Are You Injured All The Time?

On Wednesday, I went on a run with all three of my boys. It was intended to be a birthday celebration and it was great. We ran a 4,600-meter time trial in honor of my years of life and my oldest son finished about five minutes behind me, my youngest son about two minutes in arrears and my middle boy was finished, showered, and done with his homework by the time I stumbled across the line.

Over lunch later in the day, we had a chat and it was fun. Until, in response to one of my excuses, my youngest said, prosaically. “Dad, aren’t you injured all the time?”

It stopped me in my tracks. Not because it was any great revelation but, because, in fact, it was, from his perspective, true. Here’s a kid who, at 10 years old, has lived an entire lifetime hearing about how hurt his dad is. How his knees are worn out, his feet are trashed, and his hips have the staying power of a Labrador retriever. A kid who has chased me around Hardrock, Wasatch, Vermont, and Western States, and who really knows what it means to run 100 miles without actually having done it himself. And, given his experience of watching me do it, he probably never wants to.

But, the thing is, he is right. I am injured all the time. It’s just part of the deal. Some of us deal with it better than others but if you’ve been in the ultra game for more than a decade, you know the drill. It’s just a matter of diminishing returns. The best of us know how to manage it and the rest of us know how to mitigate against it. Or, we just quit.

What will you do?

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s beer of the week comes from Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond, Virginia. Their Bourbon Barrel DIPA is, quite simply, in a class by itself.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Are you injured all the time?
  • Do you think is injury a part of the game of ultrarunning if you do it long enough, as AJW argues? Or do you think that it’s possible to do an endurance sport like this one for a long time and manage to stay mostly healthy?
Andy Jones-Wilkins: finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.

View Comments (19)

  • Hey Andy,

    interesting article! In my experience, there's a certain weekly milage i can endure without any injuries - it's pretty fixed. passing it means i put my body at risk and need to be very careful not to push it too far. i think the goal is to SLOWLY push this limit km for km over many years. I also believe you can't run 100k or more every week without finding the weak spots. at least i think that's true for 99% of us.

    I always enjoy reading your stuff - glad your blog's back!

    Cheers,

    Marcus

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  • Interesting. I am turning 30 soon, and have only really been running a year. Before that i had three years off running due to ITB issue that left me feeling it'd be better to just hit the gym and pool instead. A chiro fixed that, but this year i have battled plantar fasciitis and recently have nagging pain in both kneecaps. MRI showed nothing at all, doc thought i was lying when i said i was a runner. I foam roll, stretch, take supps, rest read blogs, order books on the subject.

    In the end, i could not be an ultrarunner if i would stop everytime something hurts (and i don't mean muscle pain). The body adjusts, so i run a bit less, try to get input from a physio i visit from time to time on how to stretch for my latest injury and overall i am still running and completing events. I still enjoy it, and wouldn't miss it for anything.

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  • I've had this huge crack in my butt for as long as I can remember. But it could be worse - if the crack were horizontal it would probably make the most annoying motorboat sound when I go down slides.

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    • I've got one of those cracks too!

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  • YOU'RE 4600 YEARS OLD?!??!?!?

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  • If you are injured that often, then you are probably running further, faster or both, than your body can sustain in the long-term.

    I am (still) capable of running sub-7 minute miles for 30+ miles a week. But if I do so for long enough, I will get injured. That was the lesson of my 30s. Since I've mostly slowed down, I run ~50 miles a week without any injuries at all for the past 4 years.

    It should be noted that I have also improved my diet (moderated the carb) and moved to minimal shoes during that time, so it's possible these things have helped too. I also take off about a whole month every year from running.

    But all of this depends on how you treat your body, and whether you listen to it. If you listen well-enough, I believe, you will be rewarded by being injury-free.

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  • I am not injured all the time, but once a year for sure. And I am run down a lot of time too. I am finally backing off more than just backing off...at least I promised myself that yesterday and took a day off today:)

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  • Top five injuries:

    (1) Plantar Fascism - when your foot rules you with an iron fist

    (2) Post-Tibietan Tendonitis - when you climb Everest way too fast

    (3) Silliotibial Band Syndrome - When you hurt your knee playing with Silly Puddy

    (4) Torn Famstring - When your family leaves you because of too many races

    (5) Chondromygeisha - When you hurt your knee in an exotic pose

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  • OK, due to many requests, here's the rest of the Top Ten injuries:

    (6) Akiddies Tendonitis - When you blow out your ankle pushing a jogging stroller

    (7) Runner's High Withdrawal Syndrome - Too many endorphins baby...

