In interviewing runners for my first-time marathoner book, Knocking Down Walls, I found that injuries were more the rule than the exception. In fact, when I attempted my first marathon in 1992, I developed a stress fracture and had to throw in the ‘running shoes’ for another time. Since then, I have run 13 (about to be 14 after this weekend!) while staying healthy.
Today is Part II of a two-part series in which I’ll share ways to prevent common running injuries. In Part I, I wrote about 9 Common Causes of Running Injuries. Hopefully these words will help keep you happy and healthy along your marathon training schedule – or any time you want to start running.
Slow Down. There’s a reason why many training runs call for LONG SLOW runs. The long, slow runs are supposed to be just that – a time to get miles under your belt at a pace you can sustain comfortably. This doesn’t mean you should try to run 20 mile training runs at race pace. Likewise, when you are doing speed workouts, increase your speed gradually over the course of your training schedule. The writers at SportsLog recommend a pace that’s slightly faster than your race pace for intervals (e.g., miles, 800s). And make sure you have some sort of endurance and strength base before doing speed workouts at all.
Vary the terrain. As I mentioned in Part I, it may not be possible to run on grassy paths or dirt trails every time you walk out the door. So, if you are running in and around a large or small city, try to jump off a harder, concrete sidewalk and onto an asphalt road, if possible. Similarly, calf injuries and Achilles tendonitis can be aggravated by hills. So even if you like the steep climbs, throw in some flats on occasion. As in the words of Sheryl Crow, the change will do you good.
Buy new shoes. Last summer when I experienced the beginnings of a stress fracture, I went on a shoe frenzy. I bought top-of-the-line running and tennis shoes in hopes of saving my summer. And luckily the shoes, combined with alterations to my training schedule, worked. Though a new pair of shoes won’t heal an injury, it might prevent one. Factors like pronation, gait type and foot type can influence what type of shoes you should buy. My recommendation is to go to a local store with trusted expertise and invest in shoes that are right for you. Runner’s World even has a shoefinder to help you out. And for those of you who believe less shoe is more, then buy some minimalist shoes or go barefoot! Me and my worn down feet are going to stick with the cushion.
Warm up! Give your muscles time to heat up and become more flexible, increase your body temperature slowly and get that blood flowing. All of these steps are important in preventing injury and improving efficiency, especially if you are doing a speed workout. To warm up, run at least one mile at a slow, easy pace. If you have the time, jog even longer. And if you’re not breaking a sweat at the end of a warm-up, you may not be warm enough.
P.S. And don’t forget the cool-down!
Cross Train. There are benefits to cross training above and beyond injury prevention, such as improving your overall fitness and strengthening muscles that tend to be used less often in running. According to active.com, studies have shown that weight-training runners had fewer injuries. “Improved muscle strength allows athletes to develop more power, and evidence is beginning to appear that it reduces injury risk.” The article suggests that cycling and swimming are popular cross training choices for runners after long workouts on tracks or roads. Swimming in particular is a non weight-bearing sport, which can be a nice change of pace from constant pounding. I’m also a big fan of yoga and Pilates, for stretching those tight muscles and building your core, respectively.
Don’t forget the 10% rule. Build your mileage gradually as you train, so don’t over-do and tweak a body part.
Know your body. Fortunately, I have logged enough miles to have a pretty good idea about whether an injury is a debilitating one or not. For example, if pain is coming from a bone, that’s not a good sign! But if you are newer to running and have any doubt that an injury might be problematic, then err on the side of caution and get it check out by a professional. And preferably someone who is familiar with runners. You should also heed signs of overall fatigue. If you’re unusually tired and lethargic when out on a run, then cut it short. It’s better to go all out when you feel like doing so. You’ll appreciate and enjoy the running experience much more when the tank is full of gas.
Re-fuel and recover properly. Matt Fitzgerald had lots of advice on proper recovery in his book, Performance Nutrition for Runners. Matt strongly advocates eating and drinking as soon as possible after a race or long run, preferably within the first hour after exercise when the body is especially ready to make use of the nutrients. He suggests, “The most important recovery nutrients are carbohydrate and protein, and it equally crucial that these nutrients be consumed as soon as possible after training.” Not only does proper recovery nutrition help heal exercise-related muscle damage, but it can help boost an otherwise susceptible immune system as well.
Stretch. Stretching is one of the most commonly prescribed treatments for runners, yet we time-strapped runners often omit this one important step. And according to Cool Runner, “along with training gently and choosing the right shoes, stretching is the most important thing you can do to protect your body from the rigors of the road.” Check out their suggestions for twelve great stretches and read an old blog post of mine if you are interested in knowing more about the differences of dynamic and static stretches.