Learning From The Master

Top Masters runner Hal Goforth explains how to avoid just about any running injury.

Written by: Courtney Baird

Hal Goforth, 66, is one of the most successful and consistent American Master’s runners out on the roads today.

This past weekend, he won his age-group at the B.A.A. Half Marathon with a time of 1:41:57. Goforth, who resides in San Diego, Calif., aims to go back east again in April to compete in the Boston Marathon for the 36th time in his life and the 34th time in a row.

In 1998, he won the 50-59 division of the Boston Marathon as a 53-year-old, in a time of 2:42.

But for all of Goforth’s consistency, he has also had his fair share of injuries. He’s coped with plantar fasciitis, tibial and metatarsal stress fractures, Achilles tendinitis, patellar tendinitis, iliotibial band syndrome, strained hamstrings and a strained piriformis, just to name a very small sampling.

Looking back, he says that most of his injuries were avoidable. And luckily for us, Goforth, who holds a Ph.D. in kinesiology from UCLA, is willing to share what he’s learned about his injuries. While nothing works for everyone, these tips have helped Goforth extend his career.

  • Make sure your core is as solid as a rock. Most of Goforth’s muscle pulls were a result of a weak core.
  • Investigate whether or not orthotics could work for you. Goforth credits orthotics with helping him assuage the deleterious effects of Morton’s toe (when the second toe is bigger than the first).
  • Never run on concrete. While trails are best, asphalt will also suffice. “Solid concrete is almost as hard as steel,” Goforth said. “Anyone who has to run on concrete is bound to have something happen.” In fact, when Goforth insisted that his runners on San Diego County’s La Jolla High School cross-country team abstain from concrete, the stress fractures stopped.
  • Ramp up your training gradually. “Cross-country coaches in high school could go a long way in saving their runners by knowing what their history was in the summer,” Goforth said. “If a kid did nothing but travel through Europe, he’s going to have a stress fracture in four weeks.”
  • Make sure to take time off if you need it, and allow your body ample recovery time from a hard workout or strenuous training cycle.
  • If something is really bothering you—don’t dare go to the starting lie. Toughness on race day isn’t always a good thing.
  • Don’t run your tempo runs too fast.
  • Enlist the help of a knowledgeable physical therapist.
  • Get regular deep tissue massages. “That’s what has saved me so many times,” Goforth said.

But with all of Goforth’s injuries, one has to wonder how he managed get back to Boston year after year.

His answer? He always addressed his injuries as soon as he felt them—he never let anything slide. “If you have something that’s not right and you know it, get it checked quick,” Goforth said.

For example, when Goforth tore his meniscus—an injury he says was unavoidable because he twisted his knee while planting mangroves this past summer—he immediately scheduled an appointment with his orthopedist. Surgery followed shortly after. Two months post-op, he was back on the roads.

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Courtney Baird is senior editor of Inside Triathlon magazine. She ran Division 1 cross country and track and now competes in triathlons as an elite age-grouper. She can be reached by e-mail at cbaird@competitorgroup.com.

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