Runners, New Activities, and Injury

As runners, we tend to be pretty confident in our physical fitness … and we should be. Many of us also tend to be pretty focused individuals – how else do you explain the drive to get in the miles when you’re tired, it’s 35 F and raining, and your friends are going out for margaritas? I’ve come to admire such traits, but they sometimes come with a cost. Twice in the past four months, I’ve engaged in an entirely new athletic activity and ended up with lingering problems. Perhaps that which makes me a decent runner also opens the door for injury…

The first incident involved me snowshoeing 50 miles across Yellowstone National Park over three days (but less than 48 hours). Heading into the adventure, I’d never seen anyone snowshoe, let alone done so myself. That said, my cardiovascular conditioning and leg strength, I had relatively few problems once I got used to the new equipment. Upon my return to DC a few days later, I went for an easy, relatively flat run commute home. My calves started out very tight and a few miles in something let loose in my right calf. I tried the same run a few days later with worse results. In the end, I ended up taking two weeks off in the heart of Marathon des Sables training because of that injury, which I directly attribute to the many miles of snowshoeing that I would neither have attempted nor been able to complete without my running background.

The Snowshoe Incident in progress

Fast forward three months to my first ever yoga class after taking part in a Lululemon event for runners. The class was certainly challenging. No, I’m not flexible. I do, however, have an open mind and tried every pose to the best of my ability… and that’s what got me into trouble. While I can run and engage in dynamic balance for hours on rocky trail, I’ve got zero foundation for prolonged periods of static balance. By being sort of able to do most positions (to some extent or another) and by focusing on doing them to the best of my ability, I beat the crap out of the lower half of my lower legs! I was very sore for two days and the session continues to affect my running negatively. A week later, my calves remain very tight such that I’ve cut my two most recent runs down 2 miles and 2.5 miles. Ouch.

Awhile ago, I heard that runners often injury themselves in their first few yoga sessions because their competitiveness pushes them to work to hard and they have the tools to damage themselves. I didn’t rule out that scenario and now know it to be true… and not be restricted to yoga. In neither of the two instances noted above did I feel myself pushing myself to a point where I was doing damage to myself. However, in merely doing that which I thought myself perfectly capable of doing, I harmed myself.

  • What do y’all think about this?
  • Anyone else have stories of hurting themselves through overexertion while trying a new sport? (Come on, I doubt I’m the only one!)
  • Has anyone found a way to keep themselves from hurting themselves when trying a news sport?

There are 10 comments

  1. Devon

    I did yoga after a long lay off from it about 4 days before CIM 08 and definitely was not a happy camper on race day.I use to cycle more but it just wrecked my back, so I had to give it up to preserve my running. Definitely can relate. I think we tend to see ourselves as simply athletes instead of just runners and therefore think transitioning to other sports should be easy. But I guess there is a transition period/learning curve in every sport. I think we just need to learn not to partake so close to race day.

  2. Derrick

    Hockey!….aka 'Ice Hockey' to our American friends;) I grew up playing competitive hockey and had a dream of playing in the NHL. I soon realized that at 5'9" and 130lbs, it wasn't likely going to happen. So, I quit hockey in high school in 1982 and started running year 'round. I haven't played hockey in years, but we have a large pond in our back yard that is a perfect outdoor rink each winter when it freezes. Sure enough, each year when I start feeling like I have some Bobby Orr moves in me, I lace up the skates and am immediately sore for days on end…back, hips, quads, glutes…everything! I guess if I did some cross training once in a while or other activities I probably wouldn't be affected as much, but I really just want to run and don't like anything else. Suppose I'll have to put up with the sore muscles for the occasional skate or pickup hockey game. And, by the way…..GO BRUINS!!!

  3. Anonymous

    Derrick, maybe a slide board to work up to those hockey moves? I'm thinking about one after looking at which muscles in my legs don't seem as developed from straight line only motion. I used to play hockey too – and did the same thing! I've also found the heavy stretching and kicks associated with Tae Kwon Do tend to work against the glutes, hammies, piriformis and adductor muscles in my legs, and the spinning motions just tear up my knees! I do both sports, so the balance of effort goes to running, with TKD ranking second in effort – so I don't tear my legs up for running. I can tell if I've "overachieved" if I have a hard time going down the steps the next morning. I sparred the night before the Blue & Gray half marathon and took a huge shot to the chest. It, and the condition of my legs from those kicks and spins messed up my run the next day. Lesson painfully learned. Bob

  4. Mike

    I had a battle with yoga and lost once too :) I can totally relate. I'm too competitive, so I tend to stick to running only. I played college hockey, then many years in adult leagues, and stopped so I didn't get injured. Slash. Cross-check. Slap shot in the foot or near the head = no good. Hack city!

  5. Andrew

    I tried a new sport once – trail running. I beat the crap outa myself so bad that now I do it all the time. I have found no effective way to run and not hurt. So I just keep doing it the only way I know how – balls to the walls!

  6. Markemmanuel

    I've been cautious with going into something too hard and too fast. I started to take yoga classes in January and eased into it. I almost broke myself getting back into running. The weather warmed up and I ran too fast and too far. Cross training isn't bad. I just have to remind myself that running is my top priority for activity. –mark–

  7. solarweasel

    i have been dealing with an aggravating hip joint since february that until recently hadn't affected my training/racing. the past three weeks it's been noticeably worse and i've fallen into a sort of pattern:-wake up, hip feels good today, get in a solid run.-next morning, hip super tight, i'll hit the stationary bike and stretch it for today-next morning wake up, hip feels good today, get in a solid run…and so on. i know that if i seek any sort of 'medical advice' (which i can't afford anyway) i am just going to be told i need to rest it for a prolonged amount of time.oh well, that's the competitive spirit — i just don't feel accomplished until i've gone for my run

  8. sdrunner

    I've always heard about how great Yoga is for you and how hard it really is. That's why I wasn't surprised to hear that you were sore for two days after Yoga. I think it's true that as a runner, you feel that you could do any other physical activity just as well (or even better) as anyone else. But sometimes, we should really just stick to what we do best, and that's running!

  9. Argentine Rocket

    I can do any kind of sport and never get injured… ehhhhrrrr…. yeah… right… What Devon said seems right on – if you start slow and build up when trying a new sport (aka, snowshoeing for an hour or two a day for a few weeks before going on a cross-country trip in Yellowstone), you should have a smaller chance of injury… Unless you are me, of course.

  10. Andy

    I know this is an old post, but I've just found the site and reading backwards. My experience with any new activity is that it is going to make you sore for the first week or two no matter what, so you just have to take it easy-ish during that time and accept that running will suffer. Specifically I did yoga about 4 days a week for one summer. It took about 1 week for the extreme soreness to wear off and at that point I started feeling absolutely incredible all the time. I'll try it again someday and just make sure it coincides with the beginning of a training cycle.

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