Sarah’s Transformation: From Constant Injuries to Faster and Pain Free

by Jason Fitzgerald

Last week, I asked you a simple question: What is your most difficult or challenging question about injury prevention and how to stay healthy?

Sarah_Racing2

For days, I’ve spent hours studying the hundreds of responses and let me tell you: it’s eye-opening.

First, the number of you struggling with injury problems is staggering.

Second, there are many misconceptions about injuries that I want to clear up.

I put my findings in a new presentation – including answers to the best questions and a breakdown of these misconceptions – and it’s now available.

Hop on the Injury Prevention email list so I know where to send it.

But now, I want to highlight a runner in my 1-on-1 coaching program: Sarah. She used to constantly struggle with injuries – it seemed like she would go from one pain to another in a vicious cycle.

Today you’re going to see how she overcame chronic injuries and over-training and is finally running pain free.

“I used to run with a lot of pain…”

Sarah’s start with running is, honestly, a little depressing. She’s a classic example of someone who always got hurt and never adjusted to the challenge of training for longer races.

She didn’t know any better when she started training for her first marathon:

I used to run with a lot of pain: my hips were always tight, my hamstrings had sharp pains running up and down them and my legs felt beat up all the time. I was overcompensating on my right side and then I was diagnosed with being over-trained. I couldn’t walk, sit, or sleep – I was breaking down.

After many chiropractor appointments and sports massages, I fought through two marathons before I realized it’s time to fix my pain. I shouldn’t be running with tight hips or knots in my IT band and hamstrings. I knew I was using the wrong muscles and training incorrectly.

I tried to run another marathon but by mile 14 I started to walk. My body was not adjusting to the mileage and my pain escalated to my quads and lower back. That’s when I knew it was time to start fixing myself.

Can you imagine what it’s like to train with these type of setbacks? How can you possibly reach your potential – or simply enjoy running – with these chronic injuries?

Between 2009 and 2011, Sarah signed up for four marathons but unfortunately, she only made it to three because of a strained hamstring, IT band syndrome and quad and calf pain. It was a never-ending cycle.

By the time she painfully crossed the finish line of the 2011 Philadelphia Marathon, she knew her running was in trouble:

I knew I was doing something wrong and it was time to get a running coach – someone to open my eyes and show me that there is more to running than moving your legs and adding up the miles. The day I came across SR, I knew what I had to do.

Old Habits Die Hard

I started working with Sarah in December, 2011 – a month after her painful finish at Philly. She was running Boston the next spring and she hired me to help her get there fit, fast, but above all: healthy.

When I started working with Jason I told him I wanted to run consistently without any pain. I wanted to be one of those people who runs all the time without issues and have it be comfortable. I just wanted consistency (oh, and to BQ again!).

With 18 weeks before Boston, I built her a personalized program to her fitness level, goals, and injury profile. More importantly, we talked about the steps that she would take to stay healthy for the next four months.Sarah_Boston

The injury prevention system that Sarah went through was more than just strength exercises (that’s not a complete prevention program!) but the entire training approach. How she built her mileage, the types of stretching she did, and how her weekly workouts were structured.

But Sarah was a little impatient…

I was very excited to have Jason customizing my training. But I was anxious to fix all my issues rapidly. The challenge was that it took me quite some time to understand that fixing my injuries won’t happen overnight or even within a week.

Even though I committed to the workouts on the plan I started to incorporate some old habits (adding more workouts than I should have) which slowed down the process of running pain free.

I thought the extra workouts would make me a better runner. I struggled with putting my stubbornness to the side and recognizing that I didn’t know better.

What I love about my job is that as a coach, my role takes many forms. I can be a cheerleader, a drill sergeant (I hate this one and almost never do this), a Dr. No, a teammate, a confidante, a therapist… whatever it takes.

In Sarah’s case, I needed to be Dr. No: no to more workouts, higher intensity intervals, increased mileage, and extra cross-training.

She didn’t’ need to work harder. She needed to work smarter. Knowing when to rest and when to return to running after an injury are critical parts to successful running and staying healthy.

Eventually, Sarah started to trust that the training was right for her. She cut out the extra workouts and realized that sometimes less is more.

Training for Boston – and Beyond

The months of training went incredibly well for Sarah. After that initial transition period, she started seeing incredible progress with her running and constant injuries.

I can honestly say, with so much emotion, that I finally am able to lace up my shoes, get out that door and run comfortably with no pain.

Because of this I started to run faster faster during the tougher workouts and became a more efficient runner. Jason’s program really has made me a better, faster and stronger runner. I went from running four days a week to six without having any issues.

I’ve always wanted to be that runner who can run every day. I have seen it happen before my eyes and started to develop a new confidence that I’ll get that Boston Qualifying time!

But Sarah’s story doesn’t end with Boston. Some of you might remember that the 2012 Boston Marathon saw record high temperatures that mostly destroyed any hope of running a personal best. She was one of the many runners that struggled in the heat and unfortunately didn’t reach her goal.

She was crushed but soon emailed me with the subject “Madness” – she wanted to run the Providence Marathon in three weeeks. Normally, I’m more conservative with marathon frequency, but I could tell Sarah wanted redemption.

So just three weeks later, Sarah finished Providence with no pain, no issues, and with legs that felt amazing during the entire 26.2 miles. She was thrilled by how she felt and how far she came in just a few months.

After Providence Sarah and I parted ways and she took some down time from serious training.

Where is Sarah now?

