to say that “In a perfect engineering world, all the parts to your car’s engine would completely fail at the same time.” In other words, we don’t live in a perfect engineering world because certain parts wear out faster or at different rates than others. Or more appropriate for this analogy, certain parts of the engine can handle stresses that other parts can’t handle. If you always drive 100 miles an hour, there are parts to your engine that will be able to handle the stress, but others wont. Unfortunately, because the bigger, more powerful parts of the engine can handle those stresses, you won’t know that the smaller, more delicate parts, can’t handle it until they fail.
This is a good analogy to our bodies, and I think describes overuse injuries in an easily understood way. Anyone who has had an extended lay off from training (and especially weight lifting) and then goes too hard their first time out understands this phenomenon all too well. Let’s take weightlifting for example. If you haven’t lifted in a while, your bigger muscles will allow you to lift A LOT more than the smaller, more delicate, connective tissues are able to handle. This is why the days after your first weight training session, you can barely move your arms. You did too much too soon, but your body didn’t tell you until it was too late. Remember this. Breakthrough workouts are how we get stronger, faster, and build more endurance. But just because your body will let you run 15 miles when your longest run in the past 6 months was only 5 miles, you are setting yourself up for disaster.
I finish almost every workout feeling like I could have done more. There are obvious exceptions, but for the most part, you should definitely not be pushing yourself to the brink of failure a majority of the time. If you do, there will be muscles that can take it, but a lot of others that can't. And eventually, they will fail.
So how do we make sure we aren’t overdoing it? Patience and Consistency. Patience to wait until the time is right to tackle that Ironman/Marathon you've always dreamed of. And consistency to gradually build up your body to the point that it can handle the training and intensity necessary for tackling such an event. The more consistent you are with your workouts, the more consistent you are with your recovery, and the more consistent you are with your nutrition, the less likely you will get overuse injuries, as long as you are also paying attention to your body. And as long as you are patient. It took me 5 years before I was finally able to attempt an Ironman. I signed up for one just one year after I got into this sport. But injuries kept me from doing it. I'm not saying it can't be done. But you will be faster, stronger, and enjoy this sport a lot longer if you are patient and don't rush into racing longer than you are ready for.
Some people say that there is no such thing as "overuse." They argue that in reality, you are undertrained for the training/racing you are doing. It's really just semantics, but the point is, you have to train in order to train more and/or at higher intensities. I can handle the 20 hour weeks at the intensities that I put in because I have been consistent for years. The pros put in 30+ hour weeks at even higher intensities because they have been even more consistent for even longer. If I were to go out and put in 30 hour weeks for the next month, I would injure myself (if I could even last a month!). I could handle 30+ hour weeks only if I were to slowly increase my training (and quit my job so that I could spend time recovering properly!). Know your current limits.
As for the here and now, don’t take extended lay off periods (I hate the term "off season" because it tends to make people think they shouldn't be doing anything). Try to do something (even if it’s just a 20 minute easy run) 5-6 days a week (AND ALWAYS TAKE ONE FULL RECOVERY DAY no matter what time of year it is – but more on this in a later post!). Be consistent, and you will be less likely to injure yourself.
Just don't try to bite off more than you can chew. You'll get there. It just takes time. Don't overestimate what you can do in the short term. But more importantly, don't underestimate what you can do in the long term if you are patient and consistent.
Consistency is key. You’ll see this theme throughout my thoughts on this subject.
That’s all I’m going to write today. The rest of the posts will be themed around what I do at different times. So I think I’ll do a post on how I prepare for a workout/race; things I do during a workout/race; things I do immediately after a workout/race; and then just recovery in general since that’s all the rest of the times of the day. Of course, like any good training plan, this could all change as we go along, especially if you ask questions, like I’m hoping you will. If what I write doesn’t make sense, please tell me using the comments section, or shoot me an email and I’ll be sure to respond.
Thanks for letting me share.