We runners are independent beasts who pride ourselves on our self-reliance. We do not need extensive equipment, nor do we rely on team-mates, and like nothing more than the freedom of slipping on a pair of shoes and gliding out the door for a 15 miler. Alas, in the long run our independence is illusory. Eventually, we require the help of others. The precipitating factor may be an injury, illness, or simply the need for more structured training.
Over the years, you will develop a personal support team that includes various medical practitioners (often both conventional and alternative), one or more training advisors, and, depending on your individual needs, perhaps a nutrition advisor, a sport psychologist, a strength trainer, a Pilates or yoga instructor, etc. Your support team grows through trial and error as your needs become apparent. If you are like many runners, you may hesitate to search for assistance either because you do not know where to go for help, or because you feel embarrassed in spending money on medical help for a problem caused by your “hobby.” If running is important to you, and your wallet is thick enough, then why wait?
Novice runners improve their performances by following almost any plan, or even by not really having a plan at all. More serious runners, however, need someone to bounce ideas off. A coach or another runner can provide vital perspective to help you get the most out of your training and racing. I fill this role for a number of runners and triathletes and find that the greatest value is helping them to structure their training and knowing when to pull back on the reins. It is impossible to be objective about your own training (as evidenced by my 152 mile week 3 weeks after the 1984 Olympic Trials), and training errors that are invisible to you may be blatantly obvious to a knowledgeable runner or coach with your best interests at heart. Training advice is particularly helpful when you need to get through a period of overtraining or an injury.
Your personal support team develops when your body becomes overwhelmed by this wonderful repetitive activity in which you land with three or four times your bodyweight a thousand or so times per mile. From personal experience, the body can be quite creative in the ways it breaks down. With the right advice, however, the maladies almost always repair quickly keeping time off the road to a minimum. After 30 years of running, my support team includes a physical therapist, podiatrist, sports physician, massage therapist, and chiropractor. “Ah, but he’s an Olympian,” you might say. Well, I am actually a guy in his mid-40s who runs one or two low-key races in a good year. My running, however, is as important to me now as it was in the 1980’s, and my body is less forgiving of any form of excess.
When you are injured you are vulnerable to well-meaning but time-wasting treatments from medical and quasi-medical practitioners who like the idea of working on runners but who have little experience or expertise. Your own burning desire to get back on the road leaves you susceptible to any variety of devices and potions. What you need is medical support from individuals who are experienced in working with runners.
How do you find your support team?
1. Recommendations from other runners.
2. Referrals from other members of your support team.
3. Recommendations from a specialist running store.
Of course, the most important member of your personal support team is you. Only you know about every aspect of your life, and only you really know how that Achilles tendon feels. You need to develop your ability to listen to your body’s signals and to recognize how your body responds to various patterns of training. With a dose of personal insight and the help of your support team, you can minimize your down-time and optimize your running performances.
(This column originally appeared in Running Times Magazine.)