Writer and Author of Running That Doesn't Suck: How To Love Running (Even If You Think You Hate It)
September 29, 2023
I sometimes completely freak out when I feel like I’ve injured myself. My head goes into a tailspin, and I fixate on worst-case scenarios: What will I not be able to do? What if my pain indicates a bigger problem, like a disease?
I chalk some of that up to being an anxiety-prone person. I’ve been working on relaxing and lightening up. I’ve listened, a little bit, to a friend of mine who’s really into pain science. The piece I really, truly get about pain science is that fear around pain exacerbates that pain.
It’s kind of like running down a rocky section of trail. If your body tenses up in fear, you’re more likely to trip and fall. Instead, staying loose and fluid allows you to confidently roll over that rugged terrain. If I tense up worrying about an injury, my body tends to feel the pain more, and even create additional pain around the actual injury.
In my newfound, partial wisdom, I’ve come to realize that I have a lot of the tools I need to help myself with my various aches and pains. And I’ve become wise to the fact that body maintenance—like weight training, foam rolling, and even sitting in cold creeks after runs—keeps me healthy and can help me avoid the pains in the first place.
I’ve also become pretty in-tune with my body, what it needs and when. Granted, I’m not immune to freaking out when I listen to my body and hear things that can make me worry, but I’ve learned to listen, reach into my toolbox, and try to help myself.
Utilizing the tools we all have access to, even without a gym or equipment of any sort, can pay big rewards in keeping you healthy.
It’s body maintenance, and we all should be doing it as a preventative measure and to help ease pains, imbalances, and injuries.
Here’s a look at a few tools you can (and should) be reaching for regularly as you become a runner at any level:
Everyone benefits from strength training. Running is both quadriceps-heavy movement, so strengthening your back line, like your hamstrings and glutes, can help keep you in balance.
Running is also a linear movement, without a lot of side-to-side motion, so strengthening your connective tissues and muscles like adductors and abductors can help you maintain muscle balance for other things, like living life…You don’t want to tear a muscle playing catch with your kid (not a linear movement).
It’s summer, and I’ve been ramping up my mileage after a few weeks doing mostly water sports. With increased running has come some aches and pains, but I’ve been thoroughly enjoying—and reaping the benefits from—sitting in cold creeks for 12-15 minutes after my runs.
I’ve been planning as many of my runs as possible to end in places I can access a creek. Once there, I take off my shoes and socks and just sit right in the water, and I swear, my legs and hips feel worlds better after runs than when I don’t do this.
There’s the whole Wim Hof Method of ice baths doing everything from reducing inflammation in the body to balancing hormones.
Whether creek baths are a toned-down version of that is debatable, but they definitely have been helping me recover and feel good.
Foam rolling is a form of self-massage. It can help increase circulation, work out tight muscles, even help with realignment by relaxing and elongating tight muscles.
If you roll on a certain muscle and it hurts, that likely means you need to foam roll that muscle. (Just don’t roll it to a pulp; you can overdo it.)
And even if you don’t have a foam roller, you can use tube-shaped items like a metal water bottle, or a can of food (for real). To soften the hard metal, try wrapping the item in a towel.
I’m using the word “mobility” instead of “stretching,” because the jury is out on the benefits of stretching before, and/or after running. Studies have found one or the other and both to be beneficial, and studies have found one or the other and both the be detrimental.
Finding what works for you regarding stretching requires some trial and error. But mobility, or, increasing range of motion by both foam rolling, dynamic stretches and movements, and some static stretching, can help every body part from hip flexors to shoulders (yes, for runners).
Every runner needs to do some body maintenance.
Work some or all of the above into your running week and benefit from less injury, more confidence, and the ability to pull from your toolbox to care for yourself.