Run injury free
by Dan Empfield 9.25.01
(www.slowtwitch.com)

The Good Book says that God surveyed all he had created and pronounced it “good.” As for most of it––blue whales, mountain lions, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite––no argument from me. First-rate job. Knees, though, how could He have beenpleased with knees?

I’ve engineering concerns with a lot of the body from the waist down. For that reason I’m going to veer from my theme of a prior article, which was on the technical aspects of running. I’ve been telling you in broad strokes how to run. I’ll spend the some time in this article telling you how to run without hurting yourself, using mechanical, remedial, and prophylactic methods designed to stave off problems.

Having spent time around running shoe companies, I can tell you it’s not a pretty business. It’s a lot like making sausage. Be an end-user, but don’t watch the process. I wish I could say, “Buy these shoes.” The unhappy reality––inasofar as I’ve observed––is that it’s rarely a good runner who designs any running company’s shoe. The new designs are not tested in an ergonomy lab. The top sponsored athletes have no meaningful input in the design process. The retailers have the shoe makers trained to build a shoe to a certain price point with maximum features and the last things that get considered are all the first points of interest when the magazines review it––and when you run in it. Comfort and support take a back seat to cosmetics and an interesting tread pattern.

But that’s the shoe biz. Nothing you can do about it, except what Abebe Bikila did––throw them away and run barefoot. But I'm not advocating that.

Here’s how I buy running shoes. I don’t buy mail order until I’ve positively zeroed in on the size and model that works for me. And what “works for me” is not simply the shoes per se, but how the shoes work with my orthotics. I’m an overpronator, and in every case I’ve got to pull out the sock liner and replace it with my orthotic. What makes a good shoe for me is: Does it fit? Is it comfortable to run in? Will it support my orthotic “in the manner in which it has become accustomed? You can add to that some other prerequisites, such as my intense dislike for shoes that are very high in back and low iin front (I don’t want to run in pumps).

I’m even more persnickety about my orthotics. Here’s where it pays to be a professional arsehole. I just won’t accept orthotics that don’t work right. If they don’t feel good by the third run, they’re not made right. If they give me “hot spots” or blisters they’re not made right. I just keep sending them back until they’re made right, because lord knows podiatrists and chiropracters aren’t afraid to charge for those things. A root problem may be that the cast wasn’t properly made of my foot. If I can’t get the orthotic to feel right after two or three visits to my orthotic maker I’ll just demand a recast and remake of the orthotic––and at no extra charge. I'm only going to pay once.

I run almost exclusively on trails. “I don’t live by trails,” you might say. Who’s fault is that? Move. Or, alternatively, find trails where you didn’t know they existed. Look for places around you that are suspiciously barren of roads. Are there trails there? If there are good trails but they’re posted with “no trespassing" signs find the owner’s house and go up and knock on the door and ask him if it’s okay to run on his trails. Four times out of five he’ll say something like, “Sure, they’re there to be used. Only thing, I don’t like anything with a motor. No dirt bikes, no ATVs. But horses, runners, mountain bikers, that’s fine.”

If and when you do run on the pavement––and I do a certain amount––stay off the canted edges of the road. Run on level roads.

If you're prone to iliotibial band syndrome, stretch yours. The best way I've found is to lay on your side on the very edge of a massage table, facing the edge, and swing your upper leg in front of the lower one. It is now hanging off the table, dangling. Let it hang there awhile on its own weight. Then flip and stretch the other.

Be careful with racing flats. Don't buy overly aggressive flats. It's a triathlon, not a 5k. Even if it does end with a 5k, it's still a triathlon. In a triathlon choose the racing shoes you'd wear in a running race twice the distance of the triathlon's run leg. I'll leave it up to you whether you should race in orthotics. I do if it's 8k or longer. 5k and down I might race in a racing flat without orthotics. Should you put your orthotics in racing flats? Depends on the flat, and the orthotic. It's extremely important that whatever shoe you wear be able to support the orthotic on the medial (inside) side, and many racing flats just aren't able to do so effectively.

Take care of your feet. Sprinkle some antifungal powder in your running shoes on a regular basis. In fact, do that in all your shoes. Keep your toenails trimmed.

In other words, take care of yourself, and don't get pushed around by anybody who sells you anything that goes on your feet. I'm particular about my feet. I've grown attached to them. I've only got two of them, and I need them both. I suspect you feel the same.

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