Competitive running requires intense training and adequate rest and recovery, nutrition, hydration, stress management, and so on. To achieve goals and become a successful runner also requires consistent long-term development and improvement, which is only possible with good health. Unfortunately, both illness and injuries create unwelcome interruptions to training and progress.
From my own experience, as well as that of my two sons (now in middle school and college, respectively), being the best you can be means operating at the boundary of health and injury. What does this mean?
My older son suffered a series of over-use injuries during his early high school years of cross country and track. Starting his junior year, he applied Phil Wharton’s Active Isolated Flexibility and strengthening exercises before and after every run (best $50 investment ever for 2 DVD’s and stretching rope!), and for the past 2 years he has been injury-free while running varsity high school cross country and track, and college cross country as a freshman. In the transition between college cross country and indoor track, he sustained a foot injury, which can be attributed to him ramping up quickly for indoor track while completing his freshman fall studies and final exams, and omitting core and other exercises. A confluence of factors led to the injury, including more stress, less sleep, reduced strengthening, and intense track workouts. As a result, my son will miss his freshman indoor season and instead focus on his outdoor season.
My younger son has been relatively injury free throughout his running career, although a weak immune system has led to several bronchial infections and other illnesses. More recently, he also suffered a hip abductor and IT band injury (inflammation from hip to knee). Because of increasing academic demand in 8th grade, he had to temporarily reduce and then suspend his Taekwondo practices (he is progressing towards his 3rd degree black belt), which removed an excellent cross-training, strengthening and flexibility opportunity. Again, several factors lead to the injury, including more stress, less sleep, reduced cross-training and strengthening, and more intense track workouts. He competed in one indoor meet, was hoping to qualify for the New Balance Indoor Nationals (junior high school mile), and is now rebuilding for the outdoor season. Although he too was using Phil Wharton’s Active Isolated Flexibility exercises, we’ve now added the strengthening exercises as well as Coach Jay Johnson’s lunge matrix.
Both of these are “painful” reminders that the human body and mind are beautiful, complex and at the same time both robust and fragile systems, and that to operate at the boundary of health and injury requires focus and attention to doing the things that will enable us to run healthy and happy. And that includes listening to our bodies and making immediate adjustments (including stopping) when something is not right. As well as learning from past mistakes.