Listen to your body.
I didn’t always like running. In fact, when we had to do sprints at the end of soccer practice, or after a game that we lost, I dreaded it. I hated having to run the mile in school. Not because I wasn’t fast, fit, or active. I was always a very fast runner, and competed in the fastest heats for “Track Day” at school. I think the reason why I hated it so much was because I always associated it with something bad, like a punishment. When we lost a soccer game or lacrosse game, we were punished by sprints or running around the field several times. Why is running used as a punishment? I don’t know the answer to that question but I believe that is why I always associated it with negativity.
It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school when I was training for my varsity soccer tryout that I began running more frequently on my own. I wanted to be in my best shape and receive a good time on my 2-mile test so I ran a few times a week. I started to really fall in love with it. Listening to music, looking at the scenery around me, and feeling a rush of adrenaline when I finished was incredible. I loved how it was an exercise I could do anywhere. When I was on vacation, I loved finding new trails or running up and down the streets of Maine with my mom. I began running more and more, to the point where I was running every day. Not necessarily long distances, but 2-2.5 miles every day. There was just one problem: Stress Fractures.
Unfortunately, I found out very early on in my running career that it was going to be a battle. Every time I would get ready to go out for a run, I would never quite know how it was going to go. I have very low arches in my feet, almost no arch at all in fact. I also over-pronate so every time my foot hits the ground, all of the pressure runs up my shin, creating shin splints that will ultimately lead to stress fractures. The worst part about these stress fractures is that you can do absolutely nothing to heal them other than to rest. And I’m TERRIBLE at that. I would rest for a week and go out for a four-mile run and mess my shins up all over again.
So my parents and I started looking into ways to prevent my stress fractures, or at least keep them from being so severe. I started with an orthopedist that created custom orthotics. Didn’t work. I then tried a few new shoe brands, like Brooks (my absolute favorite running shoe). They offered a lot of support in my arch so that definitely helped. I tried KT tape, which you can use for various injuries. I would place the tape in strategic spots on my shin to pull the muscle this way or that to keep some of the pressure off of my shin. Didn’t work. I taped my arch to give myself more of an arch while running. Didn’t work. I ran on an anti-gravity treadmill, where only 10% of my body weight was put on my feet in order to rehab the stress fractures. Didn’t work. Nothing seemed to work and it was incredibly frustrating.
In the end, I took a lot of time off from running. I played tennis my senior year, which didn’t involve too much other than the occasional quick sprints. However, I picked it back up again the second half of my senior year because I missed it so much. I started slow and only let myself run three times a week. I would do a short run twice and longer run once a week. I never allowed my long runs to go over 5 miles unless I was training for a race. I started foam rolling (a life saver) and that has helped my shins tremendously. I foam roll before and after a run and ice my shins. I practice a lot of yoga and always make sure to stretch before and after a run. I am now into my second year of running consistently and am happy to say that I am currently training for the Philadelphia Rock n’ Roll half marathon. I am sticking to a strict schedule and listening to my body when it needs time off or a slower pace.
If you too are like me and are prone to stress fractures, the biggest thing I can recommend is listening to your body. Don’t over do-it just because you’re feeling good one day. Stretch, stretch, stretch! It’s the best thing for a runner’s body. And, most importantly in my opinion: foam roll! This has been something that I have added into my routine the past year and I attribute it to the success I had during my training for the Broad Street Run. It’s definitely not easy being a runner. But the way you feel after, the adrenaline, the endorphins, and accomplishment, makes it all worth it. Listening to Eminem rap while you’re running up a huge hill isn’t bad either!