Living LifeWise is a regular column provided by LifeWise Ambassadors – LifeWise employees whose healthy choices are helping them live better lives. Today’s column is provided by LifeWise Ambassador Dana Robertson Halter.
My 71-year-old dad has said for years that his number one goal as an athlete has been to avoid injuries. A competitive marathon runner and college swimmer back in the day, he competed in triathlons and half marathons into his sixties. In addition to being a great athlete, he’s a doctor and exercise physiologist who has helped all kinds of patients, ranging from elite level athletes to people suffering from pulmonary and cardiac disease. Suffice it to say that I could stand to take his advice on a thing or two.
Despite my respect for my dad, I always thought his talk of injury avoidance didn’t apply to me. I jump right into everything I do, whether I’m riding someone else’s bike 150 miles with no previous training or pushing the “activity limits” prescribed by my doctor after having a baby. After all, I started running two weeks after having my first daughter and went on to run the Seattle Half Marathon when she was only four months old.
After the Seattle Half, I was ready for a new challenge. I chose to run the Boston Marathon six months after the birth of our second daughter. I was nine months pregnant and researching flights when my husband informed me that, 1. I was acting like a crazy person, 2. I’d get injured trying to get in marathon shape so quickly after having a baby, and 3. I had two kids under the age of three to take care of. He got me on #3 and I didn’t buy tickets. But then and there, I vowed to train and be ready for Boston, even if I wasn’t there to race. I was determined to prove him wrong.
And then… the wheels fell off the bus. I ramped up my training intensity without bothering to strengthen my abdominal muscles, which had become the equivalent of a bowl of jelly. Midway through a 7-mile run, a searing pain in my lower back radiated down my right side. I was smart enough to stop running, but not smart enough to hitch a ride home. After a visit to my physical therapist, I discovered I’d damaged my sacroiliac joint – the result of hormones relaxing the ligaments in my lower back during pregnancy. My weak core and “pants on fire” approach to losing the baby weight sidelined me for two months. As someone who relies on exercise to stay sane, it was not a fun time for me or for my husband.
After almost a year of physical therapy, I am finally able to run — albeit slowly and with walk breaks. I never want to take my health and fitness for granted again, so I’m determined to learn from my mistakes. Here are my lessons learned:
1. Listen to your body. You do more harm than good if you exercise with a fever, aren’t eating properly or run through pain. Learn the difference between muscle soreness and the beginning of an injury. If something feels wrong, err on the side of caution and stop immediately. Taking a few days off is WAY better than missing six weeks.
2. Strengthen your core. No matter what you do for exercise, having a strong core is key – particularly if you’re over 30. Incorporate abdominal exercises into the beginning or end of every workout, shooting for at least 3-4 times a week. A strong core will help to prevent back pain, decrease your chances of injury and, of course, make you look better in a bathing suit!
3. Don’t run or walk in old shoes. You should replace your running shoes every 300-400 miles or every six months or so, depending on how much mileage you put in. Running in old shoes is a surefire way to end up with a common running injury like shin splints or plantar fasciitis.
4. When you’re getting started, mix running and walking. Before last summer’s injury, I scoffed at walk/run programs. Now I’m a huge advocate of starting any running program with a mix of running and walking.
5. Don’t be a hero. I have a friend who decided to tackle P90X with minimal base fitness and she was injured within 48 hours. Don’t let your ego get in the way of exercising safely — especially when you’re coming back from an injury or trying something new. Nobody cares whether you’re walking or running on the trail or what your pace is on the elliptical machine at the gym.
I’m attempting to follow my own advice and am hoping to do a sprint triathlon later this summer. We’ll see how I do!
Dana Robertson Halter is a lifelong athlete and mother of 4-year-old Cassandra and 20-month-old McKenna. Dana started swimming competitively at six, began racing triathlons after college, switched to bike racing in 2004 because triathlons were too lonely, and then went back to racing solo (marathons) after having her first child in 2009. Living LifeWise is how Dana keeps her body and brain strong – and it provides a healthy outlet for her competitive spirit. Dana works as a Communications Manager for LifeWise and lives in Ballard with her family and two Australian Shepherds.