Your running success will largely depend on your ability to prevent running injuries. If you’re injured, you simply can’t run efficiently or enjoyably. Or if the injury is serious enough, you simply won’t be able to run at all. It’s almost every day that I talk to at least one person who had to quit running because of injuries. Almost half the runners I talk to are dealing with some kind of nagging injury that is hindering their performance or enjoyment of running. I feel this topic is particularly important to address, and have provided some pointers below to help you keep running healthy.
Lots of injuries are caused by not warming up, or warming up improperly. Most people stretch for only a few minutes or seconds, then head out running. A proper warm up requires that you do a light pre-workout jog for 5-10 minutes, then do a 10-15 minute full body stretch. The idea is to stretch when your body is more pliable. Running, or stretching when your body is cold puts a lot of stress on your muscles and joints, increasing your risk for injuries.
After your run, do a light 5-10 minute jog or walk to cool down. Then, stretch another 10-15 minute full body stretch. But don’t stop there. Keep your body limber. Stretch on a daily basis, even on your days off. Just 10-15 minutes of light stretching per day will greatly reduce your risk for running injuries.
A good way to prevent running injuries is to replace running shoes often. Over time, a running shoe will lose its ability to absorb shock and support the foot, which increases your risk for a myriad of injuries. Switch to a new pair every 300-400 miles to ensure that you continue to receive adequate cushioning and stability. Logging your miles on a note card provides a simple way to keep tabs on your running shoes.
Make sure that you are wearing a shoe that is right for you. There is not one running shoe that will meet the needs of all runners, because we all have our own unique biomechanical needs. The right shoe will correct for your particular foot flaws, the wrong shoe will only aggravate them. The two main things to consider when choosing a pair of running shoes are cushioning and support. The amount you need largely depends on your body weight, arch height, mileage, and running style.
Always use proper running form. Improper running form causes imbalances in the body, which with the high impact of running leads to injuries. Many times, when one part of the body is out of sync, it throws off the rest of the body. Experienced runners know that strict form is essential to keeping healthy so that they may continue running long term.
When you feel an injury coming on, switch to a non-impact activity such as biking, swimming, rowing, and elliptical. Running is a repetitive high impact activity. Cross training helps prevent running injuries from accruing by breaking up this repetitiveness and strengthening different parts of your body rather than just the ones you use for running motion.
Mix in a few days of strength training. Strength training increases the mass and elasticity of connective tissue (muscle, ligaments, and tendons) to help prevent pulls and tears. Work especially on the abs, obliques, and lower back to help you maintain good posture on your runs. Most injuries can be prevented by simply keeping the core strong and in proper alignment.
The types of surfaces you run on will have a huge impact on your risk for injuries. Avoid running on hard surfaces like concrete (probably the worst type of surface to run on). It will send the shock of your pounding feet back up your body. Always try to run on softer surfaces, such as grass, dirt, track, or at minimum, asphalt. These types of surfaces will absorb your impact much better. Additionally, try to run on even surfaces as much as possible. Any unevenness in your body will increase your risk for injuries, whether they are caused internally or externally. Since most streets are sloped on the side it’s nearly impossible to run on an even plain. To accommodate for this, switch to different sides of the road occasionally during your run.
Avoid making large increases in your weekly mileage. If you over reach your conditioning, your body will respond in kind by taking longer to recover. Make slow gradual increases, limiting it to no more than 10% per week. For example, if you average 30 minutes of running per day this week. Do no more than 33 minutes of running per day next week. This applies to speed work as well. If you run a 10 minute mile this week, don’t plan to run faster than a 9 minute mile next week. In the world of running, patience truly is a virtue.