Injuries: It’s a word that sends shivers up even the most well-aligned runner’s spine. The moment a muscle or a tendon announces its presence with even the tiniest squeak, you start to worry. You keep going, gingerly testing the protesting body part or striding along in denial, hoping it just shuts up and leaves you alone. Because an injury is a right pain in the ass/calf/heel.
Sometimes you are lucky. You rest up for a day or two and the pain disappears. Sometimes you have to work harder at it; you get out the foam roller, the ice pack, the support bandages, and you’re remedial work pays off eventually. Then there are the knots and tears that just move in and decide to stay. Massage, once something you look forward to as a relaxing treat, becomes a particularly vicious form of torture.
I thought it was just an age thing. I rarely picked up running injuries until about six months ago, when my body started falling apart like an old car held together with baling twine. Niggling lower back pain twinged now and then, a gentle intro to savage glute problems that have only just started to ease. Then knives seemed to take root in my right arch, stabbing me with each step. I even got shin splints, something I had not experienced since my first half-hearted attempts at running as an overweight college student in plimsolls.
Now it turns out my advancing years might not be the problem (or not all of the problem, at least). According to a study by Harvard Medical School and the National Running Center at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, it’s all in the footfall. The researchers examined the strides of 249 female recreational athletes by recording the impact of their steps using a force plate. They found that the key difference between athletes who were rarely or never injured and those who were injured regularly was the suddenness of impact. Unsurprisingly, softer landers fare better – just as you might hurt less if you jumped from a height and landed with flexed joints than if you landed stiff-legged.
So now I must try to quit stomping and start gliding. Apparently, one way to run softer is to listen to your steps: Gliders creep up on you without a sound, whereas Thumpers like me rarely give anybody a start with the stealthiness of their approach.
Well, spring is on the way. Maybe I’ll be tiptoeing through the tulips to a pain-free summer…