Handling Shin-Splints

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. How little my mind was for failing to change my running patterns when I knew something was wrong.

An Experiment

While running today, I decided to experiment a little with the speed I was running at — perhaps a little out of guilt for taking too many days off running, and a little out of frustration at not being able to rid myself of shin-splints.

My normally cautious, slow-and-steady approach was recommended by a book called Galloway’s Book on Running. It advocated distance as opposed to speed, especially if one’s goal was to shed body fat; and when one falls victim to shin-splints, it was recommended that one should either lay off running for a while — since shin-splints were often a result of over-training — or that one should go slower, with more frequent and longer walk-breaks — something I believe deserves some deliberation upon.

Walk-breaks

Taking walk-breaks in the middle of a run was often out of necessity and not of choice. Friends have scoffed at my recommending them to take one minute walk-breaks every four to six minutes — no serious runner would take walk breaks, and besides, it wouldn’t impress the girls.

Throughout the book, Galloway reminds his readers about the walk-break concept; by splitting a run into many small different sections, a runner’s motivation is maintained at a higher level — it is four minutes to a break, not one-and-a-half hours. Also promised is that one is able to go farther (remember the importance of distance), and depending on the length of the run, it is possible to actually go faster than keeping a consistent pace throughout; and, this is what really got me interested, you are more likely to stay injury-free.

The walk-break concept was tested by me almost immediately after I had gotten the book. Results have been mixed — my running times have not improved (as compared to having a consistent pace throughout), except on runs approximately 10 kilometres or more; the distance I run has definitely increased — I went from a maximum of 7 kilometres to about 14 within two months; and I have managed to stay injury-free — well, almost. And the part about not impressing girls, it is true — I have had girls overtake me before, much to my humiliation; and they will never know I was still running an hour after they had left.

The Shin

Before I started running longer distances, I never had a problem with shin-splints. As I progressed into the longer distances, shin-splints started becoming a perennial problem — so much so that I stopped running for almost a month to let it recover.

Galloway’s walk-break technique did not help my shins at all, and was in fact, seemingly making it worse. Then one day, a funny thing happened, which probably led to my insight today.

While on a long run, I suddenly had a rather servere stomach-ache — this was after about 20 minutes of running. I took a slow walk home, and though disappointed that I had not my 50-minute target, I was glad I had a chance to rest my shins, which seemed to have been hurting extraordinarily much that day, despite my very slow pace.

After I had taken care of business, and feeling like a great load had been taken off me, I started back into the streets. With renewed vigour, I ran at a pace much quicker than the one I originally kept — and to my pleasant surprise, my shins did not hurt much, if at all. I continued this pace for another three-quarters-of-an hour, with hardly any pain in my shins.

The insight

When I went out for my run today, I realised my form when I ran slowly was essentially the same as that when one skips rope. I was practically jogging on my toes — try jogging on the spot and you will see what I mean. This form, especially when done over long distances, hurt my shins (and running experience) badly.

By running faster, I am forced to lift my knees higher, which allows me to land on my heels. This more proper form of running made running on asphalt feel more like running on water!

Foolish Consistency

If I was consistent in my logic — foolishly — I would have thought that running slower translates into a lower chance of injury; what happened was that a fortunate turn of events provoked me unto another level of thinking, allowing me to see my logic in a different context, and thus solving my painful problem.

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Donn

My name is Donn, and you’ll find me working at the intersection of business and information technology, constantly looking for ways to apply IT to business and life to make things better. I’m a big fan of data analysis and its subsequent communication. It always gives me a thrill extracting meaning out of data through analysis, and figuring out the best way to present the findings for maximum impact!

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