Many of you, at some point, will find your knee starting to bother you. Or your “IT band” will hurt, which is generally a pain from the side of your butt down to your knee. Or SOME pain somewhere between your knees and lower back. A rule of thumb is that if there is a pain only on one side of your body, that’s not good. It’s probably an injury. If it’s on both sides, it is more likely to be general soreness, although there’s always the chance you managed to hurt both sides simultaneously. If you’re not sure, rest a few days, and gently try again. If you can’t shake it after a week-ish or so even when taking it more easy, you might have a problem. There may be various reasons you get these pains, so get yourself to a PT/chiro/doctor or some health professional to get a start on how to fix it! I’m not that person.
However, I do have some thoughts:
Do NOT “run through the pain.” Sure you might be able to, but it won’t do any good. It’ll get worse, and you’ll change your gait (even if slightly so) and then you’ll end up hurting something ELSE. Eventually you’ll be on the bench, so to speak.
Do not be so stubborn with your training plan. If a planned 8-mile run on the road hurts it, don’t do it. It’s just going to make it even more improbable that you can do the 9-mile run next week.
Be creative! In the end, what you want is to stimulate the body’s cardio/muscular/nervous systems so that upon repairing (during your deep sleep!), they are a bit stronger. What this means is that you have to figure out what does NOT hurt. You might be surprised at what you can do. Yes you might have to chuck the details of that 18 week training plan out the window, but you may still get in some great training. In fact you might discover some new cool ways to train and if you’re really lucky, it’ll be even better training!
So in the following few paragraphs I throw out some examples.
Does running on the road for more than 30 minutes start to be a problem? Try running on dirt/crushed gravel/grass trails. Yes you’ll go more slowly, but so what. You still can get the same training effect. Your body doesn’t care THAT MUCH. Try running on a treadmill. Or, oddly enough, running up a hill can often hurt less than running on the flats. So run up hills, and walk down. Repeat. Over and over. Or run uphill on a treadmill. Or you might find you can run on a running track. Or maybe you can do shorter runs without issue. So instead of doing an 8-mile run, do 4 in the morning, and 4 in the afternoon. In fact, try changing when you run, or what you do before your run. Maybe you need to jog 10 minutes, then stretch or do some drills for 10 minutes, then jog 10, then get into your run more seriously. Just keep experimenting. Try hiking. Long hiking is great.
Do you like to bike? Get on the bike a few times a week, and do just one serious run each week. Might work. Or you run for 30 minutes, then bike for 60. If you have the right pool set up near you, you can do water jogging. It can be fun for awhile. Join in some aerobic fitness classes.
Change your running pace. Does your coach have you doing fast-paced work, and is that when it hurts? Well don’t do it! You can still get in great training by running slowly, especially if you can do it for a longer time. (There are experts who advocate doing almost no faster running in training – and you can still race fast.) Maybe instead of doing a harder 10 mile run, you bike for an hour, then find a dirt trail to jog on, and throw in some hill repeats if you can, for the length of time that 10 miles would have taken you. Mission Accomplished!
As you can see, I’m making stuff up. I’m sure there are more ideas. Do what you can, instead of what you can’t.
WHILE you’re “doing what you can” AND seeing a health professional, you might also do some strength exercises. Your health professional might suggest some for you to do. I’m going to list some as well. There’s no magic set of exercises to do, but you want to work these areas the most: your butt and your hips. Your butt should be strong but we modern folks with all of our sitting often have weak butts. The stronger it is, the less you rely on your quads and your knees to propel you and the less likely they are to be injured. You can do exercises up to 7 days per week, depending upon how long/intense a session is. I would never do anything so intensely that you’re grunting loudly to do it and you’re really sore the next day. You’re a runner, not a bodybuilder.
Some things you can try:
Having said ALL this, three final things:
First, it may be that you really need extended rest from running. Maybe a week. Maybe a month. Maybe longer. You and your health professional and your coach need to work together to decide that, but it can be a tough call. Even if you do take time off, I would highly suggest you replace the activity with other things that you can do to keep the body strong and fit. Maybe take up hiking or cycling. Do some classes at the local gym. And do some strength work to build up all around the injured area.
Second, it may still be that you end up running in some pain sometimes. Only you can decide if it’s really worth it to do that. If you really must do that race, and you’re willing to cause further injury to do it, and you know you may be in extreme pain during the race, that’s your call. Just know that you may be sidelined with this approach. For some the risk is worth it.
Finally, if you’re working hard to stay healthy to do that race in two months, don’t be silly and sign up now for another one! Do the race, if you can, and then with nothing on your plate you can really rest if needed, and fix the problem right before getting back into racing. It can be really hard to properly rehabilitate when you have a race to train for.