Minor Injury?

I recently read a running analogy that was spot on (paraphrased below):

Training as a runner is like running on a mountain ledge. One side is a long, gentle slope which represents putting in less than a full effort and not maximizing your potential. The other side is a steep cliff, which you slide down when you train too hard and end up injured. The goal of training is to stay as close to the ledge as possible without sliding down the cliff.

Some running injuries can be rather serious: a torn Achilles, hairline fractures, etc. Many of these are caused by running, but some may not even be related to running. A coworker of mine was doing cartwheels with her daughter and tore a muscle or tendon on the back of her leg. She’s going to be out for several weeks. These injuries are all disheartening and can be time consuming to overcome. Some can take years and some can put you out of running forever.

Other injuries are relatively minor, but are still discouraging. These are the type of injuries that I’ve experienced lately. For example, last year I strained a calf muscle for the first time. That meant no running for about three weeks and running “on eggshells” for a few weeks after that. I’ve also strained a couple different tendons in my foot and had sore knees. These injuries may not sound like much to an outsider, and often won’t even cause a limp, but when you’re in the middle of a 16 week marathon training cycle and you have a goal, they are very frustrating.

The reason I’m writing this post today is that I suddenly have a minor issue in my knee. I’ve been training about 17 weeks for a marathon that’s one week from today. After my run on Monday I noticed at work that it hurt my knee a little to go down the stairs. I felt fine during cross training on Tuesday and forgot about it. After my run on Wednesday my knee hurt quite a bit more and started to worry me. I tried a light jog on the treadmill after cross training on Thursday and stepped off after the pain came back 4 minutes into my run. I took Friday off and then went out for a 10 miler today with one week left for the marathon. To my dismay, my knee was really hurting after ~1.5 miles and I had to turn around and walk home after <2.5 miles. Fail.

So this little pain in the center of my right knee raises some important questions:

  • How much rest is needed for this to heal?
  • Do I risk my last couple runs before the marathon this week?
  • Do I call off the marathon even though I’ve trained about 18 weeks straight for it?
  • Do I run the marathon and pull out if my knee hurts?
  • Do I run the marathon and finish it despite my knee pain?
  • If I run with this issue, do I risk making it much more serious?
  • Is finishing this marathon (and potentially getting a PR) worth a couple months on the sidelines?

The problem is, many injuries are unique in location or degree, so the questions above are not easy to answer. And who wants to throw away 18 weeks of training for an injury that’s not super serious? Ugh. (OK, the training wouldn’t be “thrown away,” but basically I’ve been looking forward to this marathon for months and I’m at a peak right now.)

So now I have some thinking to do. One optimistic way of looking at it is that at least I’m tapering right now and rest is OK. Had this happened two months ago, right in the middle of my tough training, it would have really slowed me down.

Fingers crossed.


Running Injury Prevention

While I can’t say that I’m diligent about practicing good injury prevention, I think that there are many ways to help prevent running injuries which are well documented.

Warm Up

While it may be obvious, it’s not a great idea to roll out of bed and start running full speed. Warming up for a run may include dynamic stretching, walking, or just starting slow. After a short walk, I have gotten used to doing are about 20 yards of high knees and butt-kicks. These help me warm up and also aid in developing faster turnover.

Don’t Do Too Much

First, don’t overdo it. Many running injuries happen do to pushing too hard. This goes back to finding the balance between training hard and not training enough. Training should make you sore and include some aches and pains, but proper and sufficient recovery is necessary in order to make gains.

Most running plans call for a hard workout followed by one or two days of easy workouts. If you are running for these easy workouts, make sure it is a very light “recovery” run. If you don’t recover enough, your body won’t heal and you will either not progress or get an injury.

Cross Training

The other type of recovery workout may be better for injury prevention: cross training. Cross training allows you to burn calories and get the blood pumping, but it works different muscles than running.

Some examples of good cross training activities include swimming, cycling, and rowing. All of these activities are low impact and will allow healing from running. Additionally, these activities aid injury prevention by strengthening different muscle groups. Other activities like Yoga or weight lifting can potentially be considered cross training, but they are not aerobic and may not aid quite as much for running.

I’ve found that even some high impact activities may help with injury prevention. For example, I often play basketball a couple times per week on the days I’m not running. While it’s often full court, it’s not always very intense, but I feel like it strengthens my legs in different ways since there is much more lateral movement, sprinting, jumping, and stopping than there is during running.

Stretching and Strengthening Drills

Static stretching before running has been shown to be unhelpful with injury prevention and may actually decrease performance. However, stretching after running may improve flexibility and aid with injury prevention. Many runners take a few minutes after a workout to stretch.

Similarly, certain activities such as lunges and balancing can strengthen muscles and aid in speed and strength.


Not all injuries can or will be prevented, but using a varied approach at running injury prevention can yield valuable dividends over the long term. Sometimes freak injuries occur, but minimizing the probability of injuries is valuable to anyone who doesn’t want to be sitting on the sidelines.