Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Shut Up and Listen

Want me to blow your socks off? I mean, in a non-dirty way?

Did you know that 65% of endurance runners are injured during an average year? The number goes up to 85% for elite runners {source}. The 65% might actually be higher for those training for marathons.

I don’t tell you this to make you want to kill yourself.

Given those statistics, more than half of us are hobbling around with some sort of injury related to running. Maybe it’s a stress fracture (like me) and you are out for months, or maybe your knee is talking back to you and you need to simply RICE (rest, ice compression, elevation) for a couple of days. Whatever the case, anyone give you flack for wanting to continue to run?

Runners get it. They expect to incur aches, pains, etc. and to  return to running better and stronger. Who doesn’t get it? Aunt Gertrude sitting in her La-Z-Boy chair smoking cigarettes. “Running is bad for you. Look what it’s doing to your body. You should quit.” Oh yeah, Auntie, kind of like those cigarettes are doing to you.

In other words, many of the people in our lives who love us and care about our well-being simply don’t understand why we keep running before, during and after we get hurt. What I have realized is they probably never will, and it’s not necessary to keep arguing about it. My token answer is to make light of it by saying something like, “I know you love me and it seems insane to you that I do this to my body. I guess I’m just crazy that way.”

All kidding aside, we still need to be careful with our bodies. This means understanding why we get injured and what we can do to (maybe) prevent problems in the future. It may not be as easy as changing your form or taking more calcium. It might involve a lifestyle and attitude adjustments.

I read a great article recently titled, “Unlocking the Runner Within Without Taking a Step.*” The author, an avid runner, asks the question, “What would happen if running were taken away from me? If I could no longer do what I’ve come to depend on for physical fitness, mental clarity as well as a sense of identity and community? Would I become depressed? Get fat? Be somehow less of an athlete?”

These are precisely the difficult questions I’ve had to ask myself since being sidelined with a hip stress fracture for the past month.

The reality is that I’m getting older, almost 44, and my body is talking back a bit. I could smack it upside the head and tell it to shut up or I could listen. Okay, maybe shut up and listen.

As the author states, “I’ve found moderation to be a very helpful approach to most things in life. Food. Wine, Watching reruns of 90210. And exercise. It took me a long time to get there with running, to stop being so rigid about what I had to do. I’m still working on it and probably always will be. But whereas I once believed putting in fewer miles or, gasp, taking  day off, would make me a lazy wimp. I’ve come to discover that it actually makes my runs better.”

Moderation? With running? Blech. But, I have goals! More is better! It is a tough concept when you are an overachiever.

Let’s face it. Moderation doesn’t sound sexy or glamorous. It sounds safe, almost as if you’re giving in. So, if it’s the word that sucks, let’s get rid of it. How about balance? Yep, sounds more positive, contemporary.

The concept of balance looks different for everyone. For me, it may mean going back to three days of running per week with extensive cross training. This worked for me in the past and kept me healthy. It may also mean choosing my races and paces carefully, and cutting myself a break if each race is not a PR or if I miss a planned run.

Once I am healthy, will I really do this? Hard to say. It’s kind of like the jewel thief in prison rehab who has the best of intentions, but get her into a jewelry store on the outside and let’s see what happens.

Finding and implementing balance takes extreme discipline. It’s hard to take care of ourselves sometimes, mostly because we don’t always know when we’re out of whack and overindulging or doing too much. Or, sometimes we do know, but we get so much benefit from doing those things, we don’t stop. Bottom line is, change is hard and takes an extreme motivator like injury or illness or loss to really kick us in the butt.

Some very wise person recently told me that I have my whole life to run, so I don't have to jam it all into a couple of years. (Thanks, Dana).

Do non-runners give you a hard time about your running, especially when injuries arise? Do you practice moderation/balance with your running?

It’s not always about poop around here,


*Thanks to Bill H. for sending me this article.


  1. I am currently injured and I can totally believe that 65% of runners are injured each year. My family thinks I am crazy for being so upset over an injury and the fact that I am planning to start training for Boston in less than two months. I am going to take your advice about moderation but it is really hard! It is time to listen to our bodies!! Great Post!

  2. I must be elite. I'm 85% injuries.

  3. I run 3 days a week (tempo, hills, lsd) and bike 3 days a week, plus one day of nada. Works for me.

  4. Also, I'd prefer my socks blown off in the dirty way, please.

  5. Good post! I feel a little more "in the know" about you runner-folk.

    I know you've mentioned before that you only recently picked up running. What did your exercise routine look like in your 20's and 30's? I would love to read a post about how you evolved into a serious runner and what motivated you to do so. Just a thought... :)

  6. GWM: Great question. I'll address it in a later post!

  7. 65% is disturbing but not at all surprising.

