On Running Injuries

Six months into learning to run, I guess I get to claim my first running injury. I sprained an extensor during a training run last weekend (on the brutal Rachel Carson Trail), and ran 36 miles on it yesterday. I wasn’t sure how it was going to hold up. Answer: not great. I can still discern the outline of an ankle, under that pulpy mass. Alas–I’m not alone.

Injuries are endemic to running–to the point, in fact, where many non-runners associate distance running with destroying one’s body. Some have blamed Nike (et al) and the advent of the modern running shoe–and in a sense, perhaps they’re right. I think that the surety of getting injured from running boils down to two things:

1) We’re not conditioned for what we set out to do. Not a lack of training, but conditioning. We’re creatures of comfort, knowledge workers, armchair jockies. It’s not the demands of running a hard race or pushing hard during a workout–it’s the contrast between being sedentary 92% of the time, and then making strong, specific demands on a body conditioned to the contours of an ergonomic desk chair. The body’s had no opportunity to develop the strength necessary to protect itself. (I herniated a disc in my lumbar spine in the same manner–throwing myself into trail work without adequate transition. It’s not that cutting on a two-man saw and lifting 100+ lb logs necessarily leads to injury–but it’s liable to if you’re a 140lb weakling with little recent experience lifting anything. The protective muscles just aren’t adequately developed.)

2) Modern shoes. They’re not the culprit–they’re just enablers. Modern shoes turn our feet into little tanks, and let us beat on our feet and our bodies in a way that evolution never prepared us for. Cushioning itself isn’t the enemy. Cushioning just allows the body to absorb bigger impacts. If running barefoot or in minimalist shoes results in fewer running injuries, it shouldn’t surprise–doing so also concomitantly results in fewer podium finishes. Refer to #1. Modern running shoes are technological marvels that allow us to exceed what was physically possible prior to their advent. If you want to spare yourself from injury, steer clear. Running shoes are aid. Running shoes are doping. Still going to strap those weapons of joint destruction to your feet? You’re going to get yourself hurt–but you just might pick up a few ribbons along the way. What were you saving your body for, anyway?

About Mark Egge

Two truths and a lie: Mark Egge is an outdoor enthusiast, opera singer, and a data science student at Carnegie Mellon University. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
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