As a relatively new runner, I vividly remember making nearly every mistake in the book. I went from my first 5K to my first marathon in one year and, despite reading everything running-related I could get my hands on, I still foolishly believed I could power through injuries. Now, as I’m training for my third marathon, I’ve found the discipline necessary to do whatever it takes to be able to run injury free. Here are ten injury prevention tips to help you avoid the same mistakes that I did!
1. Build Mileage Slowly
Just because you can doesn’t always mean you should. Remember that when you contemplate taking your long run from 6 to 9 miles in one week. A standard rule is to not increase your overall weekly mileage, or your weekend long runs, more than 10% at a time.
Research is still very mixed on whether or not stretching before running is effective at preventing injuries. If it feels good to stretch before you run then keep doing it. But, if you don’t feel like it’s helping you get into the running grove, you can save it for after (as I do) and warm-up by taking a brisk 5-10 minute walk.
3. Foam Roll
One of the first injuries I dealt with was pain in my knees due to a tight IT band. A friend suggested I start foam rolling, and the pain went away and never returned. A foam roller is a relatively inexpensive tool to invest in that will last you the rest of your running life and only takes a few minutes to use after a run.
4. Trigger Point
For more acute injuries that a foam roller may not be able to target, look into trigger point therapy. During my first marathon training cycle, I developed achilles pain shin splints so painful that I would have to stop mid-run and hobble home nearly in tears. My local running store suggested I try trigger point, focusing on my soleus muscle. I now use the kit before every run, and I’ve had no further issues with my Achilles or shins.
5. Proper Recovery
Within 30 minutes of completing your run, aim to eat a 4:1 carb to protein ratio meal. This specific ratio will help maximize immune function, restore energy, and start to rebuild the muscles you tore down during your run.
6. Fuel Right
It’s easy to think of fueling properly right before or after a run, but don’t forget that every meal you eat has the opportunity to help fuel your runs. I didn’t feel like a “real runner” until I stopped using long runs as an excuse to eat whatever I wanted and, instead, ate foods that would help me perform better. There are no scientific formulas for this – whatever your dietary needs are, just do your best to eat healthy at every meal!
7. Listen to Your Body
When you’re injured, you should always take the necessary time off to recover. I say that, and yet I don’t always practice what I preach! Now, if I feel anything more than usual post-run soreness, I’ll take at least 2-3 days off before I try running again. If you’re injured, running further will only make your injury last longer. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a runner is not run.
8. Practice Good Form
There are a few different theories on what the best running form is but, in general, keep your shoulders down, arms parallel to the ground, and hands loose (not in fists). Breathing techniques and foot strike patterns vary for each person, so do whatever feels right for you.
9. Get Proper Fitted Shoes
This seems like a no brainer, but I had no idea how much of an improvement in my pace would happen when I had better shoes! I started off in big, clunky shoes that were hiding in my closet for years and, when I finally invested in a pair of real running shoes, it felt like I was running on air. Understanding the difference between all the different types of shoes can be overwhelming, so don’t hesitate to go to your local running store and have them help you out. I promise, they’d love to talk shoes with you!
10. Go Slow
When in doubt, slow down. It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to PR or ramp up mileage, but slow and steady wins the race every time (except on actual race day). Don’t forget to make some of your weekday runs easy runs. Don’t worry about pace. Just breathe in, enjoy the time, and be grateful that you have the ability to run.
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Erica House has her Masters in Psychology and has been teaching at the University level since 2007. She is certified as a Personal Trainer through the American College of Sports Medicine as well as a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. After quitting smoking and maintaining a 50 pound weight loss she became passionate about helping others on their journey to lifelong happiness and wellness.