An Ultra-Runner's Three Laws of Injury
Not many of us are ever going to run a hundred-mile race like ultra-runner Joe Uhan, but that doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from his wisdom.
For the last year, Uhan, a coach and practicing physical therapist, has been penning a superb column for iRunFar.com in which he breaks down running mechanics and injury in an accessible, actionable way. (We wrote-up his entry on stride width last month.)
This week he gives us his “Three Laws of Running Injury,” which ought to be a useful guide for anyone who runs regularly and wants to keep doing so as long as humanly possible.
First among his laws—the “pain/brain law”—is the notion that every injury leads to compensation, which your brain in turn treats as the “new normal.” All that hard-won technique you built over years of running track and trail gets overwritten, sticking you with a mutant stride that will inevitably lead to future injury.
The solution, besides paying attention to pain and getting rest? “Do not limp or compensate!” he says. “Ever!”
This brings us to the second law: “For every injury action, there is an equal, and opposite reaction.” Uhan details how, as a physical therapist, he frequently traces a new injury on one side of a runner’s body to an old one on the opposite side. Pain in a person’s left foot might be linked to an old right-knee injury, and vice versa.
“It’s part compensation,” he writes, “but it more about how running works. Running is reciprocal: push creates pull, short makes long, rotation makes counter-rotation.”
Which segues to the last law: failure to correct these problems over time leads to more injury, which leads to more injury, which leads to… retirement. “Uhan’s Law of Running Thermodynamics,” he calls it.
Lucky for us, he lays out strategies for breaking these laws so that we, too, might have a shot at finishing an ultra-marathon—or at least a 5K—when we’re older.