Monday, August 10, 2009

Injury Avoidance for Urban Runners

Maybe you enjoy running in the city. Or maybe, like me, you're stuck putting in miles on the asphalt because it's your only option for a lunch-break quickie or weekend long run. Either way, the concrete jungle is a harsh environment for training. Here are a few things I've learned (all of them the hard way) about staying on your feet and out of ace bandages.

Easy there, turbo... warm up!
This applies to running anywhere... but on your regular runs in the city, when time is short and you know the route, the temptation is to get right into it. Don't. Spend 10-15 minutes getting the blood flowing. Build from a shuffle to a jog, and eventually to your desired pace. Oh, and save the stretches for after your run. Stretching cold muscles is kinda bad, mmmmk?

Stay off the sidewalk!
Sure, there will be times when you can't run in the street. But realize that the sidewalk is a gauntlet of curbs, blind driveways, tree roots, and low-hanging branches that you're better off avoiding. Stay in the road (left-side, facing traffic, of course) and you'll be far less likely to twist an ankle or get flattened by a car. You'll enjoy your run more, as you can just look down the street and go, rather than worrying about avoiding obstacles with your feet. Plus, asphalt is actually some degree softer than concrete. And over the course of hundreds or thousands of miles, that small difference could prove important to your longevity. Which brings us to...

Think soft!
Look for stretches in your runs where you can get off the street. No, not onto the sidewalk. What I mean is... look for stretches of dirt, gravel, or grass and run there when you can. Your knees will thank you. And you may actually find your ankles getting stronger and more injury-resistant as they "learn" to stabilize over surface irregularities. Ok, so when you can't run on something soft, at least try to run soft. There's a time to pound the pavement, but your Sunday morning 18-miler isn't it. Keep a compact stride. Focus on getting your feet back down to the pavement as quickly and smoothly as possible. Easier on the body, and helps you improve foot-speed... it's a win-win!

Be cautious and deliberate!
Yeah, yeah... this goes against the notion of zen running, running with a 6-pack of PBR on board, and all kinds of other new-agey ideals. But if you don't want to get hurt, stay aware of what your body is doing, and plan for what it's about to do. I once pinched a nerve in my neck by spinning my head around too fast (to check for cars as I prepared to cross a street)... out for almost a week. Slow down. I've also pulled a calf muscle by taking off too fast when a stoplight turned green... out for two weeks. Slow down. Anytime you will be changing direction, speed, or intensity, take a moment to think and plan... then slow down.

Know when to walk away!
Sometimes you won't feel an injury until the next day. Sometimes you feel something pop while you're running. In the latter, stop right away. Walk. Is the pain dulling? Ok, start jogging and build slowly back up to pace if it's disappeared. If the pain lingers or gets worse, call a friggin' cab. It's the city, man! There's a time to run through pain... it's called "race day." Don't chance it right now, gambler. Fold 'em, then go home and crack a cold one.

Have any tips of your own? I'd love to hear 'em...

1 comment:

Lisa Hahn said...

I have officially gotten permission to call a cab. Yessss! Does this apply to an outta shape girl like me who tires after a mere mile? Something tells me "no".

But I'm thinking I'll try the street and grass from now on. Sounds like fun!