    I have 1 uncle who gives my a hard time but that is IT. I have also never been injured before, if i constantly got injured then i'm sure it would be different. But the uncle who always lectures me has 3 children who smoke! umm, yeah, go talk to your kids, not me.

    I have followed the advice about injury prevention to a T since i first started running 13 years ago and i have had zero problems! I also run significantly less than others bc i go for quality, not quantity(up until this year my highest weekly mileage EVER was 47) would i like to run more? HELL YES but its not worth risking an injury. I'm not concerned with hitting x amount of miles a week or getting in x amount of workouts. Heck, i don't even have a marathon plan on paper!!! I'm very happy with my running accomplishments. i want to run for a loooong time. Some of my running friends tease me saying if i'm not injured it's bc i'm not running hard enough what a horrible philosophy! haha

  8. Great post! I'm having a lot of trouble finding that "balance" now that I've recovered from a bad knee injury. I used to run 5-6 days a week, but doctor said that's what landed me on the couch. Now, I do feel like a slacker only running 3 days a week, and have trouble finding the motivation for the cross-training that I should be doing... I am inspired by your post though, and will keep up the fight, especially since I have recovered. It's a struggle. But I'd rather struggle than join ranks with Aunt Gertrude.

  9. Awesome post! I think it's important to be reminded that we need to take care of these bodies of ours.

    I've had my share of injuries and something almost always hurts in one way or another... I also have a hard time not thinking that more = better.

    I tend to take the "Stop running" advice with a grain of salt because often the source it comes from is less than reputable from a HEALTH stand-point.

  10. Looks like I've moved beyond the Elites. 85% ... child's play. Great post, and great insight. I'm slowly learning these lessons. Far too slowly.

  11. Great post and interesting article. I'm surprised the figure isn't higher. I've been out for 8 weeks with plantar fasciitis and sometimes I can't imagine being able to run as I was before. I did my first marathon in May this year, and I seem to have been injured on and off since then!

    It's probably worth taking a few months off so I heal properly, but it is so hard to do in practice. Like the jewel thief, I suspect that as soon as my foot feels better, I'll be trying to run as usual...

  12. Love this ;) I listen to my body all the time. And I'm not affraid to back off when it needs it. Sure, I have some aches and pains, but I haven't been "injured" in a couple of years so I think it's right, listening and moderation are key.
    I have a feeling you'll be the "perfect" runner when you return - this "jail sentence" or "rehab" I have a feeling will help you be smarter - and an example for all of us ;)

  13. definitely have A LOT of aunt gertrudes in my workplace not in my life ebcause my partner is very supportive. as for the coworkers i just tell them to shove it considering most of them would be classified as overweight. but i do have a hard time grasping the concept of moderation and taking it easy. im not a hard core runner or marathoner, im just a casually slow runner and yet i still get hurt.

  14. nope. no real moderation with my running here. i KNOW that balance is key (hello boston '10 training cycle!) but it's so hard to trust that. i'm hoping that this time around, with my lickity-split training plan, i smarten up a bit.

    and like someone else said, i'm surprised the stat isn't higher! i tend to follow all the good advice while i'm rehabbing an injury and for a bit afterward but then i go right back to my old ways!

  15. Hey, you may have already read this, but read "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall. You're getting hurt because you wear shoes! It will make you rethink how you run and train, and remind you to smile while doing it. I found this book incredibly inspirational, and have not suffered injury since getting rid of my thick soled running shoes and switching to the silly toe shoes everyone is talking about. It just takes longer to build up (I had to start running a few hundred yards every day, but I have freed myself from clocks and mileage.) Running is so much fun now. Please please please read it if you haven't.

  16. I've yet to be injured in 4 years of running (I'm the same age as you), and just completed my first ultramarathon. I think one thing that has helped me is I am incredibly slow and lazy and run almost exclusively on trails. I know this doesn't work for "better" runners with time goals and things, but sometimes slowing down (or not even going out at all) is the best thing for the bod. Or, this is how I console myself when everyone's flying by me and I am, again, DFL!

  17. I've learned over the years, and as I've aged, that my key is letting my body recover. It used to be I could race on a Sunday and do speedwork on a Tues., but now I know I can't handle it. I can still handle the high mileage, though, but will look for the clues as to when that can't happen. I also think that after you've been at it a while, you mellow and learn that missing a workout here or there won't break your race results. Unfortunately, most runners (me included) learn that the hard way in the first few years out there. You'll be back, more driven, but probably a bit more cautious--and that's ok!

