Running has become one of the most common forms of physical activity in today’s society. It can be a community building activity, a personal challenge and most importantly a great work out. It is a sport that everyone can participate in; all you need is a good pair of shoes and a little motivation. That being said running can be extremely hard on your body, especially when you are just starting. We are finding that injuries among runners are very common. From shin splints to rolled ankles no one is immune from getting hurt; however, here are some tips to keep you healthy and on pace.
Do not do too much, too fast
When runners are just starting and begin to make progress, they tend to push their limits. Although this is a great way to challenge yourself, it is important that you understand your body has a threshold that when exceeded results in injury. Your mileage should be tracked on both a daily and weekly basis. If you have never done much long-distance running, then your weekly mileage should begin quite low. It is important that as you improve your mileage increases gradually. A consensus among the running community is the rule of 10%. Do not increase your mileage by any more than 10% on a week to week basis. For many runners and new runners specifically, 10% may even be too much of a jump. This is why when preparing for a distance race, whether it is a 10k, half marathon or a marathon it is recommended you start as early as possible. Could you train and complete a half marathon in 6 weeks? Maybe, but the toll it could take on your body and the injury risk you are exposing yourself to are likely not worth it. A recent study showed that runners who only increased their mileage by 3% a week had a much higher rate of success in their upcoming races than runners who ramped up their mileage quicker.
So how do you know where to start? As a new runner, start with short runs and accumulate miles over the week. It is important to understand how far you have been running, so I recommend using an app on your phone such as “Map My Run” to help track each run. As you gradually increase your miles, you will have to begin to listen to your body. If you find that you are feeling fine after running 20 miles a week but when you increase it to 23 miles in a week you have no pains and discomfort, you may have to dial back to 20 miles/week before increasing more gradually.
Do not run through significant pain
As runners, we all understand some discomfort is a part of the sport. Your legs and feet will likely be sore after a long run; however, if you begin to notice significant pain or discomfort while running consider taking a break. Breaks are one of the hardest things to convince a runner of doing, but it could save you from more severe injury. Aside from the odd rolled ankle, very few running injuries are acute and traumatic. Far more commonly runners ignore the pain and “tough it out” when they begin to feel discomfort.
This can result in a cumulative injury cycle. What is that you might ask? It means if you continue to stress an injury by running, you will continue to make it worse and it can become a much more significant issue. Sometimes all it takes is an extra day off when symptoms are minor to allow your body to recover. This is important because if you have an injury, it is very common for your body to adapt by altering your gait (running pattern.)
This may lead you to be less efficient, develop bad habits or in a worst-case scenario cause an injury elsewhere in your body. Remember, everything is connected, so if you are running with a limp the biomechanical stresses will be placed on a different part of your body. Give your body a chance to recover and if you think that an injury is nagging have a medical professional look at it. It is much more beneficial to have an injury taken care with a couple of sessions of treatment rather than letting it persist and having to deal with it when it is much more serious, and your recovery time is extended.
Cadence (Stride Length)
The amateur runner may not put much thought into their running beyond putting one foot in front of the other, however, if you are finding yourself with consistent pain in your shins or recurring lower leg injuries the way you run may be playing a role. New research has demonstrated that when you take a longer stride as you run, the ground reaction force on your legs will be increased. This increased force can lead to more injuries and micro traumas that can lead to chronic injuries and discomfort.
If you think that this may be affecting your ability to run pain-free, try taking some shorter runs and actively think about taking shorter steps while running. Your legs will have to move faster to maintain the same pace as before, but you might find that you are injured less often. It will take some time to retrain your brain to alter your running pattern, but with some regular training, you should be able to make the transition.
Warming up and Flexibility
As with any other sport, it is essential that you warm up appropriately. A great way to warm up your muscles before a run is to perform a dynamic warm up. This means warming up while moving rather than a traditional static stretch.
Some great dynamic exercises to perform before running are:
1. Forward Lunges
2. Side Lunges
3. Body Weight Squats
4. High Knee walking
5. Single leg deadlifts
These are simple exercises that will get blood flow to the muscles and help prepare you to start your work out.
After your run, it will be important to perform some stretching and foam rolling to help your muscles recover. You can use any of your favorite stretches but plan to spend at least 15-20 minutes stretching.
Foam rolling does not require you to spend extensive time per region. Some people get carried away, but you only need to roll out the same spot for 1-2 minutes and move to the next. This is a great tool to help target knots and trigger points in your muscles that may have developed from your work out. If you have gone on an extended run (15 miles +), allow your body to cool down and recover before stretching. When you are running longer distances, your muscles will develop micro muscle tears which can be further injured if you stress the tissues (as with a stretch) immediately after the run. Give yourself a couple of hours and make sure you stretch before the end of the day.
- Don’t forget to stay hydrated. Water is always essential, but when training regularly your body requires even more water than you might think.
- Fuel your body with nutrients: As you train you will be burning plenty of calories, remember to replace them with a healthy diet including healthy fats, fruits, vegetables and plenty of protein to aid in your recovery.
- Consider strength training in your program. A diverse workout plan is essential to safe training, so just because you are training for a cardio event does not mean you can neglect the weight room. The stronger you are, the easier it is to prevent injuries. You may even use the weight room to target common weak muscles such as the glute medius, hamstrings, etc. which can help you prevent injuries
- REST. REST. REST. I discussed maintaining a gradual increase in your mileage but remember, your body needs time to recover. You can have an active rest day where you go for a walk or a casual swim but give your body a break while training so it can recover and help you perform to the best of your ability.
- Consider visiting a sports recovery center such as Health Fit Sports Recovery. As your training gets more intense and recovery becomes more difficult to consider trying Normatec compression boots or whole-body cryotherapy. These are two tools that have been shown to help athletes’ recovery during training quicker and help them reach their maximum performance.
There are plenty of things you can do prevent injuries while training and these are just a starting point. Implement as many of these strategies into your routine as you can, and you will be running pain-free in no time!