Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Article for NW Runner, Sept. 2012 issue: Coping With Injuries

Here's an article I recently wrote and illustrated for Northwest Runner Magazine (Sept. 2012 issue), about coping with running injuries:(click to enlarge)


Two years. Actually, closer to two and a half years. That’s how long I’ve been perpetually ‘recovering’ from my most recent running-related injury. During this time, as I’ve attempted to rehab and get back into running, I’ve experienced setbacks and triumphs. I’ve worn a walking boot, had x-rays and MRI’s, gone through two physical therapists, stopped running completely for months at a time, decided that running isn’t for me, decided that I can’t live without running, and continued to hold on tight as the emotional roller coaster whipped me around like a…well, like something that gets whipped around a lot. The injury-in-question came about partially due to genetics, and partially due to biomechanical issues. It manifested during a period of high mileage and hill training in preparation for my first (and only, thus far) marathon. I completed my marathon, but ever since, my injury has been hanging on like a stubborn cowboy riding a psychotic bull. And not just for eight seconds. And with no rodeo clown in sight. I think I’ve successfully hog-tied this simile…

I’m currently caught in a cycle of trying to gradually increase my training distance and frequency, while my body protests whenever it thinks I might be pushing just a tad too much. I'm also caught in a cycle of recording ridiculous TV shows on my DVR that I know I'll never watch. But that's a story for another publication. Or a therapist.

If you’ve run for any significant length of time, you can probably relate to my story. We runners get injured. It comes with the territory. Running is good for our health, fitness and well-being, but it can also be hard on the body, unless you're one of those genetic freaks that never gets a calf twinge or an achy knee. If that’s your story, I am in awe of you…and I despise you. I’m kidding. Come back!

For the sake of argument, let’s assume we’re all currently injured (which would make me feel better, actually, since I could probably jog my way to an age group victory on any given weekend. But then…you probably could, too. There goes that theory). How, then, do we navigate the rough waters that lay ahead? Allow me to propose a few Do’s and Don’ts.

If running has been a major part of your life (an ‘addiction’, in some cases), and you’re suddenly unable to do it due to a serious injury, you might actually have to work your way through the so-called Five Stages of Grief…at least to some extent. I did. Initially, I thought I could push my way through the discomfort (fig. 1). “I’ve had aches like this before,” I reasoned, “so I'm sure this will go away if I just keep running.” Once it became apparent that I’d have to quit running, I became frustrated (the ‘anger’ stage). Soon after, there came a period when I tried to bargain with my body; running lower mileage, fewer days per week. When even that approach proved unsuccessful, I entered a state of mild depression. Not clinical, but a definite sadness due to the fact that I couldn’t continue doing something that was such an important part of my life. The final stage—acceptance—is something I’m still working on, as I continue to test and discover what my body will allow me to do.

Going from several hours of running per week to virtually zero will have a big effect on your caloric needs. Your caloric wants, however, may not be in compliance (fig. 2). While your body was once a fuel-burning furnace, stoked by piles of pasta, pancakes and ice cream, the heat has been turned down out of necessity…or, more accurately, a lack of necessity. Unless your goal is to bulk up (yes, I’ve done it a few times), then more care must be taken in selecting both the quantity and quality of food that’s eaten while you’re sidelined.

Doing other activities, if cleared to do so by your sports doctor or PT, will not only help you to stay fit while you’re recovering from injury, but it can also help to fill the mental and emotional void that running used to fill. If you’re new to cross-training, you may find a new sport or exercise that you enjoy. Just make sure you choose an exercise that actually resembles an athletic activity, with some physical benefits (fig. 3). Good choices include aqua running, lap swimming, cycling, rowing, elliptical training, weight lifting and walking. Again, make sure your choice doesn’t affect your injury or delay your recovery.

Injuries are good reminders to be more fastidious about maintaining our bodies, especially as we get older. For most injuries, consider using the P.R.I.C.E. approach to treatment. According to, “one of the most popular acronyms to remember if you get a sports injury is PRICE, which stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. Using these immediate first aid measures is believed to relieve pain, limit swelling and protect the injured soft tissue.” Stretching, flexibility and strengthening (again, if cleared by your physician) can also play a vital role in both rehabilitation and further injury prevention. Being consistent with these programs is vital. It’s easy—for me, anyway—to be gung-ho about icing, foam-rolling and stretching for a while. It’s also easy to get lazy and forgetful after that initial zealousness fades. Be diligent and you will notice the benefits.

When I was in the full throes of my injury and unable to run, I made a conscious decision to pull away, if just a little, from the running community. Not because I didn’t want to see or communicate with my fellow runners, but because it made me more frustrated that I couldn’t join them on runs and/or compare notes online. Moping around and feeling sorry for yourself is both counterproductive and aggravating to others around you. Consider filling that void with more family time. Just remember to refrain from whining about how “I could be out doing my long run right now.” Chances are, your non-running friends and family have missed you. However…

Remember, being competitive during a half marathon is one thing. Beating your wife and kids, at all costs, in a game of Monopoly (fig. 4) is another.