  18. Love this. I too am a 3x/wk runner w/considerable XT thrown in. I toy with going to a higher mileage plan then think, for what?
    And I definitely have people asking me when I'm going to stop this crazy running once and for all.

  19. Great timing on your post.
    I ran the longest distance I have ever ran yesterday and my knee has been talking to me ever since.


  20. I'm not surprised by those statistics at all. Some (not pointing any fingers here) seem to be "addicted" to running. Don't get me wrong, I too am a runner but with anything we have our drug of choice, for some it is nicotine, some alcohol, some reality tv, some chocolate (me) and some running. How is being addicted to anything, whatever it is, healthy? If we are running to the point where we are continuously getting injured or like you said, not listening, to our body then we must be getting some sort of pay off for doing it. With that said we shouldn't give up things we love because of small, or not so small set backs just maybe look for healthier ways to enjoy them. Or maybe I'm just full of crap--it's one of the two. Food for thought.

  21. Yes! I'm practicing moderation right now. My chiropractor said "sometimes your body will MAKE you sit down a bit" true...

  22. my recent schiatic nerve problems have forced me to incorporate beter balance between training and therapeutic activities so I can stave off the injuries. Great post...and friends thing I'm nuts for this triathlon thing...

  23. Yes, I think my parents have wishfully thought, 'Oo, maybe this knee thing will mean she won't run anymore!' I love my parents but they don't really 'get' why my sister and I run... My patella femoral issues were a wake-up call last spring, though... I dealt with it, but then I sort of pushed snoozed for like 5 months and now the alarm is going off again and my body is telling me that I need to train differently. I am not doing any racing, besides some easy 5ks/10ks/etc for awhile. I need to focus on strengthening my hips and glutes so the patella issues stay away. I amr eally bad at talking the talk and then failing ot walk the walk... But I realy want to be better about doing my PT exercises, cross training, and strength training this fall winter so I am healthy when I train for my 1/2 starting in February...

  24. Do they give me a hard time? Is there any other way for them to be?

    Moderation. I don't run all day. Does that count?

  25. You I've tried it all, cross training, taking time off slowing down.. I know how you feel!! I can say for me my new way is working but it's not for everyone.

  26. moder-what. nope. in NOTHING. I suck. Probably why you should NOT meet me in Vegas.

  27. Yup, I definitely get the comments from non-runners when I get injured...the "your knees are gonna give out", "you know, marathoners can drop dead", "you're crazy"....LOL. It bugged me like crazy in the beginning but I'm trying to let it go because generally the comments come from those who exemplify "Aunt Gertrude".

    I totally agree that moderation is the key - hard to do but so very true. And thanks for the reminder to take care of our bodies...we have many more races and running years ahead of us, we need to look after our bodies!

  28. Non-runners don't give me a hard time, because it doesn't occur to them to think of me as a runner. As a wheelchair racer, I'm constantly trying to find the balance between my abilities and my capacities. I haven't injured myself racing yet, but I figure there's a crash in my future.

  29. I'm all for the balance thing. I've never been one to go all out with my training in running or triathlons. That would definitely cause me to get injured. So, I do what I can when I can and let the paces fall where they may!

  30. I've been where you're at (in my case I had a tibial stress fracture which took me away from running for a month) and have similarly struggled explaining my injury to others. I found that significantly increasing my cross-training (i.e. pool running and biking) saved my morale, but after I recovered I went back to running nearly exclusively. I guess the reason is that the joy that I experience while running just isn't matched by other activities. Good luck in your recovery!

  31. Hmm, 2 years ago I had an ankle injury but it was from judo, not running. However, it kept me from running. Does that count?

  32. I got injured before I ran. I got plantar fascitis, hip bursitis, pinched nerves, etc...

    I will gladly take the occasional running injury rather then the ones I used to get from obesity. And, I will start running again as soon as it's safe to do so.

  33. I have learned that lesson the hard way. Off came the shoes. In came 100% barefoot running and patience for building up my running fitness. It is a long process but I am seeing positive results already. Gone are old aches and pains. For me this seems to be the right way to go.

  34. Hi Beth,
    I was plagued with 2 injuries before my first half marathon in Feb. and have learned to listen to my body more. Your post was very good! Was thinking about you and your did it go?

  35. i do the sprint tris b/c i think if i just run i will get injured

  36. My non-running uncle who is a doctor says to me, "you're destroying your knees by running". ugh! =/

  37. I listened really closely - but my body whispered. Kristina said it lied. Life is risky.

  38. LOL Yeah go shoeless.

    I get some comments from people, usually overweight and unmotivated people. Some boggle my mind; my FIL grumbles about me running and especially the injuries part but he gets injured golfing and still golfs. My friends get hurt playing ball, hockey, soccer, rugby. They keep playing. If I get hurt running; people tell me I should stop before it kills me. HUH?

