family is story

There is no Glamour in Running Through Pain

148389080My social media newsfeeds are an exciting place to be these days. I read about friends’ family milestones, special events, births, transitions, new jobs, and life-change.

One prevalent life-change happening to many of my online friends is weight loss or increased physical fitness. I love it! It’s so encouraging to read about friends who’ve struggled through eating changes and “bad” training days to finally achieve that 5K race, or that 10-, 15-, or 30-pound weight loss. It gives me hope that I’ll reach some of my similar goals.

But one post that makes me cringe is the push-through-the-injury post. These are the posts that reveal an injury—“I have a broken leg”—and their physical accomplishment in spite of it—“and I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro ANYWAY! Take that shattered femur!” Yes, this is a fake, extreme example. Mostly, I read about people who have back injuries or muscle pain who WOD anyway, or run anyway, or cycle anyway.

Having been injured, and having pushed through it only to be welcomed by debilitating pain afterward (just ask my coworkers and roommate at the time), I can testify that pushing through pain is like playing with fire. It will get worse, and it will be not be pretty.

What made me think, or what makes anyone think, that there’s some glory or glamour in pushing our bodies through pain? It’s interesting that so much is made of honoring our bodies no matter what shape or size, but there’s no talk of honoring our bodies when it comes to heeding the signs of injury while striving for fitness.

Running has suited me well as my adopted exercise of choice. According to Strengths Finder, my number one strength is achiever. For me, selecting a running goal—a race, a time, a distance—provides just the right amount of very hard, achievable work. Therefore, when I struck out to complete a half marathon in 2010, I barely stopped training when I tore my quad, which led to an uneven gate, which led to a twisted, jacked up pelvis and sacrum, involving a wicked tight psoas muscle, culminating into debilitating, bent-over-at-the-waist pain. After the half marathon, I took a year off of running—not because I wanted to, but because my body wouldn’t let me run. Instead, I worked out only with yoga and Pilates, while undergoing chiropractic and massage treatment.

Though I’m light years better than I was, even now I have flair ups of pain in those previously injured, tight areas. And often I have to baby my body. So, when I read others’ posts about not letting their whatever-pain or whatever-injury sideline them, I cringe and wonder when I’ll read that their injury has gotten worse. That they can’t run, or they need surgery, or they’re in physical therapy.

For me, I’m not impressed anymore by a post boasting about “crushing the pain underneath my feet as I run.” I’m impressed by posts that boast about listening to their body: “My back was tight, so I opted for a 20-minute walk and some restorative yoga.”

Here are a few pieces of advice:

  1. Listen to what your body is whispering to you. Why does your pain need to shout or shutdown your body in order to get attention?
  2. Cross train. Every runner needs to cross train. Walk, swim, cycle, strength training—all help supplement the repetitive running motions.
  3. Strengthen your core. Specifically target your core muscles, and this doesn’t just include your abs. You need to strengthen all the muscles that attach at core joints—shoulders, hips, glutes, etc. Pilates classes are great and often offered at yoga studios. Or, if you don’t have time to drive anywhere, search for free Pilates routines on YouTube.
  4. Rest. Your body undoubtedly needs rest and recovery. Through in a foam roller on rest days and you’ve got a myofascial massage party. Click here to check out a foam roller video series at Runner’s World.
  5. Stretch. Practice yoga at your gym or yoga studio. Or, I’ve found the videos at DoYogaWithMe.com to be very useful when I didn’t have time to drive to a yoga class. In addition, educate yourself about the types of stretches you need to perform before and after your workouts. For running, check out Runner’s World stretching section of their website.
  6. Let go of the guilt, obligation, or financial responsibility that is binding you to keep running or to accomplish a race. The entry fee I paid for the Half Marathon in 2010 has cost me thousands of dollars in treatment. Had I let go of my strong-headed determination, I would’ve avoided the extent of injury I obtained, and I would’ve saved myself some money.

So, what’s your plan? Will you continue to ignore that pain in your knee or ankle or low back? Maybe it doesn’t hurt bad enough to sideline you today. But what if it continues to the point of debilitation? What pain in your body are you ignoring today?

©2013 Jennifer Wilder. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint or publish this content elsewhere, please contact me through this blog.