Photos by LG Patterson
Running is like a lot of sports and activities — it’s a great way to improve health, fitness and performance, but if performed too much or without care, it can also be risky. For both newcomers and seasoned runners, prioritizing health and reducing injury is the best way to ensure a fun and successful running season. I have picked out my top 5 tips for healthy running, and while this isn’t intended to be a complete runner’s guide, the pointers below can help make running as fun and pain-free as possible.
Physical activity responds best to gradual progression. Common overtraining injuries are often the result of too much stress on the body too soon. The best way to start slow is to literally do just that. Spend the first 5 minutes of your run at a lower intensity. For beginners, that may look like a brisk walk before breaking into a jog. Even experienced runners will benefit from starting out with 3-5 minutes of running at a pace 30-60 seconds slower per mile.
Plan Your Progression
When it comes to creating your own running routine, intervals of high then low intensity are the best place to start. Interval ratios of 1 to 3 are ideal. For example, beginners can start with a light jog for 30 seconds and pair that with brisk walking for 90 seconds. Intervals are also a great for way for experienced runners to increase speed or distance without overstressing the body. As intervals get easier, you can start increasing the higher intensity time while decreasing the recovery time. Some programs I recommend checking out are Couch to 5K and anything from Hal Higdon.
One of the appeals of running is the ease of getting started. Essentially all you need is a pair of shoes and a place to run. And while that is true, proper running gear makes the experience more enjoyable and safer. Shoes are the most important piece of gear you can buy. An entire article could be dedicated to picking out the best shoes, but instead of getting that specific here, I recommend finding a quality running store. The knowledgeable folks at a running store can help guide you to the best fit and style for your body.
Apparel makes a difference, too. While you can get by with a T-shirt and sweats, higher quality micro-fibers will be much more comfortable. These materials are breathable and wick moisture away from the body.
Lastly, when picking gear, look for bright colors like highlighter yellow and blaze orange. A lot of running apparel will even include reflective material to keep you visible in the low light of dawn and dusk.
Now that you’re hitting the roads with a plan and good gear, it’s important to make sure that you’re not putting yourself at risk for overuse issues. Running places challenges on the same muscles in the same way, repeatedly. Eventually this can lead to imbalances where some muscles are getting stronger, while others aren’t strong enough. Additionally, certain tissues may become irritated from repeated use. A great strategy for avoiding all of this is to make sure your body is challenged with a variety of movement. I recommend adding 2-3 days/week of exercises other than running. One to two days of strength training can be the perfect activity to avoid and correct imbalances. Shoot for movements that support and stabilize the running muscles of the hips and thighs. But don’t forget to emphasize the upper body and core. These muscles don’t get the same amount of work as the legs when you’re running.
Keep it Fun and Varied
Cross-training is helpful to reduce the physical overuse injuries, but mental burnout from running is a problem too. As with all things in life, our motivation to keep running is exponentially higher if we’re having fun. Boredom can set in quickly when running the same lap around the neighborhood, week after week. Mid-Missouri is blessed with a variety of trails and running spaces. The MKT trail offers miles of scenic paths, connecting a majority of Columbia. My personal favorite is to escape into the woods for a trail run. Whatever your interests, try to find ways to enjoy the challenge as much as possible