You’ve probably been told by well-meaning (or just mean) friends and relatives that running is bad for your knees, hamstrings, ankles, joints, ligaments and just about everything else. Science has proven that all to be utter bunk, but one thing the naysayers may just have right is that you probably will end up injured at some point. Given that many of us run several times a week – pounding hard, unrelenting pavement – it’s only to be expected that at some point we will start to develop niggles. The key things are to prevent injuries (as much as possible), acknowledge when we are injured, and to get appropriate treatment/recuperation.
Prevention is better than cure
As with most things, it’s better to avoid the problem in the first place than to try to fix it – so how do you lower your risk of injury? Experts suggest it’s a combination of several factors: good core strength, correct form, the right footwear, and avoiding fatigue.
Runners tend to develop very strong leg muscles but can often neglect the rest of their body. A strong core is essential for maintaining your form while running – it helps increase stability and limits rotation when swinging your arms and legs, enabling you to run further and faster with less fatigue. Yoga, pilates, kettlebells, free-weights, or body-weight exercises such as planks will all help – find one you enjoy, add it to your training schedule and reap the rewards.
Poor form can contribute to numerous injuries and niggles – if you have a recurring injury, it may be related to poor running form. The main culprits are:
- Slow cadence – this is basically how many times your feet strike the ground in a minute. It’s recommended that you aim for 160-180 steps per minute so, if your cadence is low, try gradually increasing it (without lengthening your stride – see the next point!)
- Over-striding – if your leading foot lands too far in front of you, this can result in heel-striking (which can cause stress and impact related injuries) and also acts as a brake on your forward momentum. Try shortening your stride and landing on the ball of your foot.
- Twisting/slouching – if your torso twists as you run, or you find yourself hunched over on longer runs, this is a sign that your core muscles may need work.
There is no one, ‘right’ shoe that will keep you injury free but running in the wrong ones could certainly contribute to injuries. As everyone’s feet and running style are different, don’t rely on recommendations from a friend – get advice from experts at a specialist running store, particularly if you’re struggling with injuries which may be caused by your footwear. Pay attention to wear patterns on your shoes as this will indicate where you’re putting most of your impact/force and don’t run in trainers that are badly fitting or worn out as you risk developing plantar fasciitis or shin splints.
As a general guide, make sure you’ve got at least a thumb’s width of space at the end. Black toenails are not a natural part of running and you shouldn’t lose toenails unless you’re running a lot of miles downhill. Blisters and chafing can also be avoided (or at least kept to a minimum) with the right socks and/or liberal application of BodyGlide or chamois cream (steal some from your cycling buddies to try it).
Most injuries are sustained as a result of over-training, ignoring warning signs from our bodies and trying to ‘push’ through minor niggles. Running places a lot of stress on the body and it’s important to allow time for recovery between hard training sessions. If you do all your runs at the same intensity, your muscles may not be able to fully recover between sessions – make sure you mix up your training intensity and allow yourself rest days.Also, don’t be a slave to your GPS watch – some days 8.30 min/miles may seem easy, some days (into a headwind or when fighting a cold etc.) the same pace may feel significantly harder. Run according to perceived effort instead and save sweating over pace for track sessions and race day.
Also, don’t be a slave to your GPS watch – some days X min/miles may seem easy, some days (into a headwind or when fighting a cold etc.) the same pace may feel significantly harder. Run according to perceived effort instead and save sweating over pace for track sessions and race day.
Most importantly, pay attention to niggles, aches, and pains. Don’t try to run through ‘minor’ injuries – this is a pretty much 100% guaranteed way to develop a full blown injury. Believe me, I’ve been there!