Meb Keflezighi says staying positive and stretching are the keys to overcoming and avoiding injury.
Sooner or later, it happens to all of us: injury. Perhaps you’ve felt your hamstring pop as you rounded the track, or you’ve watched your ankle balloon after slipping on a trail, or you’ve let the twinge of shin splints lead to stress fracture.
When these types of injuries happen, sometimes it’s hard not to let the disappointment settle in. After all, you’ve just watched many months of work melt away into nothingness.
But being injured doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Instead, it can be a time where you get to enjoy the activities and hobbies that you can never quite squeeze in during your normal training/work/life schedule.
When Meb Keflezighi, the Olympic Marathon silver medalist in 2004 and 2009 New York City Marathon champion, fractured his pelvis at the Olympic Marathon Trials in November of 2007, he could only get around by crawling and didn’t know if he would ever run again. But instead of dwelling on the injury, he used the extra time on his hands to read, spend time with family, and catch up with friends.
“You can’t change what it is,” said Keflezighi, who won the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials earlier this year and went on to finish fourth at the Olympic Games in London.
And taking part in these types of activities can help you stay positive—something that is important in the healing process.
“The more you think positive, the better,” Keflezighi said.
So instead of focusing on how the pain in your knee will prevent you from qualifying for Boston this year, try learning a new language, watching your favorite comedy, rereading your favorite book, calling an old friend or catching a baseball game—do those things you love to do but can never find time for when you’re out on the roads.
Of course, all of this forced positive thinking can be avoided if you don’t get injured in the first place.
“Rule number one is don’t get injured,” Keflezighi said.
To accomplish this, Keflezighi has some tips, the most important of which is stretching. In Keflezighi’s eyes, stretching is crucial to injury avoidance and a key ingredient to his long career.
“The most common mistake is people don’t stretch,” he said.
Stretching is easy to forgo. After all, most runners are pressed for time, and once a workout is done, they neglect stretching and then hurry off to work, to pick up the kids, or to wherever else they’re presence is required.
But Keflezighi says that doing this can lead to injury—and it’s especially bad when you finish a run and then immediately jump into a car.
All it takes is five minutes, Keflezighi says. In fact, you’re better off cutting your run five minutes short and stretching than forgoing the activity altogether.
Keflezighi also recommends 15-minute ice baths, core workouts and running drills to work on form and efficiency.
“It’s the small things that make the biggest difference,” he said.
Courtney Baird is freelance journalist based in southern California. She ran Division 1 cross country and track and now competes in triathlons as an elite age-grouper.