Micro Movements….Small Movements that can have a big (negative) impact.
I am writing today to talk about a lesson that I learned that I feel is important to share for injury prevention.
The specific micro movements that I refer to in this case are foot movements when running while confronted with consistent extreme slippery conditions. I am not referring to simply challenging conditions… such as a technical trail, rough asphalt, packed gravel, tough dirt, rain or even well packed snow… but to both icy streets and slippery mud.
Let me give you a bit of background. Two years ago I ran in one specific St. Louis Track Club Frost Bite Series road race in Forest Park (downtown St. Louis, MO). Every winter this club hosts a series of 5 races (with both short and long distances for each.. the long versions ranging from 12K to Half Marathon) in Forest Park. They are very well run hard races. I don’t know if there is a flat mile in Forest Park and these races help to get or keep you in good shape during the winter. To be honest I can’t say I have ever really loved these races because they are always challenging and have the same scenery but they are a great way to keep the motivation up when it is the dead of winter. I have always appreciated the club putting them on for the local runners.
This specific race had very tough icy conditions from a rough storm the previous days. I don’t know the exact reason why but clearing the streets in the Park doesn’t happen (most likely the city doesn’t believe them to be well traveled enough.. which is valid). So this particular race the streets were extremely icy but (for whatever reason) I decided to do it anyway. I wasn’t concerned really because I made certain that I wouldn’t go very fast (I knew better than to try and PR and break my leg.. what would be the point of that) and thereby worked to reduce my chances of injury.. or so I thought.
From basically the very first stride my foot was slipping and I had to work hard to attempt to stabilize it enough to follow through and get my other leg down. I wouldn’t say every step was like this but probably the majority. At the time it just felt very annoying and slow (didn’t really feel like running) but I didn’t feel like I got hurt during it and finished ok (albiet with a slow time). But it was just the next day that I felt a bit of a limp and then it was worse the day after that. I tried to run 3 days later and my lower legs were having nothing of it. I sprained my calf pretty well! Uggh.. the dreaded runners injuries. I got over it after about 4 weeks but no runner (or athlete in general) wants to take 4 weeks out. I remember thinking that if the conditions were like that again (at any race) that I would never run through them.. it just wasn’t worth it.
So the next part of the story is to this years Frost Bite series and specifically the last race a week and a half ago… it snowed once again the night before and the conditions looked bad. Just walking from the car to the Visitors Center I felt unstable. I have been running one loop around the Park (6 miles) before each race because I need to get the extra mileage in for my upcoming Death Valley Marathon. I did that this time and it was slow and tough but ok because the trail is gravel and I was able to get some traction through the snow. So it went fine up to that point but I told myself I was going to do the first mile of the race and if it was slippery like two years ago I would cut it short and get back onto the trail to get my miles in. I was just too close to an important Marathon in Death Valley to get hurt doing something I already knew was a bad idea.
So that is exactly what I did.. through the first mile everyone was slipping and sliding and I just ran right when everyone else was going left and got back on the trail and DNF’d (Did Not Finish) the race. It was a tough run through the snow on that hilly trail but a very productive strength building one and I didn’t get hurt (that was the main thing!). A very good friend of mine trudged on and actually had a very good race (his last 5 miles getting faster and faster) and he felt ok during it. I heard that it was only the first 3 miles that were really slippery and slick.
Well apparently it only took 3 miles.. because he got a sprained calf that showed up on his next run! Double uggh…
So here is the moral of this story… I know, of course, not everyone got hurt out there at that race but if you are working really hard to have your foot stay planted every stride.. think hard about if it is worth it or not. When we run on technical trails (even in the rain) our feet are moving all over the place adjusting constantly to the varied terrain but we still generally plant our feet and are able to move to the next stride. When we can’t really plant our feet effectively (even for a few good miles) I think we are overworking our calves and forcing them to work in a way they are not accustomed to. I think there is a similar potential with extreme mud. It is all about the sliding. I just am convinced that our lower leg muscles aren’t very good at handling that.
I am glad that I made the decision to call it quits early in that race and hope my friend heals quickly.
I also hope that the next time you are out there and feel like you are expending a lot of energy just to keep your foot plant “planted” that you think twice. No run or race is worth getting hurt.
Best of luck in your training,