Spring Running: 5 Ways to Run Healthy and Injury-Free
Fire up the grills and clean up the clutter, Spring is almost here! While it’s still a bit chilly, around this time of year is when you typically start to see more and more runners spilling out onto the roads like bears awakening from a good winter’s slumber. However, an increase in running goes hand in hand with an increase in the prevalence of injuries.
Remaining injury-free as a runner requires a balance between training, recovery, and proper programming. This article discusses 5 ways to run injury-free this spring.
Ease back into it
This is my #1 tip and for good reason. Unless you’re one of the lucky few who lives in a southern state, the rest of us have had to deal with the cold and dreary winter months. As a result, we make more excuses to skip the morning run and we tend to cut back on the weekly training plan.
Now that the sun is shining and the temperatures are rising, finding that motivation is a bit easier. Typically, this is where the problems start.
When discussing the topic of injury prevention, acute:chronic workload ratios should always be considered. Essentially, the more total volume of training completed in a shorter time frame, or the higher the acute training load in comparison to what we normally do training wise, the more likely we are to become injured. That’s why it’s so important to ease back into training after long periods of detraining.
Transitioning from low to high mileage too quickly can result in a plethora of issues including IT band syndrome, Achilles tendinopathy, anterior knee pain, etc.
Most runners and coaches have heard of the 10% rule, which simply says that you should add no more than 10 percent per week to your total weekly mileage. I believe most training plans should be specifically tailored to each individual, and that if you’re starting at single-digit weekly mileage after a layoff, you can add more than 10 percent per week until you’re close to your normal training load. However, this formula is simple and effective for most runners to use, especially when transitioning back into running.
Altering training can be a sticky process, and without structure and constant monitoring, it can be difficult to implement changes when needed.
This brings me to my next point…
Start a training log
As mentioned earlier, gradually increasing mileage and intensity is one of the most important factors to consider in terms of both performance and injury prevention. Keeping track of your daily/weekly/monthly volume, nutritional recordings, and subjective information, such as how you’re feeling day to day, will allow you to take a step back and accurately assess your training.
What gets measured, gets managed.
By looking back over the past information in your running journal or training log, you can determine where changes need to be made for the future.
For example, say you find yourself struggling to improve your 5K times from race to race. Look back to a couple of years ago when you were improving on a weekly basis. What were you doing then that was different? Is your knee flaring up at the end of longs runs a result of too much intensity or mileage? You’ll only know if you have a log.
Keeping a detailed recording of your daily training will help track daily/weekly/monthly and allow us to look back to find trends or spikes in training volume. This is essential when planning training for the future, or when monitoring for signs of overtraining.
An accurate and up to date journal also helps keep you accountable. Finding the motivation can be tough at times. Knowing that you’ll have to log “Netflix and chilled all day…” instead of your daily workout can sometimes be all the push we need to get out of the door.
Utilize the warm-up/cool-down
A majority of the running injuries that I see and work with are a result of not adequately priming and/or downregulating our systems.
We know that a warm-up is important when completing any other sport such as weightlifting, CrossFit, basektball, etc. However, for whatever reason, running is always the exception and we tend to just jump right into it without taking the time to prep our bodies for the task at hand.
Before going for a run, our body needs to be prepared for the toll that running will take. The muscles that need to be awake (glutes, core, calves, shoulders, etc.) are often “sleepy”, and need to be jump-started in order to perform effectively while running. In addition, our nervous system should be excited, which is often not the case when popping out of bed for the 5am training run.
A diligent warm-up should get the blood flowing, heat up soft tissue around your calves and feet, activate the stabilizing musculature, and prime your nervous system.
Here are a few ideas to incorporate into your program:
How do you know if you’re ready? A light sweat is a good indicator.
Post-run, the body is still in a heightened state of “come at me bro.”
The last thing you want to do is go straight from your run, take a quick shower, and sit the rest of the day without any sort of transition period.
Instead, perform a post-run cool-down consisting of 5-10 minutes of walking/jogging with a focus on breathing to help down-regulate your systems. Follow that up with some mobility work and light stretching, again with a focus on breathing and “throttling down.” Hydrate and refuel with a combination carbohydrate-protein food to polish it all off.
A simple way to think about it is by following the 10-minute rule. Start every run with 10 minutes of walking and slow running, and do the same to cool down. Simple and effective and easy to implement.
Running is great for the body, until it isn’t. It’s inevitable that over time, a runner will develop tightness, aches, and pains. However, these can often be alleviated and treated without running to a MD or popping pain meds.
By listening to your body and addressing its needs, we create a system of maintenance and prevention rather than treatment and rehab.
Heel cords feeling super tight after yesterday’s long run? It’s probably a good idea to spend a few extra minutes mobilizing and foam rolling while you watch re-runs of “How I Met Your Mother.”
It doesn’t take an hour-long session of yoga to be considered basic maintenance and for you to continue to perform at your best. 5-10 minutes daily, with intent and focus, rather than what you saw Tina Tight Abs doing at the gym this morning. That’s all it takes.
Basic maintenance is a huge piece of the puzzle of “pain-free running” and therefore, needs to be a daily practice.
Continue with strength/cross-training
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of working with myself or Matt Stevens then you understand the importance of strength, stability, power, and balance. Without these, runners will continue to break down under high volumes of training, and never tap into the wells of high-level performance they’re constantly searching for.
The specificity rule of training tells us that in order to be better at our given sports, we need to train at that sport. So yes, the surest way to run better is to run, and if your time is limited, devote most of it to running. However, the fastest and most robust runners are the ones who are better overall athletes, and not just runners.
We know that things such as running with poor form increases stress on the body and that running with a poorly prepared body means you’ll never be able to improve your form.
Poor preparation -> poor form -> increased stress -> potential for injury
Inability to control dynamic alignment under load and fatigue is another building block of injury and overtraining. People come in weak and unstable when completing even the most basic movements and we know that weak runners break down in form with fatigue.
To quote Gray Cook, from his book “Movement”, “Runners insist they cannot take time off from running to work on these patterns because they believe endurance will decline, but in fact, reduced efficiency is guaranteed when continuing to train and practice sub-optimal patterns with high training volume. The enhanced efficiency gained by two weeks of mobility and stability corrective exercises and calisthenics targeting weak links will FAR outweigh any microscopic loss in metabolic efficiency.”
This is why it’s so essential to incorporate strength training and cross-training into running programs. The goal is build stronger and more injury-resistant runners that are able to tap into power when needed for performance. The only way to build these runners is through strength training. It’s not possible to get stronger through just running.
However, without the proper planning and programming, we can find ourselves battling what is known as the interference effect. When concurrently training both the capacities of endurance and strength, interference may occur, and we may begin to hinder the development of either strength or endurance when compared to training them independently.
While we often see this in the form of lost power/strength in those training for ultras or marathons, we know that endurance is typically less affected by the introduction of concurrent strength training. Through program periodization and allowing sufficient recovery between training sessions, we can minimize the side effects of concurrent training while continuing to build stronger and more efficient runners.
Overall, running should be thought of a skill and appreciated for the high-level sport that it truly is. In order to continue to participate in this sport without the unwanted side-effects of injury and overtraining, we must blend the aforementioned tips into our programs and training protocols.
Take these tips, apply them, and enjoy your running!
Thanks for reading.