Too many runners repeatedly make the same mistakes in their training,
following the same pattern of training, injury, and recovery, secure
in the fact that they can always "fix it" afterwards.
Here, taken from Joe Ellis' book Running Injury-Free, are seven
ways to avoid injuries from the start.
1. Find a Friendly Surface
The best surfaces for running are firm (not mushy or slippery),
relatively flat (without camber), smooth (without ruts or holes),
and provide some degree of shock absorption. The more angled the
surface, the steeper the incline, the harder the surface, the greater
are the chances of an injury.
Grassy areas such as golf courses make relatively poor running surfaces.
This may surprise some people who choose grass because it's soft.
But grassy surfaces are also uneven. And many of us--more than half
the population--have some biomechanical abnormality. So running
on grass makes the muscles and tendons in your feet and legs work
harder and leaves you more susceptible to injury.
Roads are also notoriously poor surfaces, not only because of traffic
hazards but because they are canted so that water will run off the
center of the road. This slant causes the "upward" foot
to pronate more and the "downward" foot to supinate more.
Provided you wear good shock-absorbing shoes, sidewalks tend to
make better training surfaces than roads because they are flat.
The problem, of course, is that cement surfaces are significantly
harder than asphalt or other man-made surfaces.
Here, ranked in order from most desirable to least desirable, are
various running surfaces:
1. Soft, smooth cinder track, unbanked
2. Artificially surfaced track, unbanked
3. Soft, smooth dirt trail
4. Flat, smooth grass
5. Asphalt street or path
6. Hard dirt track or trail
7. Concrete sidewalk or road
8. Banked or cambered surface
9. Hard-sand beach
10. Rough, pot-holed dirt trail or grass
2. Warm Up and Cool Down
The chances of having an injury are greater when their muscles
are cold. There is a simple physiological reason for this: When
you first get up in the morning, your muscles and soft tissues
are tight. In fact, your muscles are generally about 10 percent
shorter then than their normal resting length.
As you start moving around, your muscles stretch to their normal
resting length. When you start to exercise the muscles, they
stretch to about 10 percent more than normal resting length.
This means that from the time you get out of bed until the
muscle is warmed up the muscle stretches as much as 20 percent.
A longer muscle is much less likely to become injured than a
short, tight muscle. Further, muscles are designed to move bones
on either side of a joint. Through basic laws of physics, a
muscle is more efficient and much less likely to become injured
when it is longer, since it can exert more force with less
Likewise, it is disastrous to finish a training run and just
stop. Many runners try to get the most out of their runs by
sprinting the last couple hundred yards or so. Then they stand
and try to catch their breath. This is asking for injury. It is
also the time when susceptible individuals are most at risk of
having a heart attack. Almost all exercise-related heart attacks
occur just after runners stop running, not while they're
actually running. This is because when you exercise, your body
relies on your muscles to help pump or push the blood from your
legs to your heart and brain. When you stop running, that muscle
action stops and your heart and brain suddenly get less blood
and oxygen. (This is an excellent reason for a cooldown period
of slow jogging or walking.)
The cooldown helps keep the blood flowing to the muscles and
allows your body to work its way down from a state of high
exertion to the eventual resting condition. Keep walking for a
few minutes, at the very least, after every run until you have
3. Stretch Firmly but Gently
The best time to stretch your muscles is not before you exercise
but after a run when your muscles are already warmed-up and
elongated. Flexibility exercises always stretch the muscles
slowly and gradually.
Stretching movements should never be jerky, stiff or hard. The
proper way to stretch is to stretch the muscle gradually for 30
seconds at a time to allow it to lengthen. Do this three or four
times per area, daily.
If you stretch or pull hard on a muscle, it sets up a reflex
where the muscle pulls back, shortening and tightening. This is
not what you want. It will give you a stronger muscle, but not a
looser, longer, more forgiving muscle.
4. Keep Your Training Schedule Flexible
The easiest way to avoid injuries is never to train hard on a
day when you feel any pain when you roll out of bed. As easy and
simple as this advice sounds, you'd be amazed how many people
Let's say that you are training for a certain race and your
training schedule calls for a 10 percent increase in mileage
this week. Yet you're feeling a little twinge in your hamstring.
Do you go ahead and follow the schedule? Or do you alter it
based on listening to your body?
You know the right answer. Yet many runners insist on adhering
to the printed training schedule as if it were gospel. They
refuse to deviate by a single mile from that written program,
believing any modification of it would ruin their chances of
running a good race. In fact, the reverse is true. They're far
more likely to miss the race by slavishly following a
predetermined schedule than by adapting it to current needs.
All good training schedules assume that you aren't experiencing
any unusual pains before, during or after the run. If any of
these pains occur, don't hesitate to modify the scheduled
5. Alternate "Hard" and "Easy" Training
If you try to improve to your maximum potential, some pains are
inevitable. These can occur several hours after a hard workout
or race--or one or two days later.
All this really means is that you need some recovery time. Then
you will be off and running again.
This is why most experts recommend never performing hard
workouts two days in a row. Give yourself at least one day of
easy running or rest between hard workouts. This is known as the
"hard-easy" method of training. If you run fast one day, train
slowly the next. If you run long one day, go short the following
Never run long two days in a row or fast two days in a row, and
don't run long one day and fast the next. You'll simply cancel
out the gains of the long or fast workout, because your body is
desperately trying to recover. You're stressing weakened tissues
that the body is trying to repair.
6. Pace and Space Your Races
You can and must push your limits sometimes in order to
progress. But you can't do this too often or by too much.
In other words, you must pace yourself. This is true both for
individual runs and over periods of weeks, months and years.
The most important time to pay attention to proper pacing is
while racing. At races, you can easily get caught up in the
emotion of the crowd and be drawn into starting too fast.
Pacing also has longer-term applications. Racing is very hard
and potentially damaging work and you put your future at risk if
you race too often. So you must "pace" your races in terms of
frequency. Give yourself plenty of time to recover after any
The general rule: Take one easy day or rest day for each mile of
the race. And certainly don't race again until that period has
passed. For example, allow an entire easy week following a 10-K
race and an easy month after completing a marathon. Top
marathoners believe they can only run two or three good
marathons a year; this grueling event takes that great a toll.