Injuries are an unfortunate part of the running life. They just are. Either because of training errors, poor biomechanics, improper shoe selection or numerous other variables, nearly every runner gets injured at one time or another.
It’s been said time and time again, but we runners are the fittest group of injured athletes in the world. Unfortunately, injuries are a fact of the running life. Sooner or later, nearly every runner will suffer from some running-related injury. But most running injuries are minor, easily treatable and you are usually back on the road within a matter of days.
Fortunately, most of the common running injuries that plague runners are minor—and mostly avoidable. Obviously, prevention is the best way to go either by eliminating the causes or by listening to the body’s warning signs and backing off.
If you run smart and understand and practice some of the right things you can to do to preserve your running health, most of the common running injuries can be skirted.
Here are 10 ways you can reduce the chances of getting injured this spring and summer:
Walk in, walk out. Start every run with a few minutes of walking. And finish that way too. This will allow your muscles to warm up before the run and cool down following it. When you start the actual running, start slowly and gradually ease your way into the run. Hold yourself back for the first 5-10 minutes and eventually you will find your natural pace.
Progress slowly. When you feel it’s time to boost your training, only add small amounts of mileage, speed training or hills. Don’t add more than five miles a week or five minutes of speed work or more than an extra one or two sets of hills at a time. Allow your body the time it needs to gradually adapt to the added load and stress.
Don’t try to make up missed workouts. If you should happen to miss a scheduled key workout (such as a long run), it’s not that big a deal. Let it go and don’t try to make it up the next day. If you do try to squeeze a key workout in that you’ve missed, it will mess up your entire schedule and force you to run hard too many days in a row. Missing one workout—even a key one—isn’t going to hurt you in the long run. Trying to squeeze it, could hurt.
Go soft once or twice a week. If almost all of your running is on roads, seek out a trail or grass surface (such as Zilker Park) for at least a couple of easy runs every week. Doing so, will give your legs (and head) a needed break. We’re lucky: We have great trails and several parks in Austin for soft running.
When in doubt, sit out. When a minor strain, tenderness or muscle soreness crops up or you can’t run even a little without limping, pass on the scheduled workout. Instead, go for a walk or do some form of cross-training. Better to rest a tender area now, rather than push it and pay the consequences later.
R&R all year. Take at least one rest day per week, but also plan for one easy week of light running per month and one easy month per year. Ease off on the throttle and give your body a chance to bounce back. With marathon season over, spring and summer is the perfect time of year for plenty of casual, easy running.
Stretch after running. There shouldn’t be any debate whether you should stretch or when you stretch. Don’t bother stretching cold muscles before you run; stretch within 10 minutes after each and every run. If you don’t know how to stretch properly, learn. Or take a yoga class.
Ice, ice, ice. Whenever any muscle or tendon is tender to the touch after running, ice it. Cool the inflamed muscle by applying ice, frozen peas or a commercial ice pack. Never heat an injured or sore muscle after running.
Monitor shoe wear. Obviously, you should wear a high quality pair of running shoes whenever you run and not just any old sneaker. But it’s important to monitor the amount of wear you have on your shoes. Even the best running shoes will wear out eventually and lose its ability to cushion and protect your feet. How do you know? If an easy run results in abnormal soreness and/or the shoe’s cushioning feels exceptionally firm, is a good time to check your shoes for wear. A good pair of shoes will last anywhere from 350 to 500 miles. It’s better to change to a new pair of shoes too early, rather than too late.
Never run through pain. Never. Whoever said no pain, no gain is undoubtedly chronically injured. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Pain should be respected. If there is pain, stop running. Always err on the side of caution. We’re talking pain from a calf strain or foot injury, not that feeling you get at the end of a tempo run.