In the peak of Boston Marathon training, I’m super paranoid about getting injured. I’m super paranoid about running too much and getting some type of overuse injury, and every time I hit the road or the trails, I’m hyper alert for cracks in the sidewalk, roots on the path, and hazardous tripping items. Never mind that I have run these routes for nearly two years and could likely do it with my eyes closed. I’m super paranoid about falling or clumsily tripping over an every day item or doing something along those lines and causing far worse than just a bit of an overuse injury. Maybe a little excessive at times, but it’s Boston on the line. And to that end, I’ve also been putting in some time and effort to be extra careful to prevent any injuries. I can be a bit relentless when it comes to training for something like a marathon, always ploughing through with the thought of “training, training, training,” an not necessarily listening to my body like I should. This time though, I’ve been extra careful, and any residual soreness or hurting gets lots of attention. Whether you’re training for a specific race, or just want to make sure you can run for a long time to come, these injury prevention tips are a great way to help maintain your overall running health!
- Get some sleep – when you get deep into training, it seems like the only priority is how early you have to get up to have time to fit in your run and training and cross training and long run. But the reality is, that without adequate, and good quality sleep, your running efforts may not be giving you the results you should be seeing. Sleep is like a huge reset button for our body: it’s the time it uses to repair, refuel, recover and get us set up to tackle the cycle all over again the next day. It is also the time when it builds and improves. It takes all that work we did on our muscles in our strength training and all that endurance we were building on during our long run and integrates it into our body in the calm of the night, when it can focus solely on that and not on all the other bodily functions like digestion, concentration, movement etc.
- Strengthen your muscles – While the idea that every day is leg day for runners, is partly true (we do work our legs a lot), it doesn’t mean that you don’t need to spend some time doing specific, muscle targeted strength training on your legs. Working the glutes and hamstrings is especially important, as our tendency is to mostly use our quads when it comes to running. Think of your muscles as the foundation: you don’t build a house on a shaky foundation and nor should you be running on one. Working on your overall strength means you have better form, and a better base that you can use when you are out there at mile 20 and things are looking bad.
- Foam roll – Along with strengthening, you’d better be stretching! Muscles get tight without you even realizing and proper foam rolling and stretching is your best line of defense in ensuring this tightness doesn’t lead to further problems. Tight muscles pull on joints, bones and anything else they are attached to, and this is at the root of many injuries, including tears and tendonitis. Get in the habit of warming up your muscles before you start your run, and stretching them out after, as well as regularly doing foam rolling exercises.
- See a chiropractor/osteopath/massage therapist – These people are all in the business of proper alignment, and bone and muscle health – all key elements of successful running. They know the science behind why and how our body works, and for runners, that’s exactly what we want to know too. Having regular appointments with professionals means they will likely notice something is out of whack before you and be able to put corrective measures in place before you end up having to stop running!
- Figure out your fuel – It’s true, you need fuel to run, but you also need fuel to recover, and good recovery is a big part of what prevents injury. You owe it to yourself to put some time and effort (and trial and error) into figuring out what you need and what works for you in terms of recovery fuel. Proper recovery is what makes sure you can come back tomorrow ready to perform at your best or better than yesterday. For runs less than an hour long, this isn’t as critical, and you can likely go about your day with normal meals and snacks, provided they are already nutritionally dense and well-rounded. But when you get into runs over an hour and certainly into the two and three hour mark, you need extra calories to replenish what you’ve lost so that your body moves forward with progress and doesn’t regress. Typically this looks like carbs, protein and a healthy fat within 30 minutes of finishing your run. Carbohydrates are our body’s main source of energy and with activity that long, it will be craving the energy source. Protein is to help in the process of rebuilding the depleted muscles and cells within your body, while healthy fats are a key player in fighting inflammation, a common occurrence after long extended physical effort.
Proper recover is what makes sure you can come back tomorrow and the next day and the next day, ready to perform at your best.
- Watch your stride and form – But don’t go trying to change it all of the sudden! Poor form can be an indication of an underlying issue (like tight or weak muscles), for which your body is trying to compensate. You may notice this is exhibited especially after you have been running for an extended duration, and in your fatigues stated, your form changes. Addressing the underlying issue is the best way to fix the problem. Quick fixes, like new shoes or changing your strike pattern (i.e. from heel strike to toe strike) will more than likely result in further injury before they fix the problem. Been there done that! Likewise, pay attention to your running cadence. Sure, it can be changed to improve your speed and efficiency, but analyzed as is, without modification, can also be an indicator of other impending injuries.
- Replace your shoes regularly – While new shoes may not be the solution to bad form, they can be a preventative measure in keeping injuries at bay. There is an incredible amount of technology behind shoes that is there to help you run your best and not get injured, by offering you the support you need where you need it. When they get used a lot, and worn down, that support is no longer there, and as a result, neither is the injury prevention. There are lots of thoughts on how often you should replace your shoes, from everything based on the number of days to number of months, to number of miles. Personally, I don’t keep track of how many miles my shoes have, or how many days I’ve run in them, so I just pay attention to them. Pick up your shoes and look at them. Are they significantly worn down in one area more than another? Are there holes in them, or treads worn off? You know what worn out shoes look like . . . do yourself a favour and buy some brand spankin’ new ones. And a word of caution: if you are switching up the brand/support etc., ease into them gradually, alternating your old and new as you break them in, otherwise you may end up with an injury anyways!
Ready to go running? Here’s what you need to get you started:
- Run Series Part I: Base Training
- 8 Running Mistakes (and how to fix them!)
- Resources for Runners
- How to Start Running