    (8) Dress Fracture - When you do too many costume races

    (9) SHorts Hernia - When you wear too much compression gear on the lower half

    (10) Gluteal Neurosis - When you worry too much about eating wheat and its effect on lower extremity digestive processes

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  • Hello, I am a 35 year old runner, and I am hurting all the time. I have been doing endurance sports in some way shape or form since I was about 15. I say hurting and not injured because I think of injuries as something that stops you from activity. I am convinced, pain never goes away, it just moves to a different spot. However, having done a lot of different sports I realize that when I am in pain from running, cycling typically helps or is at least pain free. I am admittedly a chronic over trainer, but I have learned that when something hurts, let it rest by at least going easy for a while. A friend of mine who is in his 60's and has run countless 100 milers recently told me, "You're an ultra runner now. You're supposed to be in pain. Now quit complaining and go run". I think he is on to something. I have learned to run through excruciating pain, usually in the form over nauseating IT syndrome which has been quite persistent. I like to think of a quote by Tyler Hamilton, "I'm good at pain".

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  • My dad rode a dirt bike (motorcycle) when I was a kid, and I have memories of him being banged up from crashes "all the time." When I asked him about that as an adult, I learned he only had two big crashes and perhaps another two or three minor ones with minimal trail rash that I shouldn't have even noticed. For what it's worth.

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  • I suppose there is the odd advantage to being a kid whose age in miles is not yet an ultra. I will however keep pretending those injuries spoken of don't exist (if I can run on it, it's no injury) and dream of running in the mountains when I'm as old as the guys I sometimes run with who have kids older than me.

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  • OMG...me too. We should start a support group.

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  • This article is exactly why cross training is good for us. By keeping our body aligned and using things like crossfit or a cross training regiment it may help us avoid injury, stay fresher and be able to run longer (in years of course). I however have not been running these long enough to know where I will be in ten years with this I do hope that by stretching, eating right, and cross training that I do stay healthy. I guess only time will tell. Article makes one think that is for sure. It is not easy to find the right balance.

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  • John: There's a cumulative effect to years of ultras. One thing I've learned is that it can take a looooooooong time to fully recover from 100s. Even when you think you're fully recovered, you really aren't. We do this sport because we love it but at some point you get in the hole with recovery if you press long enough. AJW, like many of us, is a warrior and we do at some point start to feel the wounds from years of battle. Sometimes I wonder if, years from now, I'm gonna be hobbling around like an ex-NFL player. That goes for all of us who run big miles every year.

    Wyatt

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  • I am not injured all the time but I often have pains. It scares me to think I might cause permanent damage that will mean living sedentary later with pain and hobbling. But I keep running anyway. In fact I run with and through pains that sedentary folks would definitely use as an excuse to move even less. I think one of the keys to keeping going is to believe that healing will happen whether you run or not - and then keep running. That's my general rule but at the same time I do believe in giving yourself time to heal. I took 8 weeks off for a lower calf muscle tear. I took a year off when my knees woke me up too often at night, and then trained myself to run differently. I took 8 weeks off when my toes started consistently going numb during runs. I taper. And I give myself time off after goal events. And I keep speed and tempo training under 20 percent of weekly volume.

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  • I would be interested, as a strength and conditioning coach, to hear how much weight training you incorporated into your running training. From the vast majority of runners I run into - get it? - most runners seem to have a deathly fear of lifting weights, other than their own body weight..and it seems to be a common thread in why so many runners are constantly experiencing strength imbalance issues, flexibility issues, and quite frankly skeletal issues. I've yet to meet a serious runner who didn't get the look of death in their eyes when I suggest they need to lift weights to get stronger to avoid these issues.

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  • Precisely zero. I do body resistance exercises (push-ups and pull-ups) about once or twice a week but that is it. I hover around 50 mile weeks. I used to do weight training but the extra pounds that I put on from weight training did not correlate to better running endurance or improved efficiency so it wasn't worth the time or effort to get to the gym and keep my mileage up. Again...experiment of one.

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  • Wow, that's somewhat depressing.

    Having run my first two 50 milers and first 100 this year, I have been lucky with injuries but also have low miles.

    If injuries become the norm as you describe, I will just exclusively do events like the 10-day, 1100+ mile and 150,000 vertical foot tour of the Pyrenees I finished last week on my bike. No injuries there ...

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