Injuries are a concern when running, especially as runners increase their mileage or train for a race. The risk is even higher for new runners and runners training for their first race. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize your chances of getting hurt.
Build a solid foundation.
Follow a professionally created program that increases your mileage slowly and methodically from your current fitness level to a level that supports your goal race distance. There are several reputable websites that have running programs (some are free and some involve ongoing coaching and charge a fee) that you can tailor to your needs. Alternatively, work with a certified running coach to have a customized program created just for you. The key is to follow a program that:
Starts from your current fitness level.
Increases your workload gradually – no more than 10 percent mileage increase per week or per session.
Includes a slow, methodical increase of your long runs to a run length consistent with your goal race. For example, marathoners should ramp up to a long run of 20 miles, half marathoners should ramp up to a long run of 12-14 miles and 5K runners should ramp up to a long run of 3-5 miles.
Includes a slow ramp up of your speed training based on your current fitness level. If you are a beginner, your initial running program should contain no speed work.
Includes runs of different length, speed, running surface/terrain and hilliness – variety is important to prevent injury.
Also, be realistic. If you are a new runner, build your running base and run regularly for at least six months before attempting your first half marathon, and for a year before attempting your first marathon.
Now that you have your training plan, follow it closely. Consistency is one of the keys to preventing injury. This doesn’t mean you can’t miss a workout occasionally, but if you find yourself missing a week of runs, this can be a recipe for injury. Try to stay consistent by keeping the number of runs and miles per week close to your plan. If you miss a week, ease back into the plan (possibly by repeating the previous week in the plan and proceeding from there) or work with your running coach to get back on track safely.
Develop good running form.
It is difficult to force yourself into perfect running form and it can be dangerous, especially if your muscles aren’t prepared for that method of running. However, in order to prevent undue stress on the body, landing with each foot underneath your body – instead of in front of your body – is usually associated with lower ground forces on the body resulting in lower injury rate.
The easiest way to achieve this is to shorten and quicken your stride. If you find you are an overstrider, practice shorter, quicker strides with feet landing underneath you on a regular basis.
One way to do this is to practice “quick feet” running drills which increase your cadence (the number of times your feet hit the ground per minute) and minimize the amount of time each of your feet spend on the ground. Some people call this the “hot coals” drill since running on hot coals would certainly quicken your stride and shorten your foot strike time! Try practicing this drill a few times per week by doing 30 second intervals of “quick feet” followed by 30 seconds of “normal” running and repeat five times for a total of five minutes.
Running is a very repetitive sport. As a result, it creates a high probability of overuse injuries. In order to prevent these injuries, strengthening and mobilizing key areas of the body are important preventive measures. Focus on these areas:
Core: Strengthen the lateral and anterior core with exercises such as plank and side plank variations.
Hips/glutes: Strengthen the legs, glutes and hip stabilizers with exercises such as lunge variations, deadlift and glute bridge variations and with resistance band hip abduction work (such as clams). Also, keep the hips and hamstrings mobile with key stretches for those areas.
Ankles/calves: Strengthen the ankles and calves with exercises such as calf raises, jumping/plyometrics and banded ankle work. Also, keep the calves mobile with calf stretching. Try doing some of this foot and ankle work barefoot for added benefit.
A strength training program for runners, such as RunSMART, can help you work on all of these areas.
Make pace a priority.
To avoid overtraining and injury, most of your running should be at a slow, conversational pace. Many people overtrain on their easy days and carry fatigue into their hard runs. Make sure you keep your easy days easy, even if you are a veteran runner. Following the pacing of your running program, as well as the distances, helps keep injury at bay.
These five key steps will help you avoid injury and have a great race season. Good luck!
Laurie Lasseter Marathoner
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
RRCA Certified Running Coach
Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness