7 tips to run without injury

7 tips to run without injury

Almost every runner has experienced enough injuries to make them seem inevitable. Yet significant injury can be prevented - I trained for a year to prepare for a full Ironman and managed to stay injury-free throughout - here's how.
As runners we experience a range of discomfort, from soreness through pain to actual injury. Let's start by recognising that there's a difference - running can often be uncomfortable, especially as you're training your body to cope with longer distances and/or faster pace. Higher mileages produce soreness as muscles get tired and skin suffers from abrasions - but this is different from the pain that is a critical warning of real injury ahead. More about this later - lets get into the tips:
  1. Check your shoes
    A simple step that many coaches overlook - do your shoes actually fit? Its well worth a trip to a running store with expert advisors who can measure your gait as well as your feet. Running shoes need to be just the right amount of a snug fit and brands treat sizing in different ways, so its never a simple read-across from your regular shoe size. Beyond fit, its vital to check that your shoes aren't over-worn because the loss of cushioning can cause several injuries that could otherwise be avoided. And of course, if you do replace your shoes then make sure you recycle the worn ones.
  2. Stretch before, after and in between runs
    Don't get distracted by the ongoing debate about the value of stretching. "The jury's been out on stretching for about a decade," says Michael Ryan, Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "And as far as I can tell, it hasn't come in yet." Yet few experts in the field are ready to abandon stretching and I can say that every time I skimp on stretching I pay it back in stiffness or worse. So find a good routine of static stretching for the at risk-areas - calves, quads, hamstrings and achilles before and after you run. Better still, combine this with dynamic stretching to warm up your muscles and joints - legs swings, lunges and butt kicks are a good start.
    What about stretching in between your runs? Trainers are increasingly keen on this. At the most basic, I find its helpful to stretch again before going to bed and first thing in the morning - even better to improve your critical mobility by including yoga or a specific running strengthening program like Dynamic Runner.
  3. Roll your muscles
    Using a foam roller improves circulation to help the body prepare for and recover from a workout. For best results combine the roller with a work-out mat so that your body weight is helping to the roller to do its work - there's a good guide for this exercise on Runners World. If you haven't got a proper roller (they're not expensive) a more primitive technique uses your knuckles on quads and calves. It should hurt a bit! Think of the knots you're working out and how much you're going to reduce stiffness and improve the range of motion.
  4. Cross train
    After many years of running I decided to shift gears to Triathlon and quickly discovered the benefits of mixing the training schedule up a bit. Running is a seriously repetitive sport which layers extra strain on joints, ligaments and muscles - so adding in some different movements proved to be highly effective in growing fitness at the same time as allowing some recovery for tissue repair. Whilst I found cycling to be a great antidote for a runner's tired achilles and calves, you don't have to adopt the life of swim-bike-run to get the best out of cross training. Other home or gym-based strength classes will produce similar results and even allow you to build a better stride for your next run.
  5. No sudden changes
    Probably one of the most common drivers of self-inflicted injury is building up your training load too quickly. It doesn't matter whether you're aiming for your first 5k park-run or an experienced trail runner returning after time off, its critical that you start gently and build gradually. Runner and sports podiatrist Stephen Pribut, D.P.M., warns runners to beware the "terrible toos"—doing too much, too soon, too fast. Instead it's better to follow the weekly 10% guideline as you increase you mileage or pace. Indeed the risk of sudden change goes further than your training ramp, a research study about fitness habits during the pandemic found that runners who made eight or more alterations to their normal workouts, no matter how big or small those changes, greatly increased their likelihood of injury.
  6. Look where you're going
    Ok, so I sound like your Mom now. But consider this - one of the longest recovery periods is for badly sprained ankles or knees. Many assume that this is the sole risk of trail-runners, that they must take extra care to keep their eyes on the trail at all times, constantly plotting their next five paces ahead. Of course there is truth in this, and many a trail runner has cursed the unfortunate moment taken to admire the view (or check their tracking watch). However the humble paths of the suburban runner can be equally treacherous - particularly at night. They're dotted with obstacles, known and unexpected - like people, dogs and emerging cars. A great friend in London ended his running career, and suffered 4 months of traction, when he did a last minute lateral step to skip around a pedestrian on his local neighborhood run.
  7. Listen to your body
    Here's the thing about most running injuries - our body warns us that they're coming. Here's the thing about most runners - we ignore our body and keep on regardless, triumphant in the cause of 'pushing through the pain'. The latter sentiment is particularly tricky - after all, running generally hurts. You need to get through a certain amount of discomfort to force your body to gradually improve until you reach the level of fitness you've aimed for. The trick is to look out for unusual pain or soreness - and especially anything that makes you actually change your gait during the run. That's a sure sign that it's time to stop. When you get these signs it means you need to rest for a few days or otherwise try a different kind of training before you run again. Even then its sensible to take it easy - you'll quickly feel whether the injury-warning has gone away or not!
The good news is that most runners are creatures of habit - so work these tips into your routine and you should stay free of injury for many miles to come. If you have further ideas or personal tips to share we'd love to hear them, just add a comment below.

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