Rest and varying exercise can help runners stay on track

AUSTIN -- This Sunday runners will hit the streets of Austin for the 3M half-marathon. As they log the 13-plus miles, their bodies are logging a lot of stress that can often lead to injury.

"It's just always fascinated me seeing people complete in marathons," said Cindy Burchill, a marathon competitor.

It's that fascination and what she sees as a nurse in cardiac surgery that drew Burchill to the sport.

"I see a lot of patients who don't take care of themselves, so I wanted to get on that path and not become one of them," she said.

So five years ago Burchill began running, and running, and running. First half marathons, then full marathons then 50K ultramarathons.

"It's that feeling of accomplishment when you finish -- when you cross that finish line and you've worked so hard – blood, sweat, tears and injuries," said Burchill.

What kind of injuries?

"Calf pain, ankle pain, knee pain," she said with a laugh. "You name it and I've had it."

Including nearly suffering a stress fracture two years ago.

"This white area as opposed to the dark area through the rest of the shinbone is what we call a stress reaction," said Greg Westmoreland, M.D., a surgeon with Texas Orthopedics.

Westmoreland says stress reactions and fractures are the most common injuries he sees in marathon runners.

"I tell them to usually let pain be their guide," he said. "Many times with these injuries – these overuse type injuries which is what Cindy had -- the pain will let them know when it's time to slow down a little bit."

Westmoreland recommends more rest and varying workouts. He says swimming or using an elliptical can maintain cardiovascular levels while avoiding the joint stress that comes from running. It's advice Burchill has already put into practice.

"Listen to your body," she said. "I'd rather take a little time off than quit running altogether, because I'm so hurt."

As for the increasing number of older runners now taking part in marathons -- Westmoreland says running is a good way to build muscle mass and bone strength as we lose with age. However he recommends older runners begin training for a marathon sooner, vary their workouts more consistently and increase their mileage more slowly.

Click here for a link to Texas Orthopedics.


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