As much as it sucks to have to go through a running-related injury, it really is a good opportunity to learn a few things and my most recent injury was no exception. About 6 weeks ago I posted about the ins and outs of IT Band Syndrome and in the intervening time, I've learned several other things about that injury (in particular) and about preventing injury in general.
#1) Strength Training is Vital.
I'm not suggesting anyone go out and start doing 'Cross-Fit' tomorrow, that would probably be counter-productive. The goal of strengthening work for a runner is not bigger muscles. The goal is stronger muscles and muscle maintenance. The reason that strength training is so important is because the act of running itself makes certain muscle groups weaker. In particular, runners typically have weak hip muscles (hip abductors and adductors) because most of our running is done in a relatively straight-line and so the outside hip muscles never really get much work. If you think of the space between your hip and the bottom of your foot as a system, all the parts have to kept in good working condition in order for the system to work most efficiently. Any imbalance is going to cause other muscles to have to work harder and that compensation is what leads to injury.
#2) If you feel pain, take a day or two off. Listen to your body.
As I've progressed in my experience as a runner, I've become better at this, but this IT Band Syndrome was a good example of me not listening to my body. I ran for at least three days from when I first started feeling pain in my knee instead of taking a day or two off right away to let it die down. Because I ran on it, I quickly progressed from a mild case of ITBS to a severe case and that meant 6 weeks on the DL.
#3) Shoes are important.
I'm not about to re-join the Great Shoe Debate, but my thoughts have changed with regards to footwear. I still don't think that shoes can prevent injury. By that I mean, if you have bad form (heel-striker, over-pronator, etc) shoes will not fix the problem. However I now believe that if you good form, a shoe can injure you. I wish that I had gone to a shoe store that had the technology to take a good look at my gait. Most running specialty stores have this nowadays and if I had done that, I likely would not have ended up getting an arch-support shoe and would have instead opted for a neutral shoe, thus preventing this whole thing. Go get your gait checked if you haven't already. Most of these stores offer it for free and it's easy to do.
#4) Have a mind-set that is long-term.
As I got closer and closer to the date of the New York Half, I seriously questioned whether it was a good idea for me to attempt to run the race. The simple fact was that I hadn't been able to train properly for it and risked re-aggravating everything by attempting to do it. In the back of my mind I knew that the real goal was to run the Chicago Marathon next fall and that compromising that to simply participate in a half marathon seemed foolish. If it hadn't been for a couple of 100% pain free training runs during the week leading up to the half, I likely would not have run it. I could have tried but it wouldn't have been worth it to me. As much as it would have sucked to sit out, my goal is a) to run pain free and b) to complete a marathon.
#5) Find people you can talk to about it (other runners).
For me this was a life-saver. Between my wife, my buddy Stephen and my brother (among others) - I had people to talk to about the injury, to ask me how I was doing, to share the disappointment with and to ultimately share the triumph with when I was able to complete the race. I'll never forget when I had that first pain-free training run...I raced home and then immediately started calling people who'd stuck with me through the whole thing. It was really great to have support around to deal with the disappointment and setbacks.
#6) Keep doing research.
From the time that the pain started to when it finally went away, I was scouring the internet for answers. I was telling Stephen that I now know more about ITBS than I ever cared to know. I've talked to people about it, I've had runners I know talk to other runners they know about it, I've spent hours combing websites for information and I've learned a lot. For example, you cannot stretch the IT Band. It is connected to the muscles of your hip (tensor fasciae latae) and to the top of the tibia. You can't stretch your IT Band any more than you can bend your femur. You can stretch the muscles around it, but that's as good as you're going to get. Also, despite the fact that ITBS sufferers often feel the pain in their knee, the real problem isn't in the knee, it's usually above or below in the hip or feet.
#7) Keep your head up.
By accident I stumbled upon a blog entry a few months ago (before all this started) that said something along the lines of, "no matter what running injury you have, eventually it will go away." I wish I could link you to the blog post, but I can't seem to find it. Anyway - it's easy to get really down and the longer an injury wears on, the more it seems like maybe you'll never run again. Try to be positive and try to find other things that you can do. For me it was pool running, biking, lifting, swimming, etc.
I'm sure what I've had to say is nothing new under the sun. Being injured sucks but it's also a good opportunity to learn and if you're a blogger it's a good chance to learn and share that knowledge with other people. I was surprised to come across a couple of people that were also suffering with ITBS and it was really cool to be able to share things with them regarding what was and wasn't working.