Monday, February 22, 2010

The Bullet-Proof Runner

As spring inches closer and our thoughts turn to the upcoming running season, I thought I would post a series of entries excerpting an injury prevention book that I've been working on.

The phrase "Bullet-Proof Runner" popped into my head about two years ago on a winter long run. I had inadverdently taken a wrong turn and wound up running about 2-3 miles more than I had intended. In the past that would have unquestionably led to me crawling home at a much slower pace with various body pains. However I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to hold things together and in fact have a great run all the way through. I had really been focusing that winter on a core, lifting, and stretching routine to address my known imbalances. On that run I really felt the positive effects of all of this work coming together: I felt bullet-proof.

Thereafter I worked on solififying these exercises into a routine for the injured runners I saw at the office. What started as just exercise handouts evoloved into aspirations of a full-fledged book, the rough draft of which has been sitting in my word processor for at least a year now. I stopped working on it right after reading "Born to Run," thinking all of the answers had been revealed by the Tarahumara Indians. Having had the opportunity to work with dozens of more runners and other athletes since then (many of whom have read the book), and pushing things further in my own running has just solidified the basic premise of my book.

I thought posting this in blog form would allow some of my work to see the light of day, and maybe even prompt me to finish the darn thing! So without further ado, here is the Introduction:

Running is a great endeavor. It works on many different levels: it’s a great work-out, doesn’t take much time, doesn’t require much gear. Running provides time to think, or not to think. Running helps us get in touch with a very primal, fundamental means of using our bodies that as adults we don’t often experience otherwise. Nothing else quite captures the feeling of a good run. I run. I get it.

Unfortunately, for a lot of people the blessing of running comes with the curse of pain, injury, or, in the worst-case scenario, the inability to run at all. No other group of endurance athletes suffers more injuries than distance runners. The more miles you run the greater the chance you will become injured.

Some people seem to have “it” and some don’t. I need only to watch my daughter’s gymnastics class running around barefoot to realize that some people are born with that right combination of body type, feet, and intuitive form to run without worry. Combine that with a high VO2 max and the right mindset and you have a great distance runner in the making. However most of us aren’t so blessed.

For the rest of us, there is hope. You don’t have to resign yourself to running in pain. Just because you may not look like a Kenyan doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the benefits of running. You may have to work a little harder on preparing your body to run, but it is possible.

So why is it that some people can run as much as they want while others are plagued with problems? What separates the injured from the uninjured? I asked myself that question many times over the years as I sought to recapture the ease and joy of running I once had. My personal journey, combined with the experience of working with many injured runnerss, has given me some insight as to what it takes to run without injury.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about the human body it is that everything is connected. Knee pain usually results from an issue in the hip or foot. Foot pain may be due to worn-out shoes or it might relate more to what’ve happening at the hip. Hip pain usually relates to the pelvis and core. To truly understand a running injury you must utilize the holistic approach of taking into account the entire body.

Most non-traumatic musculo-skeletal pain starts with an imbalanced body. Distance running injuries are no exception; in fact running more than any other sport will uncover your underlying biomechanical issues and turn them into injury. As a runner you may work around your imbalances with various compensations. You might stay off the asphalt or limit your mileage. You might stick with the one sneaker that keeps you out of trouble, or stretch religiously. However if you have an underlying musculoskeletal imbalance, chances are it will catch up with you. It might linger silently or nag you only occasionally for years, only to manifest as a true injury when you try to increase your mileage, push the pace in a race, or allow your shoes to become a little too worn. Whatever recently changed is usually blamed for the injury, when in fact the true culprit was there all along.

Many running injuries that I have seen could have been prevented had the runner known to identify their imbalances ahead of time and also the appropriate steps to remedy them. This is what the ‘Bullet-Proof Runner’ concept is all about: empowering runners to take a more pro-active role in addressing the causes of injury as opposed to just being reactive and dealing with the effects.