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Beginner’s Guide to Preventing Running Injuries

Dec 17, 2018

Rain, shine, or snow—there aren’t many weather conditions that will stop a dedicated runner. Injuries, however, are another story.

While running is a great activity with a lot of really positive benefits—improved heart health, overall fitness, even improved mood and mental function—runners are also at increased risk of developing all kinds of injuries. Many fall into the “minor and irritating” category, but some may require more extensive treatment—or even surgery.

When you consider that your feet have to absorb an impact force equivalent to several times your own body weight with each step, that’s perhaps not such a surprise.

Fortunately, while you can’t always prevent an accidental injury, you can significantly reduce your risk by making smart choices about how you choose to run and train.

Select a Good Pair of Running Shoes

Choosing appropriate footwear is one of the most important decisions you can make when it comes to preventing running injuries.

Now, some “hardcore” runners might tell you that you need to spend $100 or more on a pair of running shoes. That may or may not be true for you, but what we will say is that if you do plan to run a lot, it’s not worth it to cut corners to save a few bucks.

That doesn’t mean the most expensive shoe is always better; it just means that whatever running shoe you decide to buy, it should be a good match for your foot size and shape, your running style (overpronation, underpronation, etc.), and offer the cushioning and support your feet need.

Poor quality shoes—or even “high quality” shoes that aren’t the right fit for your feet—will wear out quickly and tear up your feet in the process.

Don’t forget about socks, either. Running socks should be comfortable and breathable, and wick moisture away from your feet. Avoid cotton—they absorb a ton of water and can cause blisters on an especially hot or wet day. Merino wool or synthetics like nylon, polyester, or spandex often make good choices.

Not sure what your pronation style is, or how to find the right fit? The staff at a specialty running store will often be able to point you in the right direction—or we can. More on that in a bit.

Replace Your Running Shoes When They Wear Out

Nothing lasts forever. Most running shoes won’t make it past 500 miles logged, and that’s at the high end of the range.

The lightest and cheapest models might only crack 300, although it depends on the quality of the shoe, your body weight, and the way that you run, among other things.

Even if the shoes remain squeaky clean on the outside (not likely), you’ll begin to see the treads wear down. The midsoles (which you normally can’t see) will also gradually compress and lose their ability to provide shock absorption and springiness to your strides.

Once your shoes start getting up in mileage—and especially if you’re noticing more and more foot soreness during or after your run—it’s time to replace them.

Start Slow and Listen to Your Body

Marathoners weren’t made in a day. Although almost any healthy individual can work their way up to becoming a consistent distance runner (although not necessarily a fast one), it takes time and patience.

One mistake many runners make is that they try to do too much, too fast. But running yourself until you’re winded, sore, and hurting all over isn’t going to get you to the promised land any faster. On the contrary, it will only significantly increase your odds of developing a serious injury.

(Not to mention, if you aren’t having any fun you’re more likely to quit entirely.)

You should always listen to your body. Rest when it’s telling you to rest. If something is painful to do, stop doing it! That is your body telling you that something isn’t working—and is going to get even worse if you don’t do something about it.

The ideal running pace is one that allows you to carry on a conversation at normal volume, without wheezing or panting.

Now, if you’re a beginner and totally out of shape, you might reach this threshold even after a short period of slow jogging. Don’t be afraid to alternate between walking and jogging—even mostly walking!—if that’s what you need to do at first. Even for elite runners, training is about taking small steps.

As your fitness improves, you can go a little harder—but keep listening to your body, and don’t try to increase your intensity by more than 10 to 15 percent per week. It might seem slow at first, but you might be surprised at how quickly you can get from “non-runner” to “5K” to “on to the next challenge.”

Just stay positive and don’t push yourself too hard—you’ll get there!

Also, don’t forget to stretch and warm up for about ten minutes before starting your run, and cooling down with some walking afterward until your heart rate returns to normal.

Running in Winter

Since this is Michigan and winter came even earlier than usual this year, we need to talk a bit about winter running.

As we said, cold weather doesn’t stop this community—as evidenced by the upcoming Winter Blast Half Marathon in Portage on February 24, 2019!

That said, running in the cold does require a few additional considerations:

  • Dress as if the weather were about 20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it really is. You’ll also want to be layered with clothes that can wick moisture and vent air as your body heats up—zippers, technical fabrics, etc. You’ll also probably want to avoid running shoes that have too much mesh for the uppers.
  • If running on snow or ice, shorten up your stride, slow down your pace, and wear a pair of trail running shoes with extra traction.
  • Respect the wind. Bitterly cold winter winds are no fun, so do your best to avoid them. If you can’t do that, at least try running into the wind on the way out (when you have more energy and are less sweaty) and running with the wind on your way back.
  • Warm ups become even more important in winter conditions. Get your heart moving inside before venturing out for the run.
  • If possible, run during the warmest and brightest time of the day—you’ll be more comfortable and more visible to traffic. If you run when it’s darker out, consider wearing high-visibility gear or even flashers.
  • Don’t forget to drink lots of water. You still need to hydrate just as much in winter as you do in the summer.
  • Change out of your running clothes quickly after you return home, especially if they get wet.

Check in With a Podiatrist Before Starting a New Running Program

While we can give you the basics in a blog like this, it’s always a good idea to check in with a podiatrist like Dr. Bredeweg before beginning any new running program—especially if you’re a beginner.

No two feet are exactly the same, and everybody runs a little bit differently. The height of your arch, how much you pronate, your stride length, any existing foot conditions you might have—all these factors and more can influence how you run, and what injury risks you have.

At your check-up appointment, we’ll be able to give you more specific advice about preventative measures, what shoes to buy, best practices for stretching and warm up, etc. We can even prescribe a pair of custom orthotics ideal for running (or recommend a particular set of prefabricated insoles) if you need them.

So get out there and run with confidence!

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