Even though running isn’t a contact sport like lacrosse, field hockey, or American football, you’d almost think that it were, simply because at any given time, so many runners are injured. By its very nature, running is a stressful sport; I’ve heard statistics that suggest that every time your foot hits the pavement as you run, you’re throwing down something like four times your body weight in force as your foot hits the pavement. Naturally, all those forces then ripple back up through your body, and you can then begin to see how and why exactly runners can suffer from tons of devastating injuries, even though they’re not knocking down others or negotiating big distances while dribbling or throwing balls simultaneously. Running, by itself, is a pretty complex motion.
In addition, the common adage in running is that runners often get injured because they do too much, too soon, too fast. What does this mean, exactly?
- “Too much” refers to the idea that runners injure themselves because they run too many miles before their bodies can handle the volume.
- “Too soon,” corroborating with my just-mentioned claim, elaborates on the idea that runners hurt themselves because they run distances or hard workouts before their bodies can handle them.
- Finally, “too fast” means just what it says: runners often injure themselves because they’re running what should be their easy or general aerobic runs much too fast. When you’re running at 100% of your capacity every single day, in essence it means that you’re racing every single run you do, even the stuff that should be comfortable and easy. If you’re racing every day, you’re not giving your body ample time to recover and reap the benefits that come from hard workouts and hard racing. Thus, the connection between “too fast” and injuries becomes quite clear.
Thankfully, as our knowledge and science in running and in endurance sports deepens, so do our recovery mechanisms, adaptations, and new ideas related to preventing injuries from developing in the first place. New technologies have helped usher in new ideas related to preventing running injuries, too. Below, I’ll go into detail about some oft-talked about ideas related to preventing running injuries. Hopefully you’re not currently sidelined by an injury, but if you are, maybe you will find some relief from these mechanisms and techniques.
Use a foam roller
Foam rollers are fairly inexpensive, but they are some of the best investments you can make for your running career. Most of us aren’t able to have daily massages from the world’s leading sports massage therapists, but using a foam roller daily to help work through the kinks can do a number on our muscles.
It’s a “hurts so good” type of relationship that most runners have with their foam rollers, but more often than not, runners will shout from the rooftops the importance of daily and weekly rolling to their training. Because runners often suffer from chronically tight muscles, particularly in the hamstrings, calves, and iliotibial bands, using a foam roller regularly can help to rectify these chronically tight hotspots and hopefully mitigate any brewing injury risk that may result from chronically tight musculature.
Drink enough water
We all know how important it is to drink enough water each day, but if you’re a runner, it’s even more important. Runners will often sweat a ton during their daily run, so it goes without saying that it’s important that they replace what they sweat out each day, and particularly so if they’re training outside during hot and humid times of the year. While drinking enough water won’t be a panacea for preventing injuries, staying hydrated will enable you to have strong training and may help with chronic muscle tightness.
Get enough sleep
Much like my above advice about drinking water, it may not be obvious, but getting enough sleep plays a huge role in preventing running-related injuries. Here’s the thinking: most of the training adaptations you make from running occur while you sleep, not in the thickest or hardest part of your hard training or interval runs.
Many people do themselves a huge disservice by not getting enough sleep each night, and they’re hurting themselves precisely because they’re not allowing themselves or their bodies to fully reap all the benefits from their hard training efforts. In fact, sometimes it will be more advantageous for you to sleep a little longer than it will be for you to get up and run, and that’s okay! You’re not being a quitter. Trust yourself and the feedback your body gives you.
Eat a balanced diet
The diet business is booming for a reason, and many people, runners included, are left wondering what they should eat to maximize their performance. My advice is simple: just eat a balanced diet. If there are certain things you abstain from eating because of personal beliefs or allergies, that’s fine; otherwise, I’d encourage you to feel free to eat a little of everything. I think all of us stand to benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables and letting up on the sweets, but I don’t think we need to single-handedly rule out all sweets forevermore.
Eating a balanced diet is especially important for runners because your body needs a rich and diverse array of essential vitamins and minerals, in addition to fats, carbohydrates, and protein, in order to work as well as it possibly can -- especially under the duress that is training. Much like sleeping enough each night and drinking enough water, eating a balanced diet won’t be an absolute panacea to help prevent running injuries, but it’s my firm belief that it will, at the very least, result in a better quality of life and will just help you feel well, overall -- which, in turn, will trickle over into your running and training pursuits.
There are tons more recommendations and products out there that claim to help prevent running-related injuries, and I have no doubt that they all work, at least to some degree. By and large, though, I think it behooves all of us to master the basics before trying to tackle more advanced solutions.
Doing the stuff that our parents harped on us throughout our childhood, like eating enough fruits and vegetables and getting enough sleep, will definitely do a number for our overall health, and I think these benefits will also seep into our running and training exploits as well.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: JANE GRATES
Hiker, sports lover, follower of Christ, and collector. Producing at the sweet spot between design and purity.