Running is one of my favorite hobbies and ways to exercise. Since the beginning of my running career, I have been very fortunate to only have a few minor injuries. Each injury has taught me to be more attentive to my body and has helped me to learn new methods for preventing future injury.
Training for a race is an amazing, enlightening, and liberating way to exercise that can burn calories, strengthen, and tone simultaneously. It requires hours of dedication, research, and experimentation to learn how your body can run at its maximum potential. It also can wreak havoc on your body if you do not take the proper precautions. Below are a few good ways that runners can prevent injuries.
– Shoes –
Having the correct shoes can make all the difference in your training. While you are training, your feet are going to take a beating (literally), so be nice to them and invest in a good pair of running shoes. Consider going to a specialty running store instead of just going to a department store. The prices will be comparable to other stores and you can rest easy knowing you have the proper shoes. They are trained to help fit your shoes and make sure you are in the proper shoes based on your arch and pronation (either rolling in or out).
A running store should be able to give you a gait analysis to make sure you are fitted in the perfect shoes for you. A gait analysis is used to study your body mechanics, uncover any issues, and observe your stride. All you have to do is walk or jog on a treadmill and someone will be able to figure your feet out! It is really important not to use your running shoes for any other activities other than your regular runs. Shoes have a limited lifetime and you will need to replace them fairly frequently. If you only use your running shoes to run, it will extend durability and usable life. If you wear your running shoes to the gym, you will soften the soles and lose a lot of the cushioning you need to protect your joints from impact.
– Yoga –
As a runner, yoga has made all the difference in my life. I heavily rely on my yoga practice to complement and improve my running. A yoga practice is comprised of several series of strength and balance poses with concentration on breathing. Yoga allows a runner to explore muscular groups that are not typically utilized in training, but will be very beneficial for strengthening overall performance. A yoga practice will improve a runner’s balance which can be helpful for trail running, agility training, and speed.
Your practice can emphasize focus on particular areas of the body. I suggest focusing on the lower body and core to improve running up hills and leg endurance. For help maintaining an open chest and creating more space for breathing, focus on the upper body and chest. The concentration on breathing in yoga can seem odd and uncomfortable to anyone new to practicing, but the benefits are substantial. Finding the ability to control your breathing will help you monitor your pace while climbing a hill, increase your oxygen intake for sprints, and stabilize your breath faster. Even if the physical aspects of yoga are not for you, deep breathing exercises with help you make significant improvements in your running.
– Hydration –
Staying hydrated can affect every aspect of your training. If your body is dehydrated (most people operate in some state of dehydration regularly), you are more prone to illness, injury, and soreness. You will not be able to recover as quickly, train as proficiently, or continue to run for lengthy amounts of time. Re-hydrating after your run is not the only time you should be monitoring your liquids. While you are training, your body will constantly need water. You should average 8-12 cups of water on a regular day with modification depending on the weather, your activity level, and the needs of your body. On running days, begin your hydration as soon as you wake up, and don’t drink too much at one time or right before you train. After you return home, make sure to drink at least two full glasses of water and possibly more, depending on how much you were sweating. Don’t chug, but also don’t let a long amount of time pass before drinking.
– Supplements –
Water is not the only thing you should concentrate on while training. Your diet will need to be adjusted to ensure your body has all of the best nutrients to perform at the optimum level. This is one aspect of training where I have not been very diligent in the past and has led to most of my injuries. My micro-fractured foot was due to an iron and omega 3 deficit. Fish oil is a vital addition to a runner’s diet during training since it decreases inflammation and pain while boosting the immune system to prevent illness. Runners should also add a multivitamin and an iron vitamin to prevent bone density loss or risk of fractures. In addition to supplements, I highly suggest increasing your daily caloric intake, particularly your carbohydrates and protein.
– Post-Run Stretching –
Stretching is one of the most important and overlooked aspects of exercise. For some people, it is the most difficult part of being a runner. Some don’t see the purpose and others find it too painful to try. Stretching at the end of your run relaxes the muscles, allows the heart rate to lower, helps the body to recover faster (less soreness), encourages muscles to rebuild, and increases joint range of motion. Practicing yoga will help you learn correct stretching methods for your body under the supervision of an expert. The more frequently you stretch, the more flexible you will become and the less painful stretching will be.
– Plan Ahead –
This may seem like a very trivial and obvious point, but I can not emphasize enough the importance of planning ahead. Accidents happen to everyone but can happen more easily if we are not prepared. Map your route ahead of time and bring a phone or GPS just in case you get lost. The Road I.D. app is my favorite running app because it allows you to send tracking emails to friends or family so someone can know your exact location. The app also has a safety feature that, if you stand still for more than five minutes, it will automatically call your emergency contact or 911.
Always have some form of identification on your body, I never run without my Road I.D bracelet and my phone. Know what the weather is supposed to be and dress accordingly (approximately 20 degree warmer than current temperature is the best rule of thumb). Pack water and snacks for long runs or plan your water stops along your route. Know where public bathrooms are located, just in case. Know the terrain of your route so you can pace yourself.
Running is a journey that will push you to your limits and test your perseverance. It will also show you things about yourself you never knew, and open you up to a whole new world of adventures. We are always prone to injury but being prepared, knowing your body, and taking care of yourself significantly decreases the risks. Have patience with yourself and your body. Success doesn’t happen overnight but is worth working for. Always stay positive and keep the finish line in sight!