Sarah_Racing

In a fun turn of events, I started coaching Sarah’s fiance Jim (now husband) soon after Providence and helped him break 3 hours in the marathon.

Then before this year’s Boston Marathon, I met Sarah and Jim for a few adult beverages and she shared her goal to run another PR in the marathon. It might have been the third vodka soda I encouraged her to order, but I admired her tenacity!

Now I’m back coaching Sarah and helping her prepare for a fall marathon. For the last three months, we’ve been working on getting her marathon-ready.

When we started a new training cycle this year, we developed a solid base before upping the miles. But I was very nervous when Jason had me running 6 days a week straight! That’s unheard of for me.

I can say that I ran each mile that week pain free, consistent and finally had that moment of “this is what running should feel like” by the 6th day! I never thought I would be able to run so many days in a row without hurting myself. It really made me believe that I can do so much more with my running and achieve a few challenging race goals.

I’ve become a lot more consistent and I’m finally able to run back to back days without any discomfort. Every workout has a purpose and it’s so wonderful to see myself able to tackle each one the right way.

Her current training compared with what it was almost two years ago is night and day. She’s running more now than she has at this point before any other marathon – pain free.

Sarah’s progress and ability to break her own injury cycle is about more than stretching or a bunch of strength workouts. It’s her willingness to take action and start training smarter that’s helping her run without any major injuries.

The pain in her hamstring and IT band is virtually nonexistent. More importantly, she knows what to do if something comes up.

I’ve learned a lot about my body and why the pains developed and what I need to do to reduce the discomfort. When the issues flair up I now know how to adjust my routine to tend to their needs.

The biggest role Jason has played for me has not been in my numerous PR’s but in how I feel and how consistent my training has been. And most importantly, in how I’m able to manage and control my injuries.

Her progress reminds me of the saying, Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.

Sarah now has the tools necessary to adjust her own workouts to stay healthy. She knows what she can run through and how to differentiate between discomfort, pain, and a full blown injury. She’s learned the principles necessary to remain injury-free.

What to do if you’re always injured

Are you like Sarah? Many runners are dealing with similar struggles, wondering why they suffer constantly with injury after injury. Or even after rest and all the recommended exercises…the pain always seems to come back.

Does that sound like you?

My goal over the next few weeks and months is to transform your running so you know how to manage your own injuries. Instead of being part of the 75% of runners who get hurt every year, I want you to be in the 25% who stay healthy.

Here’s a suggestion from Sarah for those with injury problems:

My attitude and stubbornness have changed so much since I started working with Jason. I thought I knew it all and could overcome all those running obstacles but truth is I was doing it all wrong.

My attitude started to adjust when I accepted that my way wasn’t working. When I started to see the results (limited pain, consistency and speed) is when I knew my training would go to the next level.

I have a lot more helpful material brewing at SR headquarters, including brand new strength training routines, gait and form video analyses, and daily treatment advice for injuries.

I’m going to be releasing this material to those interested in injury prevention, so be sure to join that crew here.

You’ll also get the (free) Injury Prevention Q&A presentation when you sign up.

Join 10,000+ Runners and Get Faster!

Get the Strength Running PR Guide ebook and tips to run faster (without the injuries).

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{ 8 comments }

Joy

Congratulations, Sarah! This truly is an incredible transformation, and one I hope to achieve. I’m so happy for you that you get to train strong and run the races you’re working so hard toward.

Jill

Congrats Sarah!!! Such an inspiring story!! Of course, Jason coached me too and everything he did helped me to improve. He has to be the best coach out there!! I love that your pictures show your fun spirit and it’s so great to hear that Jason could help you too!!! Awesome RESULTS!!!!

Bibiana

I have similar issues – IT Band, hamstring, ankle hips, lower back & foot pain (not at the same time) & it does hurt one’s training. I’m currently training for Nike Women’s Marathon – San Francisco (following their training plan for a 1/2 maraton). My goal is to finish in 2 hrs – my last half I crashed due to high temps & almost quit running altogether….I would also like to complete a full marathon in 2014 – LA Marathon in March. What would you recommend? After reading Sarah’s story, I’m seriously considering a running coach because it should be fun & easy

Beth

What a wonderful transformation for Sarah! I know her situation well–I’m once again dealing with a niggling injury in the middle of a marathon cycle, and wondering if I once again won’t make it to the start line. Second year in a row for MCM. Everytime I increase my mileage and break 30mpw, something pops up. Extremely frustrating.

Loreen Crockett

What a wonderful, inspiring story! I can honestly say over-training has not been a problem for me, but rather being scared of getting injured has held me back from running hard workouts. I have been following the RYBQ intermediate low mileage plan and each week I get more confident in the plan and my ability to push harder! I used to have one speed (slow, just get the miles in) and now I love the hill sprints, tempo runs and strides! Who knew training could be so much fun!!!

Linda

Great story Sarah! Very inspiring. I am dealing with an ankle injury myself and had Jason build me a custom schedule. I am taking it day to day with my training and hope to become s strong and successful at training as you have been.

Drew McC

Congratulations Sarah, I think that’s excellent!!!
I’m a running coach who strives to help each of our runners stay injury free throughout the season and for life if possible. Most of the time if there are injuries during marathon build-up it’s because they are doing the “more is more” training scheme. Eventually we convince most of these runners to pull it back and train smarter.
Thank you for the story and I wish you many, many more years of injury free and efficient training and running.

Tedi

Congratulations Sarah!….such an aspiring story!…..I’m so proud of you!

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