Keep Fit: Running on Empty? Injury Prevention Tips

Last weekend, I had one goal: Run 16 miles.

Well, two goals. The second one was to attend the Hampton Bays St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

I was only successful at accomplishing one. Don’t get me wrong. The parade was fun. The number of bagpipe bands trumped Montauk’s parade, so I was told. It was a chilly but sunny day, perfect for hopping between the indoor and temporary outdoor setups that Buckley’s Inn Between had going on.

But after Saturday’s festivities, I was prepared to conquer my real weekend mission. The Long Run.

Two weeks ago, I knocked out 14 miles with some of my Wake Forest cross-country teammates. It was my second 14-miler of the month, and at somewhere around an 8:45 mile pace, it was the good kind of difficult. The kind that gives you runner’s high and allows you to order a greasy egg ’n’ cheese bagel, coffee and fro yo to enjoy with post-run convos about how accomplished you feel.

Unfortunately, I ran the 14 with a sore knee that had been bothering me for a few days leading up to the run. And I paid for it during the week. As a runner, mild pains are unbelievably frustrating. Obviously, a small ache is preferable to having a full-blown running injury, but it’s so hard to know when to back off and when to run through it, which is what I typically want to do.

As the weather gets warmer—allegedly—I’d like to think that more Hamptonites are going to be hitting the streets to work out. It’s normal to experience some soreness. “Pounding pavement” is not just some fun alliteration, and there are some precautionary injury-prevention tips to take before heading out:

1. Don’t run in old running shoes. Not having the proper support is often a huge injury factor. A basic rule of thumb is to replace your shoes every 300 to 400 miles. After that, the shoe’s cushioning and stability usually break down.

2. If conditions permit, consider running in the middle of the road. Obviously, be mindful of where you are. Don’t run in the middle of, say, Montauk Highway. But the roads are slanted toward the sides to allow for drainage, so the flattest part of the street is in the middle. You won’t necessarily notice that your feet are striking on an incline for a four- or five-mile run, but you will if your mileage is getting up there.

3. Especially if you’re new to running, consider supplementing your exercise routine with cross training. You’ll maintain your fitness while working different muscles.

4. Don’t increase your mileage too quickly. Pay attention to your body and back off if it gets too tough.

I heeded the last sentence, and my 16-mile run turned into a 15-mile walk-run combo.

Fortunately, my first eight miles were awesome. I left my house and started on a loop to Coopers Beach, stopping once to stretch, and enjoyed the sunshine.

But then I started to break down, feel sore and concentrate on everything that was going wrong. I’ve been running long enough to know that when you lose focus on a run, you’re done. Running is such a funny mental game—it requires your full attention but also allows you to zone out. Your drive to complete a run is always at odds with the rationality that you should stop.

I stopped last Sunday. And I was thankful for my rolly-chair at work on Monday. Should I have stopped sooner? Probably.

Was taking Monday and Tuesday off from running more painful than the soreness? Maybe.

I appreciate running. And living on the East End, there’s a lot of motivation to stay healthy through summer. I’ll keep the area’s many 5Ks in mind as I make the tough running decisions.

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