Running has become one of the most common forms of physical activity and exercise. It can be a way to meet people within your community, a personal challenge, and most importantly a great work out! It is a sport that almost everyone can participate in; all you need is a decent pair of shoes and a little motivation. That being said running can be extremely stressful on your body, especially when you are just beginning. We are finding that injuries among runners are very common. From shin splints, knee pain, hip pain, and rolled ankles, no one is immune from getting injured; however, here are some general guidelines and tips to keep you healthy and on pace.
Do not do too much, too fast (Load Management)
When runners are just starting and begin to make progress on their mileage, they tend to push their personal limits. Although this is a great way to challenge yourself, it is important that you understand your body has a threshold that when potentially exceeded results in injuries or pain.
Your mileage should be tracked consistently on both a daily and weekly basis. If you are relatively new to long-distance running, then your weekly mileage should be low in the beginning. It is important that you increase your mileage gradually. A consensus among the running community, and general injury prevention strategies 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 specifically amateur runners, 10% may even be too much of a jump. This is why when preparing for a distance race, whether it is a spring, 10k, half marathon, marathon, or triathlon it is recommended you start as early as possible.
Is it possible to train and complete a half marathon in 6 weeks? Maybe, but the stress it could take on your body and the injury risk you are potentially exposing yourself to is 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 and reduced injuries in their upcoming races than runners who ramped up their mileage too quickly.
So where do you start? As a new runner, begin with short runs and accumulate miles over the week. It is important to understand how far you have been running consistently, so I recommend using an app on your phone such as “Map My Run” to help track each run or recording training notes
As you gradually increase your distance, 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 or discomfort worse than a 4/10
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 greater than a 4/10 while running consider taking a break. Breaks are one of the most difficult things to convince a runner to do, but it could save you from more severe injury or worse symptoms. Aside from the occasional strained 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 from overuse injuries.
This can result in a cumulative injury cycle. What is that you might ask? It means if you continue to irritate 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 and adequately heal. 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.
Stride Length (Cadence)
The amateur runner may not put much thought into their running beyond putting one foot in front of the other repeatedly, 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 contributing factor. Research has demonstrated that when you take a longer stride as you run, the ground reaction force (GFR) on your legs will be increased. This increased force can lead to more injuries and micro trauma that can lead to chronic injuries and discomfort from your training.
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 (speed), 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. The goal is to have quick feet on the ground!
Warming up and Flexibility
As with any other sport, it is essential that you warm up appropriately and completely. A good 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 stretching method.
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 pumping to your muscles and help prepare you to start your work out and run.
After your run, it will be important to perform some self care, this can include stretching and foam rolling to help your muscles recover. You can use any of your favorite stretches but plan to spend at least 15 minutes stretching.
Foam rolling or “rolling out” does not require you to spend extensive time per region of the body. 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 thoroughly. When you are running longer distances, give yourself a little time to rest before proceeding to stretch or foam roll immediately.
- Don’t forget to stay hydrated! Water is essential for your body to heal and maintain balance. When training regularly your body requires even more water than you might think.
- Fuel your body with proper and quality nutrients: As you train you will be burning plenty of fuel, remember to replace them with a healthy diet including fats, fruits, vegetables and plenty of protein to aid in the recovery process.
- Strength training in your program can make a huge difference. A workout plan with variety is essential to safe training. Just because you are training for a cardio event does not mean you can completely remove the weight room. The stronger you are, the easier it is to prevent injuries from occurring.
- You can use the weight room to target common muscle groups active in running 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. Stress to the body comes in many forms such as physical, mental and emotional.
- Consider visiting a health care practitioner with a background in sports. This has been shown to help athletes’ recovery during training quicker and help them reach their maximum performance, while reducing injury risks.
There are plenty of things you can do prevent injuries and reduce stress while training and these are just the beginning! Implement as many of these strategies into your routine as you can, and you will be running pain-free and setting PR’s in no time!
Dr. Mike Hadbavny
Chiropractor, Sports Sciences Resident RCCSS(C)
If you are interested in learning more about how chiropractic care can be effective for your particular condition or health goals, contact Dr. Mike Hadbavny at 250-881-7881 today to make an appointment and discover the many benefits of seeing a chiropractor in Victoria BC. Contact us today..