  39. Sometimes i need to take a step back from the situation and remember I have forever to run too. It all doesn't have to happen right this minute... even though we live in a microwave society and everyone wants everything NOW, i'm going to try my hardest and think more level headed.

  40. Great post! I think this really important for all runners to read. Getting back into running again after a serious injury has made me that much more aware that I can't take my body for granted. It can only handle so much.

  41. I just got my walking boot off the other day and I am still 3-4 weeks from running a non-aqua step. The "I'm worried about you" comments came fast and furious at first, and now I just get them weekly;). While I still have big goals, one of my current ones is no comments about my injury for a year. Realistic? who knows, Would it be nice, heck yeah!

    Good perspective and hope the aqua running goes well. The buoyancy belt resembles love handles a little bit, but its better than getting them by not aqua running!

  42. Do I hear a potential triathlete maybe bubbling to the surface??? why do you think i love x-training for triathlons? I'm not talkin' crazy IM's, but cool OD's and maybe one HIM. What i'm finding is, I'd rather race faster, then go long endurance. I don't have the legs/run time to do a marathon. I don't wanna get seriously injured. I know I have a PF issue, but on the spectrum it's seeming benign.

    Great post Beth!;-)

  43. Currently sort of minor injury here... While it won't keep me from my long term goals my boyfriend always points out, "I know how much you love running, but remember how important it is that you can walk tomorrow, too." Moderation, baby.

  44. I definitely have a hard time with moderation... when I love doing something I tend to go a bit overboard...

  45. I think you really are onto something here. Of course, it's one of those "I know what you are saying is true and I should listen, but I also know I'm going to keep doing what I am doing and not listen right now" kinds of things. I'm an overachiever. I'm a mother to two small children. I'm a university professor. I've gotten numerous actual awards for continuing to be an athlete and perform with injuries. It's hard to break that mindset. But as I get older I am at least thinking about longevity. I see people out there running in their 60s, and I realize that the only way I will get to be that person is to cross-train and have some balance today. Are our goals really to train like madwoman today and burn out our bodies or to train smarter and for the long haul? The endurance event is not the next marathon. The endurance event is being a runner for life. I'm not claiming I am in this mindset at all, but I'm thinking about it and hope to get there. Probably while I'm sitting around cursing an injury because I was too stupid to slow down.

  46. Moderation is super hard. But, I also learned the hard way that if I want to live to run another day, it takes moderation all the time and complete rest sometimes.

  47. i hated how everyone asked me if my achilles injury was due to running and that some called it an "overuse" injury. suck it.

    but with that being said, i do believe it moderation. cross training is a perfect way to achieve that. i'd rather log moderate miles and cross train than only run and risk breaking down the same joints/muscles.

  48. Beth, fantastic post! For a runner I think the concept of "balance" is a lot more palatable than "moderation". Unless we are out there winning races, our time goals are somewhat arbitrary. Unfortunately achieving a faster time goal today which we are all driven to do, might have implications on our running tomorrow. In addition to short term time and distance goals, a long term goal should always include a life time filled with running. In the long term, tortoise will always beat the hare. Consequently, there must be balance between short term and long term goals. With balance, you don't need moderation!

    Non-runners will never understand. Without experiencing the true joy of running and fitness, they will never have the insight necessary to understand.


  49. Great post, please keep posting i already bookmarked you site.
    pearl izumi

  50. I have managed to stay injury free somehow! I have been running less than 2 years have ran/trained for 3 halfs and 1 full. Plus I was a 5K junkie for awhile and racked up about 20 of those.

    I think I am injury free because I don't push too hard on the speed which makes for slowing running (9 to 10 minutes miles) but my legs can taking a pounding for a long time.

    2 things I can not do:
    stop and walk
    do the elliptical

    Go figure!

  51. Great post! My mother and my sister think I totally over do it and just don't get it. My husband played football in college so he has the opposite mentality. He wants me safe but doesn't flinch when I want to grin and bear it.

    Winks & Smiles,

  52. Non-runners do give me crap. I called them out on it and they said "we're just worried about you." Well, don't worry. I do practice moderation though - I usually only run 3x a week. Sometimes 4. But never more. I hate it :( I wish I could run high mileage weeks.

  53. YES!!! I get bothred by non runners All the time and it bugs the shit out of me. usually I'll pretty unapologetically say something smart and quick like "well, what is the leading cause of death in america? Bad knees? Nope, it is heart disease. Which one are you preventing?"

    Shuts 'em RIGHT up.

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