The NBA packed its New York City Marathon relay team with former stars like Dikembe Mutombo and Darryl Dawkins, but few ran more than a mile. Running isn't a big man's sport, and the retired athletes already chalked up their shares of knee and back injuries. But for the 255-pound former center Jason Collins, his 1.2-mile bite of the marathon was a breeze.
The seven-foot Collins maintains a weekly routine of 10 to 18 miles in the Santa Monica Mountains outside Los Angeles. A lifelong outdoorsman, he says he quickly graduated from hiking his local trails in Southern California to running them.
"The athlete in me," says Collin, "asked why walk when you can run?"
Collins credits the softer dirt trails for keeping him running, despite three knee surgeries and a herniated disk in his lower back. Before the NBA's marathon relay to promote active lifestyles, Collins explained what other steps he takes to avoid running injuries.
Collins treats his body like a high-performance car, letting it warm up slowly, before gunning it. "When I was young, I would start with a sprint," says Collins. "But now that's a recipe for disaster." Before a run, he targets tight muscles — hamstrings and lower back in his case — with dynamic stretches. Then he'll use the first mile or two to warm up, listening to how his body feels and responds to the run.
Recover Like a Pro
"My body saw a lot of abuse in 13 years of the NBA," says Collins. "So I know how to treat my body." Collins uses the same recovery protocol for sore muscle and joints after a run as he did while playing professionally: rest, massage, and icing.
Protect Your Feet
Your knees aren't the only body part to feel the weight of running. Collins has worn custom shoe orthotics for 22 years to help support his feet and spread the pressure of each stride across his sole. If an area of your feet are feeling more stress or pain, visit a running specialty store to try on orthotic options.
Avoid Steep Climbs
It's not just sharp hills Collins steers away from. "I don’t run stairs," he says. "They put too much direct pressure on my knees." While Collins loves his local trails, he's careful to skip steep hills, both going up and down, to avoid the increased force and pounding from elevation.