Why not explore some non-athletic interests while you’re on the mend. Grab your camera and learn how to become a better photographer (fig. 5). Read some biographies or fiction. Do some gardening. Learn to cook. Those of us who are in love with running can become a bit myopic while we’re immersed in our marathon training programs. Expanding our horizons with a new hobby or two will not only make us more well-rounded people, it’s also a great way to take our minds off the fact that we’re currently unable to put miles on our running shoes.

When you’re finally able to gradually start running again, don’t let fear keep you from moving forward. Being gun-shy is understandable when coming off an injury. If a walk-run program is appropriate, stick with it until you’re ready to slowly decrease the walking and increase the running. Don’t let the feeling of being out of shape discourage you. If you have been keeping fit with cross-training, the running-specific fitness will likely return sooner than expected. But, by the same token…

We runners often share an “all-or-nothing” personality. Patience isn’t always a character trait we possess in abundance. I, for one, am guilty of this familiar pattern: a slow, measured return to running…gradually reintroducing my body to the associated stresses…monitoring how the injured area(s) respond. A couple of easy weeks go by. After one or two good-feeling runs, I wonder how just one itty-bitty tempo run would feel. Pretty good! One leads to another, which leads to a premature long run, and here comes the pain once again. Rinse and repeat.

Err on the side of caution. Despite it being a cliché, listening to your body is crucial, especially in the early stages of your comeback. Think of running as a lifetime pursuit. There will be speedwork, long runs and races in the future. Don’t rush the process.

What if the aforementioned speedwork, long runs and races aren’t in your future? If your injury permanently affects your ability to run as you once did, learning to be thankful for what you’re able to do is vital to your peace of mind. If you can only run a couple of miles two or three times a week, embrace them. Enjoy the outdoors and forget the stopwatch. Personally, there has been more than one occasion in my running ‘career’ when I thought I’d never run again. I had to walk away from running altogether, sometimes for a year or two at a time. Even though I’ve been injury-prone—even after returning—I’ve come to realize just how amazing our bodies really are. Do what you can do now. Who knows what the future will bring?

The anal-retentive, record-keeping nature of some of us runners isn’t always a helpful attribute. I’ve got spreadsheets and logbooks filled with every imaginable running record, going back to 1983. Tracking your training is good. Living in the past…not so much.

One thing I really like about 5-year age divisions in most road races is that I not only get to compete with other runners who are close to my age, but I get to set new PR’s every five years! As much as I’d love to run as fast as I did in high school (attempting to do so has sidelined me before), it’s healthier for my mental well-being to set aside the race times of the past and look forward to what I’m able to accomplish now and in the future, no matter how much slower it may be.

So, if you’re a runner who rarely or never gets injured, count your blessings and please, in the name of all of us who ARE injury-prone, don’t take it for granted!

And now, since I’m able…at least today…I’m going for a run. Afterwards, as I'm icing and stretching, I’m going to start deleting those ridiculous shows on my DVR.

Hang on…Barbara Eden Biography. Hmm…

Colin Hayes is a freelance writer and illustrator. He lives in Everett, WA with his wife, two daughters, and a crazy—yet uninjured—Labrador retriever. His running blog can be found at

Monday, September 17, 2012

More Post-Race-Wipeout Fallout

Two days after my artistic spill while being accidentally led off course during the Run for Hope 5k, I'm realizing that it was more than just a harmless little fall. Now, granted, I can play the sympathy card pretty well, and can whine with the best of them (while simultaneously acting tough and manly; hey, it's an acquired skill), but last night I noticed this lovely shiner forming on my left hip:
And this delightful bit of road rash on my left leg:
So, I've got THAT going for me.

To add injury to injury, I woke up this morning with my left palm feeling like I have a bad case of carpal tunnel syndrome. Even though it was my right palm that got torn up badly, I also landed on my left and apparently bruised the bones at the base of my palm, which I feel whenever I tilt my hand back.

At least I've got a story to go with what would have otherwise been a bit of a yawner of a 5k.

Oh, speaking of yawns, the official results have been posted:
Overall: 8 of 62
Age grp: 2 of 5
Men: 6 of 23

On September 29th, I'll be returning to my old high school, where I graduated 27 (yikes!) years ago, to run another 5k. I hope to improve my time, but I'll try to keep it to more of a 'yawner' level otherwise.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Arlington Run for Hope 5k

Quite an adventurous 5k this morning. Went off course, took a nosedive and ran my worst time of the year. Still finished 2nd in my age group (which ain't sayin' much, given the amount of runners.)

They changed the course this year. It's an out-and-back (as usual), and on the way out, it's clearly marked. On the way back, not so much. I was trailing a gal and didn't realize that she had gone off course. We got to one of those plastic flexible fences, which we had to hurdle in order to get back on course. She succeeded. I bit it hard. The trail, at that point, was pea gravel. I got a lot of it lodged within a nice hole in the palm of my hand (and got a nice road rash on my leg, to boot). Bruised my ego nearly as much as my hand and leg.
Sorry, folks. I hope you're not eating...

