I think one of the reasons that there are so many books, magazines, newsletters, articles, websites, and blogs devoted to running is because there are so many (perhaps too many) variables to consider when deciding upon training methods, shoe selection, and, most importantly to the masters runner, injury prevention and injury remediation. Part of this stems from the fickle nature of the human body, as well as the fact that our experiences of our own, individual bodies are often unique to us. This is a roundabout way of getting back to Dr. George Sheehan’s assertion that “we are an experiment-of-one.” The nature of good experimentation itself, however, militates against this idea. You can’t, for example, run a good study without trials, control groups, and enough subjects to result in statistical relevance, to name several aspects of experimentation that require multiple subjects. One of the things that runners do is to try to adapt the results of experiments and studies to their own individual needs. As everyone visiting this website is probably aware, this is a tricky endeavor because, simply put, we are all different. I am increasingly convinced that there are no universal solutions and that it is important to step back from the bandwagon and assess what is really going on before pronouncing a magic training bullet. (I’m looking at you, barefoot running…) What works well for one runner might not work as well for another, or might even result in less than favorable results, to put it mildly. This recognition extends to all aspects of running, not just injury prevention and recovery. This, of course, helps to explain websites devoted to constant discussions of training plans and shoe reviews.
I’m writing this short entry in advance of an upcoming piece on “leg cramps and how to deal with them” to think about how runners actually use information. To help illustrate the point I am trying to make, I am going to tell a story. I imagine that it will be all too familiar for some of us. During the spring of 2010, I was recovering from a hobbling case of plantar fasciitis when I started to notice a slight pain in my right shin. Not to worry, I told myself, it’s probably just shin splints – some ice, backing off the mileage, and this will go away in no time. A week later, the pain was more intense and it began to feel like my tibia was about to give out. I was starting to panic. I stopped running for a week. I got an MRI and an X-ray. I didn’t feel like it was getting better. The beginning of the summer was slipping away. I was missing goal races. I was getting depressed. Then I did what many of us do when confronted by injury: I applied all remedies – all remedies at once. I drank tart cherry juice, iced, used heat, discovered KT Tape, replaced my shoes, and swam. My tibia did eventually improve; but I can’t tell you why. Was it a combination of remedies? Was it the cherry juice? The swimming? Thinking back on it, I did experience rapid improvement while I was drinking tart cherry juice, but it was ultimately way too expensive. Perhaps it was the fact that I had been resting my leg for several weeks.
Anyway, the approach that most of us use to deal with injury is completely unscientific and usually consists of trying anything to get back to running. We try several things at once, introduce numerous new variables, and are left wondering what ultimately worked. From a psychological viewpoint, the “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” injury solution makes sense – we want to get back to running as soon as possible because we feel miserable not running. To develop efficient and effective remedies for future running injuries, however, this method can prove frustrating, because we are still left wondering what remedy or combination of remedies worked. I think the solution here is patience. This, of course, is difficult advice when it is your leg that is hurting. We need to realize, however, that experience is one of the masters runner’s advantages. If we think long term, we can realize that there is always another race and that we can put our experiences gained over years of running to use in addressing the solutions to injuries in a systematic way. I am suggesting here that to more accurately decipher the injury equation, we should be more willing to try one approach, see how it works, and then move on to the next. It will take more time, but it will ultimately prove more useful in establishing repeatable remedies. I would suggest, then, that rather than bemoaning the problem of creating too many variables in injury remediation, we should think both more systematically and patiently in our approach to running injuries.