Simple Steps To Injury Free Running: Part 1
Follow These Simple Steps For Injury Free Running.
Running injuries can be extremely frustrating and knock your confidence as well as your training plans. After two serious knee operations (not running related) I was told I wouldn’t be able to run again. At 44 years old I simply wasn’t ready to give up. To get back to running, I researched the underlying causes of most of the common causes of injury in runners – this included talking to experienced runners and physios about how injury can be avoided.
There are no guarantees in life but each of the factors below has helped me to significantly reduce my injury rate. At the time of writing I have just successfully completed a 20 mile training run in 4.14 hours and am course to run my first half and full marathons in March 2015. Perhaps they will help you too? Perhaps as importantly I am following a programme which enables me to train even when I have had injury. Enjoy.
Wear Appropriate And Well Maintained Running Shoes. Be under no illusion, running shoes are the most important piece of kit you own. For the vast majority of runners, running in anything other than the appropriate running shoe will likely cause trouble. We all run slightly differently depending on how much/little our foot rolls inward when it lands on the ground – this is referred to as pronation. Every human pronates, without pronation we wouldn’t be able to walk! You may well hear different terminology being used but ultimately there are 3 main ways the foot lands.
First is ‘Neutral’ or ‘Basic’, i.e. your foot lands on the outside of the heel and rolls inwardly slightly to absorb shock. Neutral runners typically require a Neutral running shoe.
- Second is ‘Over-pronation’, i.e. your foot rolls excessively inwards after the heel strike. Over-pronators (like me) typically require Motion Control or Stability Shoes. I wear Brooks Beasts which have been fantastic.
- Third is ‘Under-pronation’ or ‘Supination’, i.e. you land on the outside of your foot after your heel strike. Under-pronators typically require Cushioned shoes with plenty of flexibility.
Your best bet is to get high quality advice from a specialist running store – they will assess factors such as your biometrics, weight, foot shape and preferred running service. Running clubs are also a good source of advice. Don’t feel overawed, and if you are not comfortable, don’t buy. Check out my running shoe buying guide.
I have deliberately used the term “well-maintained” as wearing running shoes that are passed their shelf life are equally bad – running shoes only have a certain mileage in them after-which their structure breaks down. The mileage of each shoe will vary according to factors such your weight and the terrain you run on. To help avoid, running on knackered shoes, your best bet is to rotate 2 (or more) pairs of shoes during the week using new pairs for the shorter runs until you are used to them. This is more expensive I know but better in the mid to long term.
Less Is More. Avoid Over-Training. Over training is a major cause of running injuries in runners of all abilities. Many of us feel the temptation to get out there and run like Road Runner. It’s completely natural and our enthusiasm should be applauded but we do need to watch it. Our muscles, tendons and joints are simply not used to it and will likely breakdown. For those of you who are old enough to remember the time that new cars needed running in before they could be unleashed – this is the same principle. So take your time and build up slowly and good things will come. Ideally you should take a day off between runs to see how your body has reacted to your training. The break allows not only allows your body to rest but also allows it to strengthen and mend.
Running ‘junk’ miles is also a good way to over-train and get injured. Junk miles are those miles that are not included in your training plan but you just want to squeeze a couple of cheeky ones in. Please don’t. If you are following a good plan you will not need to add to it. If you have missed training due to work, injury or illness you can’t just add extra miles on – no matter how frustrated you are – running just doesn’t work that way.
Changing the type of training can cause trouble if undertaken too quickly. Suddenly launching yourself into an extreme hill running programme can cause chaos with your Achilles etc. Similarly changing the terrain you run on can have the same effect. Soft sand is the most notorious for causing injuries as it stretches our tendons and is de-stabilising to knee and ankle joints. Equally very soft grass can be equally problematic as my Achilles found out! Likewise hard surfaces can cause shin-splints. New exercise elements can cause trouble – the introduction of speed work exercises such as Cadence Drills. The trick is to test a small amount first – test how you react – and build up slowly from there.
Learn To Do The Shoe Shine Shuffle. The way we run has a considerable bearing on our likelihood of getting injured. Heel striking can place considerable force through the joints causing wear and tear. Lifting the knees too high will likely cause fatigue leading to injury. The folks at ChiRunning (pronounced Chee) hope to put an end to people running like a demented octopus
through adopting the principles of T’ai Chi. They believe that poor running form not only increases the risk of injury but also works against the laws of gravity – strong stuff!!
Shuffle running is becoming increasingly popular. Shuffle running advocates only lifting your feet high enough to clear the surface you are running on and you focus on taking small steps – at no point do you lengthen your stride. If you want to go faster then you simply increase your footfall. This type of running is not a fad, nor is it new. The elite army regiments have run like this for decades (and still do) – shuffling allows them to run long distances carrying very heavy loads while expending the minimum effort and wear and tear on the body. US Olympian Jeff Galloway is strong advocate of shuffling – check out his moves at: Jeff Galloway Running Form.
Jeff Galloway and the ChiRunning folks also encourage us to run tall. Galloway talks about running as is if you have a string tied to the top of your head – thereby enabling you to run upright. This reduces aches and pains across the shoulders and allows for more effective breathing.
Strengthen Your Core. Many of us run because we enjoy running, or we are training for an event that involves lots of it! Putting in the miles week in and week out is important – but just running on its own (whether its your long-runs or speed/hill work) is not enough. To build resilience into our running we need to strengthen our cores. Without a strong core we draw on our legs to power us (particularly on our longer runs) and this again can lead to fatigue and excessive wear and tear.
Unfortunately, while running in of its self won’t exercise our cores – so we need to take separate time out for that. The good news is that you don’t need lots of time or space – you just need to get into the habit of doing your core exercises little and often. There are a whole host of core exercise programmes available online. You just need to choose one that works for you and go from there. Personally I like to keep it really simple – below is a simple set of exercises taken from an excellent article in the Wall Street Journal of all places!
Follow A Run-Walk-Run Programme. A run-walk-run programme is a variant of Interval Training or Fartlek which effectively combines transitioning between running and walking (I am a genius I know!) in your training and races. Run-Walk-Run is the brainchild of US Olympian Jeff Galloway. The US marathon runner has been developing this approach for 30 odd years now and over 200,000 runners have passed through his running schools.
Jeff believes (and has the data to prove it) that shuffle running combined with taking regular walk breaks significantly reduces wear and tear on the body. His programmes are deliberately designed to break up the distances into manageable distances. Apparently, Jeff’s data shows that his programmes will increase your competition times in both the 13.1 (by 7 minutes) and 26.2 (by 13 minutes) mile marathon formats. I have been following this programme and all I can say is that without the walk breaks I would simply would not be able to run the distances that I can now run.
I appreciate that the thought of walk breaks may not appeal to everyone. There will be a certain mindset that says that unless you run every inch of the race then you haven’t really competed. I would love to be able to do this but it simply isn’t an option for me. Run-walk-run effectively opens up running to a whole host of folk who otherwise would not be able to do it using more traditional “just go out there and run” methods. My view is that if you comply with the race rules and finish within the specified cut-off times then you deserve your medal – I appreciate others may disagree.