I lost both my momentum and my desire at that point. My plan, as usual, was to go out slow and run progressive splits. I ended up with:

7:41, 7:21, 7:22 (7:32 pace for last .18) - 23:47

Heart rate - average: 155, max: 164 

Ah, well, it was a beautiful morning. It still beats inactivity. It was also great to have the company of my friend & running clubmate Dan (who ran considerably faster. And stayed upright.)

I'll admit, though, that I still can't get used to racing this slow (I know, it's all relative, but I've slowed down considerably thanks to my long-term injury.) Got to figure out how to somehow increase my speed without the ability to put in a lot of miles and w/o too much speedwork.

I'm thinking EPO & testosterone...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Pullups, Puppies & Pain

I'll start with some news that you may be most interested in: the well-being of my 1-yr old lab Apollo. In my previous post, I mentioned that he was having some physical problems (being barely able to walk, being very lethargic and not eating). We rushed him to the animal hospital. They could only speculate on why he was acting as he was. He had his blood drawn (which came back clean) then went on pain meds for a few days. The meds helped a little. He improved slightly, but was still sluggish. This past Saturday, he started showing signs of life, so I shut down the meds. Yesterday, he was bouncing off the walls and seemed to be his old self (miraculously), so I'm hoping we're out of the woods. We had to take him for a walk for the first time in over a week just to burn off some of his pent-up energy. I still have no idea what his problem was. I'll walk him a few more times before I take him for a short run.

Just a quick update on one of my goofy little PR quests. Three weeks ago, I set a new PR for pushups in a week (1005). Last week, I decided to try the same thing with pullups. My old PR was 273. I managed to crank out 305* last week...and "boy, are my arms tired!" I know I won't be able to set these little PR's indefinitely, but these are the sorts of things that motivate me to train.

Now, regarding the 'pain' portion of the blog post title. I ran with my running club on Saturday for the first time in ages. I managed 6 miles on a relatively hilly course. As you may know, hills don't play nice with my heel. However, this run went well. I kept up (for me, currently) a solid pace (8:07) and only had some slight heel discomfort.

Two days ran 5 miles, with all miles easy except mile 3 (7:29). My heel was still angry about Saturday's jaunt and made it clear about halfway through the run. In hindsight, this should have been a shorter, easy day.

I'm running a local 5k this coming weekend. I don't expect a fast time (gee, I've never said THAT before), but as always, I do plan on putting forth the effort. I'll do an easy run on Wednesday, then shut it down until Saturday's race.

*Real pullups. Slow up and down. Not those cheating, kipping things the Crossfitters do.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My (Former?) Running Partners

This won't be my most cheerful of blog entries. I have two bits of news to share that make me disappointed and sad.

The disappointment comes in the form of my now 8th grade daughter. She goes back to school tomorrow (we start LATE around here) and begins her cross-country season next Monday (Sept. 10th.) Why would I be disappointed about that? Because she ran exactly 1 time (that's O-N-E) this summer. I obviously didn't force her to run (she still has a volatile love/hate relationship with running and I don't want her to resent it...or me), but I strongly encouraged her to even run just briefly and slowly to maintain some sort of base. Nope, not interested. The teen years are upon us, and so is the accompanying attitude and lack of motivation. I'm sure she'll still have a good XC season, but she'll be unnecessarily sore (and out of shape) for the first couple of weeks.

The sad news is, to me and my family, hard to cope with. Our 1-year old lab, Apollo, is enduring some sort of pain that affects his back, neck and legs. He's barely able to walk and has very low energy. We rushed him to the animal hospital yesterday. They drew blood (we'll get results back tonight or tomorrow), but the doc said she wasn't quite sure what was wrong with him. It's nothing orthopedic, but it could be muscular and/or neurological in nature. He possibly could have damaged his neck/spine while playing roughly at the kennel while we were on vacation, or he could have some sort of virus that's affecting his mobility or, (worse yet) a disease. Our girls are pretty upset (Natalie in particular). He's on pain meds, which seem to be helping some, but he still moves like an arthritic old dog. Obviously, he won't be my running partner again for a while. We haven't even walked him for over a week, since this all started with a slight limp before it got really bad yesterday, when he could hardly walk.

I'll post the test results and/or updates here as we get them.

I hate to end on a down note, but work is beckoning, so I better get busy.

Happy running!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

New Page

I've decided to create a new page on this blog containing links to published articles I've written (see "Published Articles," above.)

There aren't many yet, but I hope to continue as a guest writer for Northwest Runner Magazine and Outdoors NW Magazine. Currently, there are two articles, with two more in the wings (completed, yet I'm unable to post them until later as per my agreements with those publications).

I'm no 'Prose Pro,' but I do enjoy writing. Hopefully that comes across both in this blog and in the articles I've been fortunate enough to contribute to the above magazines.

With that said, I'm open to writing for other publications as well. Shoot me an email (scroll down to "Contact Me" on the right side, just above my beautiful mug.)