The dark clouds gathered in the sky as runners lined up in single file, taking off in 10-second intervals. I looked up as the raindrops fell more quickly (Ten…nine…eight…), the nervous excitement running through the line (seven…six…five…), up and over those steep hills (four…three…), the rain turned to hail (two…one…), here we go! My frigid legs took me up the first set of switchbacks on the Continental Divide Trail for the Wulfman Race.
The temperature had dropped to a little above freezing and the heavy rain blurred the trail in front of me but I plowed on, reminding myself this was merely another training run for the Bridger Ridge Run in August. Up, up, up to the top of the mountain and then one sharp switchback and I was flying like a little kid in the rain, sprinting over rocks and roots, smiling and laughing to myself like a crazy woman in the woods, when suddenly—Aaahh! My right knee gave out and it was over—the joy of the race crumbling half way. All of that training, and now plagued by injury. The rain had turned to sheets, I couldn’t feel my body, and I was still five miles from the finish line. Worst of all, despite the freezing rain and hail, I was actually enjoying the race! First my shin splints, now my knee. Why do I keep getting injured, and is there any way to prevent it?
Running injuries plague us everywhere—shin splints, back pain, torn muscles and ligaments, plantar fasciitis, to name a few—and the rate at which they are increasing is almost laughable. The running industry has evolved to boast more expensive shoes, more physical therapists, more technology, and more injuries. Pondering this conundrum could take a lifetime, but runners can take a load off the legs and focusing on cross training in the meantime.
Pedaling to Health
Whether you own an old Huffy or a new carbon-fiber downhill, keep your legs moving while giving them a break from the pounding impact of the road or trail with a good 'ol fashioned bicycle ride. Biking strengthens the legs, the glutes, and the muscles around the knees. Hop on a bike and run to the grocery store, bike to the pub, or hit up the hundreds of great trails around Bozeman such as the quick Hood Creek or longer Bangtail Divide.
No bike? No problem. Throw on a swimsuit and start swimming laps. Ignore the duck droppings and swim around East Gallatin Rec Area or hike up to Lava Lake and endure the icy mountain water. Either way, swimming is no-impact sport that will strengthen leg, core, and upper body muscles—all vital to maintaining proper running form.
A Leg Up on The Competition
Here are several workouts that help strengthen the legs and train the knees and ankles to stay in proper alignment.
Face forward and stand with both legs on the ground, a little wider than hip-width apart. Jump 45 degrees to the right and land on the right leg, making sure all toes are facing forward. Switch to the left and repeat.
Start as if you are going to do angle jumps, but instead jump forward with both legs, landing with both legs facing forward. Stay upright and strong, making sure your kneecaps are also facing forward.
Single Leg Squats
Stand with both feet facing forward. Put your hands out in front of you, lift one leg, and squat on the standing leg, making sure all body parts are directed forward. This exercise helps to engage the glute muscles and strengthen the legs. It’s a great exercise for trail runners who are constantly jumping from one leg to the next over rocks and uneven ground.
The Spice of Life
It becomes easy to run five or six times a week during training, thinking, I must run, run, run, there’s no time for anything else! But the body adapts to the same training regimen and you'll plateau if you don't add variety. Don’t succumb to the trap of literally running your legs into the ground. Plan other physical activities such as rock climbing, hiking, kayaking, paddle boarding, or even a friendly game of Frisbee. A varied, total-body workout will help with agility, core strength, and provide a mental boost.
Most importantly, when creating a well-rounded training regimen, don’t feel guilty if you’re not running. Get outside Bozeman and shake it up—your body and sanity will thank you.