By Jonathan Wilson, DPT – HCA Virginia Sports Medicine
You just clicked the “submit” button on the website, your credit card was charged, and you get a confirmation on your screen: “Congratulations! Your Race Registration was Successful!” You are now either ecstatic, or terrified, and definitely aren’t worrying about your chances for injury.
Research shows that more than 50% of runners will incur an injury during training, and more than 1 out of every 5 runners will sustain a stress fracture. With a few simple suggestions, we can help your training be filled with great runs, more smiles, and lack of injuries.
Everyone is capable of running a successful race with a good program, including exercises and stretches. You will learn to listen to your body, and know when you are feeling tight, stiff, or sore. Running can be painful at times, but with proper training, can be quite enjoyable and fun.
There are many different types of training plans; make sure to choose one that fits your goals and available time, whether you’re a beginner or an elite runner looking to shave precious seconds from your PR. To find a suitable plan, look online (Sports Backers is a great resource) or talk with a friend with running experience. Seek a program including a variety of distances, times, and paces. Mix up your route, so you don’t become bored. Running with a program is important, but basic preparatory warm-ups, exercises, and stretching are also key components to a successful injury-free training plan.
Dynamic warm-ups such as sidestepping, high-knees, and butt-kickers are an effective way to self-assess before a run. Remember, these are warm up drills, so remained relaxed. You can also run your first mile, or first few minutes, at a slower pace before you ramp up to your goal pace. Although you should be comfortable with your pace during training, don’t fear picking it up and pushing yourself. Try to run once a week without a watch, just to listen to your body. We become very focused on pace and metrics, and easily forget that the most important indicator of how we’re doing is how we feel. If you feel great – pick it up and go for it. If you feel tired or tight, use that run to focus on relaxing your stride and loosening your muscles.
If you have time, try to find a nice grassy field, and complete some easy barefoot striders, reminding yourself how it feels to get your feet dirty and act like a kid again. It is nearly impossible to do this without a smile on your face. One word of caution – if you choose a soccer field or any other maintained area, watch out for hidden sprinkler heads or other obstructions.
There are exercises all runners should complete, and can be done at home in just a few minutes each day. These will help you feel better on your runs, and possibly prevent injury. Many use body weight as resistance, improve proprioception, and also try to engage the activation of core musculature. Runners need good strength and endurance from the foot all the way up to proper posture and position of head and shoulders, so look for specific exercises for foot intrinsic (flexor hallucis longus), calf, quads, hamstrings, piriformis, gluteus medius and maximus, and core. If you’re ambitious, look for exercises for the QL (quadrates lumborum) and TFL (tensor fasciae latae). You can search online for good instructional images and accompanying explanations. These exercises should help train the body to work together as an efficient unit from start of your training to crossing the finish line of the race. Don’t forget to find exercises for lower back (lumbar spine), mid back (thoracic spine), as well as neck (cervical spine) and shoulders.
Stretching should target these same muscles. There is research to support a correlation with calf tightness and increased risk of metatarsal stress fractures, and basic stretching goes a long way toward injury prevention. Every runner will feel tight in different muscles, so find where you usually feel tight, sore, or restricted, and spend extra time loosening up these areas. Lastly, don’t forget the foam roller after your workout. This fantastic piece of equipment can be used for deep tissue work and freeing up restricted structures.
Most running injuries are due to overuse, and ignoring your body. Many look back on their training post-injury and recall yellow flags of pain or stiffness that lead to an injury. Spend an extra 5-10 minutes stretching or completing a few exercises today, and maybe and prevent a visit to your doctor or physical therapist, tomorrow. See you out on the course!
For further inquiries about running injuries, performance, or physical therapy, contact Jonathan Wilson, DPT, at hcavasportsmed.com, HCA Virginia Sports Medicine’s Boulders location at 804.560.6500, or like us on Facebook.