Running Smart

It’s that time again – everyone is making New Year’s resolutions and beginning new training programs to prepare for spring 5Ks, half marathons, and full marathons. Running is an excellent form of exercise, whether you’re looking to lose weight, gain hard muscle, or maintain a healthy exercise routine. Millions of people, spanning all ages, run recreationally every day, and all it requires is a pair of athletic shoes. In fact, there has been a steady increase of runners in organized events over the past 15 years. According to Running USA, in 1990 around 4.8 million runners participated in organized U.S. events. In 2015, over 17 million runners participated in a U.S. running event, and 7.6 million alone ran 5K races.

Whether your goal is to increase your cardio capacity, beat your one-mile run time, or just get into a fitness routine, you should consider how intense your cardio workouts should be to get the results you want. Low-intensity cardio, an activity as simple as walking, allows your body to burn calories with less stress on your muscles, requires less recovery time, and improves your mood. Moderate-intensity cardio, such as jogging, and high-intensity cardio, such as sprints, are excellent for increasing cardio capacity, burning calories quickly by speeding up your metabolism, and strengthening your muscles and bones as a weight-bearing exercise. However, the more difficult the workout, the more likely you are to run into an injury.

Running injuries happen to everyone, and the causes span from changing your running surface or running distance too quickly to something as simple as wearing an old pair of running shoes. Most runners deal with a nagging issue – a bum knee, a sore ankle – everyday, but managing these minor injuries from the start can prevent further or more serious injuries down the road.

Two common overuse injuries for all runners are Achilles tendonitis and shin splints. Your Achilles tendon is the large tendon that connects the major calf muscles to the back of the heel. By overtraining on fatigued calf muscles, runners often put all of their weight on their Achilles tendon. This can cause inflammation and, without proper treatment, a tear in the tendon. Shin splints, known as medial tibial stress syndrome, occur when runners feel dull or sharp pain around their tibia. This injury is common for beginning runners because the muscles around the tibia become inflamed or there is weakness in the hip or core muscles. Other common injuries for runners include muscle strains, sprains, stress fractures, or temperature-related injuries such as heat exhaustion, hypothermia, and dehydration. In short, running is both the easiest way to train and, in some cases, the easiest way to get hurt.

Don’t wait until the pain is severe enough that you’re unable to run anymore. Listen to your body and do not ignore an injury. The first step to recovery is developing an injury recovery game plan – and sticking to it. There are simple ways to practice injury prevention such as stretching, warming up, and cooling down for every cardio workout. Always wear proper shoes and retire your old pair after 300 to 400 miles of use or one year of running, whichever comes first. No matter the weather conditions, stay hydrated during your run and mindful of the temperature outside. The leading causes of injuries that I commonly see are increasing running distances too quickly and changing terrain. Before changing your training regimen, speak to a personal training professional, and if you’re concerned that you have suffered a serious injury, speak to a sports medicine physician as quickly as possible.