Those lucky enough to attend heard Dr. Connors speak about the prevention and treatment of the most common running injuries we all encounter from time to time. The point was well made that being able to identify an injury at it's initial stage will allow the athlete to understand and treat the issue before it becomes a chronic problem thus minimizing down time and more complicated cures.
Rather than recounting the various injuries discussed, I wanted to highlight a couple of key points Doctor Connors made that are meaningful to all of us.
Many injuries begin with some form of musculature imbalance. Put another way, we have reciprocating muscle groups that collaborate to allow us to complete the movement in an efficient manner. Those groups are each intended to carry a certain % of the work load, no more, no less. When one of those groups doesn't carry it's intended weight, the others have to pick up the slack. Over time, this extra work will likely result in injury. In addition to getting hurt, we also run the risk of peripheral injury because the inefficiencies we're experiencing will begin to affect other areas.
In many cases, a physical therapist is brought in to assess our mechanics in an effort to identify the problem and to create a treatment protocol to strengthen the offending muscle group. Dr. Connors explained some of the more common imbalances but his message was clear that by working on our core strength, flexibility and balance BEFORE we have problems goes a long way in keeping us healthy. Dr. Connors emphasized how much time, effort and importance world class athletes give to their pre and post-race care. The stretching and strengthening aspects of their training are as important as the running. By prioritizing this prep work, they not only minimize the risk of injury but equally as important, they develop the means of performing with the maximum amount of efficiency.
While the professional athlete is surrounded by a team of therapists, coaches and trainers, we amateurs must rely largely on ourselves. A well designed lifting program that focuses primarily on multi function exercises will go along way towards building up our strength and lean body mass, aka muscle. By 'multi function', I mean exercises that bring into play a number of muscle groups. As an example, doing a simple push up brings into play a surprisingly large group of muscles. We work the chest and shoulders along with the all-important core. The effort of holding our body rigid while lifting ourselves from the ground fires up our abs, lower back and glutes. Doing a simple pushup requires all these muscle groups to get involved. On the other hand, sitting in a chest press machine requires only that we push the weighted bar away from ourselves so all the aforementioned muscle groups aren't brought into play to support and balance our body. Sure, we work the targeted area but we don't get the added benefits. There are numerous basic exercises that can be done with no added weights or equipment that over time will build our bodies into efficient engines.
Dr. Connors touched on another point that should ring loud and clear with all of us raising children involved in sports, the burn-out syndrome. Years ago, kids learned to play a particular sport largely by playing it at local parks and community gyms. Sure, there was Little League and other organized events but most of the time, you were playing the sport with kids in the neighborhood. If a kid chose to give more effort and priority to a particular sport, it was based on the simple desire to do so.
Nowadays, kids have the benefit of private coaching, specialty training centers, off-season leagues and other forms of coaching. If a parent can afford it, a child can have almost all the support noted earlier as being available to the pros. While this help might be the thing to get a young athlete to his potential best, it can also take the fun and enthusiasm out of the sport and make it a chore. A child blessed with all these advantages can begin to feel the pressure to excel not only for themselves but in addition, to not let their parents and family down. Throw into the equation the odds of a child getting a college scholarship or making the pros being somewhere in the neighborhood winning the lottery.
Dr. Connors reference to the above phenomena was not intended to vilify parents who want their kids to have every opportunity to succeed in athletics. Rather, the subject was brought up to point out why he has had to treat athletes in a significantly younger age group than past generations experienced. We as adults love to point out that kids can get away with almost any form of body stress that would put us in the hospital or worse. While 'youth' is a great benefit in avoiding or minimizing injuries, those same physical characteristics weren't made to endure all the stresses being put on them. Parents should closely monitor their young athletes relative to any aches or physical complaints they may be experiencing. Catching a potential injury in its initial stages will prevent chronic afflictions down the road.
The "burnout" I refer to comes when the sport a child participates in becomes so overwhelming in the time, discipline and personal sacrifice it requires that it loses the appeal that engendered the interest to begin with. Dedication to a sport teaches a child many things about team work, commitment and fair play but it comes with a price. Pressure to succeed comes from all angles, be it parents, coaches or trainers. Many kids simply don't have the coping skills to deal with these pressures. This can ultimately lead to a kid quitting the sport entirely as soon as the opportunity presents itself. I think it boils down to the simple axiom of letting kids be kids.
The other night, I decided to take a walk around my neighborhood in search of inspiration. As I pondered possible themes, it occurred to me that what I was doing would make a perfect subject, walking.
Australians refer to it as a "walkabout". The term was originally attributed to a rite of passage by young male Aborigines where they would go on a long journey in the wilderness seeking a connection to their ancestral past. Over time, the term became associated with the need to satisfy one's craving for the open road and the adventure to which it leads. For my own purposes, I came to define a walkabout as the simple need to get outside and walk somewhere.
Let me first say that a walkabout is not about raising one's heart rate to an aerobic level or trying to make it a workout. It's the simple act of walking, watching and thinking. You can do this at any time but I prefer to go on my walks at night. Everything seems different in the dark. By virtue of there being no light, you actually have to 'observe' what you're looking at. In addition, the night time sounds put a whole different perspective on otherwise familiar areas. All our senses become just a little bit more sharp at night.
Each of us has our own level of caution and evening walks necessitate an honest assessment of our surroundings with their requirements for maintaining safety. Risk is not part of the equation.
Over the years, my ramblings have taken me over many different paths and locations. I used to be very fond of night time walks on the Manasquan Bike Path. You would be very surprised how the ambient light allows you to see the path clearly, even when the moon is not full or otherwise shining. I also found a particular cemetery in my neighborhood that made for some wonderful walks in a very peaceful environ. I recently went on a spectacular full moon walk on a local golf course. These locales and routes won't appeal to everybody, nor should they. A walk around your block or into town may be all the adventure you need.
A walk is always fun with a partner and having someone with you does bring an element of safety for your journey. Having said that, a solitary saunter allows for some much needed reflection on what's going on in your life. It also means you can pick whatever route you want without having to clear it with your companion.
Another fun part of my walkabouts is being able to handle all the elements simply by dressing properly. I have gone out on nights with near zero temps and honking winds by choosing the right clothes. Being comfortable in those conditions is its own reward as I've managed to beat mother nature at her nastiest. Heading out for a walk as snow begins to fall is a treat.
Many of us have spent a lifetime reaching and maintaining a level of fitness that allows us to pursue many challenging goals but these walks should be all about using our fitness to relax and enjoy the moment. Being fit means you can handle everything the day throws at you and still have something left to get out at day's end.
Above all, be safe. Always trust your gut instincts when it comes to deciding where and how long to go. As much as it pains me to say this, having your phone with you just in case justifies having the darn thing with you.
Next time you find yourself sitting on your couch complaining about the nonsense on TV, do yourself a favor and take a walk. I guarantee you'll like it!