RUNNERS AND CARS (from Editor's Notes, July 1999)

By Woody Green

Runners and cars have a lot in common. If you ignore basic

maintenance tasks such as oil changes, wheel alignment, and

flushing and filling the radiator your car will meet with

mechanical misfortune. Similarly, runners who don't

stretch, hydrate, replace worn shoes and get enough sleep

are likely to become ill or injured.

Ever hear a funny sound under the hood of your car, but

decide to ignore it? I know I have. Later, you may have

found yourself stranded with a dead automobile on the side

of the road. Maybe that funny sound turned out to be

something important like an oil pump or alternator. Ignore

a sore hamstring or tight calf for too long and the same

thing can happen. There is no longer journey than the slow

walk you must make when a muscle or joint stops you in the

middle of a run and forces you to limp home. I know since

I've been there a couple of times.

The key with your running body is to treat it like you

should treat your car. When something seems off, find out

what the problem is and figure out how to fix it. If you've

had a sore, tight hamstring for several days, it's time for

ice and a couple of days off. If you have an injury or

chronic soreness that just doesn't go away, it's time to

see a mechanic... er, sports medicine professional. Go to a

physical therapist, a chiropractor, or a physician who

specializes in sports related injuries. Do not pass go, do

not collect $200. In fact, expect to pay a few bucks.

Nobody likes parting with cash, but ask anyone with a

serious injury if they would have paid a few bucks ahead of

time to prevent the injury from becoming serious in the

first place. The answer is always, "yes!"

The analogy continues. When a car is wearing tires out

quickly, or it pulls to the left or the right of the road,

it is a sign that there is something wrong. Could be the

alignment, a problem with the suspension, or just a tire

that is low on air. Let the problem go and it will cost you

money. Runners with a chronically sore left hip, tight

right calf, or who land much differently on one foot than

the other have a similar problem. It could literally be an

alignment problem. Sometimes misalignments of various body

parts leads to problems, and the most common culprit here

is the feet. Problems in the feet will cause misalignments

and biomechanical problems all the way up the body. That

sore knee may be sore because your foot is forcing your

knee to twist ever so slightly with each running stride.

Over time, it causes irritation that is a sign of problems

just like a tire showing uneven wear on your car.

The key is not to just hope a sore or tight spot goes away.

If the normal precautions of a little ice and rest don't

cure the problem, don't just keep running on it, seek help!