We’re fast approaching what I call injury season, the time of year runners ramp up their training and are more likely to get injured. Here’s the thing: In most cases, running injuries are completely avoidable — you just need to train smarter.
Winter is brutal for training. It’s dark, cold and snowy. Most of us have been cooped up inside on the treadmill for three months; the intrepid few have been outside, bundled up dodging ice and snow patches.
Now that the weather is getting nicer and days longer, everyone is eager to get outside and enjoy the warmer temperatures. Odds are you’ll run a bit more, a bit faster and a bit longer. It’s this sudden increase in mileage and intensity that will lead you down the injury path.
One study found that over 60 percent of running injuries are from training errors, meaning they could have been avoided with smarter training. Here are five tips to help you avoid making mistakes that could lead to injury.
1. Be patient.
The biggest mistake I see is not being patient when increasing volume or intensity. Going from either not running at all or running very little to running several times per week will most likely leave you injured.
If you haven’t been running consistently for at least a few weeks, don’t abruptly start running on a regular basis. Start conservatively for the first four to six weeks. This will allow time for your connective tissues and muscles to adapt to the stress of regular running. For those who ran less then three days per week over the winter, start by running three nonconsecutive days a week for an easily doable amount of time. Look to end the run feeling as if you could have gone another five to 10 minutes. Every two to three weeks, if you're feeling good, add one more day.
Even runners who have been running regularly are susceptible to overtraining. In fact, these runners maybe even more at risk. If you’re following a training plan, stick with it. Don’t abruptly start adding mileage. Most plans are designed to safely increase the volume and intensity each week. Vary your paces and avoid putting two intense days back-to-back.
2. Adjust to outside running.
For those who stayed inside on the treadmill all winter, be prepared for an adjustment period during which your body will need to get use to the switch to outside running. The treadmill is easier on the legs because there’s a slight give with each footstep, whereas concrete or asphalt have no give. Look to complete as many runs as you can on soft surfaces such as grass or dirt. Don’t suddenly increase your mileage, and look to replace your shoes.
Pacing is another factor you’ll need to pay close attention to. Odds are you’ll have very little sense of pace because the treadmill has been doing the pacing for you. Look to start your runs slower then usual. Use a GPS watch or mile markers to monitor your pace very carefully.
3. Don’t force fitness.
Here’s the thing: As you become fitter, your likelihood of injury increases. Once harder paces now feel easier and former long runs feel shorter, so the tendency is to start running faster and longer. Makes sense, right? However, this increase in pace and mileage can put you at a greater risk of injury. Just because you can run faster or longer doesn’t mean you should.
4. Listen to your inner voice.
This is often the last warning sign your body will give you before it goes. If you get a sense that it’s best to take the day off, do it! It’s usually your body telling you it needs rest.
5. Get new shoes.
This seems like an obvious and easy fix, however, I find that a lot of runners get this one wrong. Running is relatively inexpensive sport, so don’t skimp the one piece of equipment you need to do it well. Don’t buy shoes based on price or color, and avoid buying shoes online. Go to a running specialty store where they can assess how you run and fit you properly.
As I like to say, an undertrained runner will always beat an injured runner who can’t make it to the starting line. With some smart training, you can avoid injury; odds are you’ll make it to the starting line healthy and ready to go.
This was orginally published for Be Well Philly and can be found here.