Most runners eventually experience a point in time when everything seems to be running smoothly then suddenly (ugh!) an injury shows up out of nowhere. An injury is a sign of a physical breakdown that often occurs after a period of running harder, farther, on different terrain, or in worn-out shoes.

We have some bad news and some good news for new runners. The bad news is that no one is injury-resistant. We all have a potential breakdown point. The harder an athlete trains, the greater risk of injury. However, runners can learn to understand and appreciate their bodies’ limits and adapt their training to reduce the chance of injury.

The good news is that running-related injuries typically start gradually before they get worse. If an athlete catches the injury in the early stages there is a good chance it can be treated and healed without taking time off from running.

The trick for an athlete is to recognize when something is merely uncomfortable and when something is painful. We have to learn our bodies well enough to understand when discomfort turns into pain, and when pain turns into disability.

In their book “Running Injuries,” Tim Noakes and Stephen Granger list a four-stage progression running injuries typically follow:

· Stage 1: Discomfort is noticed after exercise has ceased.

· Stage 2: Discomfort (not quite pain) during exercise, not severe enough to interfere with training.

· Stage 3: More severe discomfort (pain), limits training and racing performances.

· Stage 4: Injury is so painful and severe that it prevents athlete from running.

Discomfort should never be ignored. Even if you find yourself in Stage 1 of a running injury, be proactive so that is doesn’t turn into a full-blown Stage 4 injury.

What are warning signs of injury? When you change your form to accommodate a pain — for example, if you limp lightly. When you cannot move your legs in a full range of motion. When pushing off the ground leads to pain. When you cannot sleep comfortably because your muscles are aching. When you wake up and muscles creak — a sore heel or sore Achilles, for example.

Noakes and Granger recommend examining training methods, training environment (including shoes) and genetic structure (hips, knees, ankles)  to identify the reason behind physical discomfort or pain. The Runner’s World website is helpful for self-diagnosis and understanding key running injuries. However, it’s best to have a resource team of real people to help you diagnose, treat and prevent injuries.

Your team should include a massage therapist, chiropractor, physical therapist, podiatrist, orthopedist and general medicine doctor. No runner wants a doctor who says, “take six months off and let me know if it still hurts,” so you should make sure that your medical experts understand sports and running.

Randy and Tia Accetta are longtime runners and the parents of two young children. Tia is a Road Runners Club of America certified coach. She coaches individuals, the Sam Hughes Elementary School team, the Tucson Tri-Girls and the Workout Group, the longest-running training group in Tucson. Her marathon best is 2:48:05. As the director of coaching education for the RRCA, Randy certifies running coaches around the country. He is the producer of a number of running events, including TMC Meet Me Downtown 5K.

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