How to Run Injury-Free

27 Jul

Whether you’re a new runner or a seasoned marathoner, the quickest road to being a spectator rather than a participant is getting injured.

Some background: I’ve run pretty consistently since I ran track in high school. In all that time (and trust me, it’s a looong time) I’ve never really been injured. Two years ago, I had a foot issue (plantar fasciitis) – but a pair of orthotics and a temporary decrease in my mileage, and I was all set. But that was B.F. – Before Forty – and this is A.F. – After Forty. It’s not that I think my best years are behind me. I don’t. On the contrary, I know they’re ahead of me. It just takes a little more effort and persistence than it did before.

Today was the first time I nearly didn’t finish a run because of pain that was the result of an injury. I call that “bad pain.” “Good pain” is the pain you endure in order to improve or get stronger. “Bad pain” is a pain that signifies something is wrong.

This is my actual knee - not a stunt knee - after the skiing accident that started it all. Have I mentioned I hate skiing?

I hope none of you find yourself in that position – because it sucks. A lot. Now that I’m a little bit older my body doesn’t bounce back quite the way it once did and it also doesn’t put up with the neglect I once subjected it to. I couldn’t have avoided my skiing incident (unless, of course, I didn’t suck at skiing) but there are some things you can do to keep injury at bay.

The Internet is full of sometimes-contradictory advice on avoiding injury as a runner. Some of it might work for you and some of it won’t. I’d like to share some fundamental steps you can take to stay injury-free. These are things I do – or have learned to do, the hard way.

5 Tips to Help you Stay Injury Free

  1. Buy running shoes that accommodate your size and feet and stride.
    I’ll be honest, when I was younger, I bought the sneakers I thought were pretty. Big mistake. Your feet hit the ground almost 1,000 times for every mile that you run. Too much or too little cushioning can lead to disaster. I’m a distance runner who overpronates. I wear shoes that help support my feet. Go to your local running store – they’ll help you find the shoe that will work for you. (And as I recently learned, the shoe that’s worked for you for years may not anymore.)
  2. Stretch. 
    I know that there are plenty of runners who never stretch before they run and have never had a problem. Good for you. Really. I was one of you, once. Not anymore. Flexibility is one of those things that you lose as you get older unless you work to maintain it. There was a time that I could put my leg over my head – true story, I was super popular – now, I’d need surgery if I tried that. As much as I am loath to use any of my “running time” to stretch – I do it. You should too.
  3. Strength train.
    Strengthen your core. Blah blah blah, you hear it all the time, right? It’s true. The stronger you are, the less prone to injury you’ll be. Let me give you my story as illustration: I fell while skiing and tore a minor ligament in my right knee in December. After 8 weeks of recovery, I started running again. All of the sudden, my left knee started to have problems. It turns out that my left leg wasn’t strong enough – particularly my hamstrings and glutes – to withstand the slight shift that was taking place in my stride. It was like dominoes; my left knee affected my hips affected my back. Now I’m doing physical therapy to – guess what – strengthen my hamstrings and glutes. Save yourself the trouble and do it before you get hurt.
  4. Increase your mileage gradually.
    The rule of thumb is 10% per week. I’ve seen folks try to go from 10-12 miles per week to 25. You might be able to do it, but why take the risk? At some point, the law of diminishing returns will kick in and your body will start to tell you it’s running far enough. That’s where suggestion 5 comes in:
  5. Don’t be afraid to rest.
    Listen to your body. The world will keep spinning on its axis if you take a day or two – or even a week – off from running. I try to remind myself that my body and I are on the same side – my body is not my enemy. If she tells me she needs rest – I rest. If I’m really tired or very sore, or my run the day before was miserable, I interpret these as signs that I need time to recover a bit more or that I need to back down the number of miles I’m running.
I can’t guarantee that you won’t hit a speed bump on your way to whatever your running goals are – but these tips should keep you up and running.
What’s the worst running injury you’ve ever had? What did you do that made it worse or better?
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