How to Avoid Running Injuries

By Matt Forsman A.K.A. Marathon Matt, July 29, 2016

Injuries. They are the bane of every runner's existence. No runner wants one. Every runner fears getting one. Unfortunately, virtually every runner runs afoul of an injury.

I wish I could tell you there's a way to magically avoid injuries. I've been running for over 25 years and coaching for over 10 years and I have yet to find a magic formula for avoiding injuries.

Until a magic formula crystallizes, the best we can do is find ways to minimize the chances of injury. But, don't take my word for it.

I've brought in the stellar physical therapists from Therapydia SF to break down the key risk factors for injury and a few ways to minimize the chances of incurring one.

Warming Up

Let's assume you signed up for a race. Many of you likely have if you're using SportMe Run Trainer. It may be your first or your twenty-fifth race.

Naturally, you want to stay healthy. This is especially the case when you are training and looking forward to completing your upcoming race! The bad news is the rate of injury for runners is high and it’s even higher when training for a race.

Before we get into some of the things you can do to reduce the chances of injuries, let's examine the two biggest risk factors for incurring a running related injury.

History of injury

The #1 risk factor for incurring a running injury is a previous history of injury, usually within the past 12 months. Injuries have a nasty tendency to beget future injuries.

Runners are often anxious to return to running following an injury. This zeal to return can result in a premature return to regular running. Your initial injury may not be fully healed.

This can potentially exacerbate the initial injury that never really healed properly. Even if you don't exacerbate the pre-existing injury, there's still a risk of getting injured again.

It's possible you may have altered your running form to compensate for your previous injury and as a result overloaded another part of your body and created a new injury.

Weekly Mileage

The second highest risk factor for injury is weekly mileage.  Runners who log more than 40 miles per week were found to be more likely to sustain an injury.

Most injuries in running are caused from overuse, which is defined as repetitive microtrauma to the musculoskeletal system. Increased training loads (such as running more when training for an event) can trigger an injury.

When you run more, you can overload the musculoskeletal system to the point where it can’t recover, thus creating an injury. Pay attention to the mileage you're logging and avoid making significant weekly mileage increases week over week.

Additionally, it's wise to periodically incorporate some 'cutback' weeks where you run significantly LESS mileage.

We’ve covered the two biggest risk factors for injuries, but how do you reduce the chances of injury during your training?

Change it up

Given that most running injuries are caused by overuse and repetitive strain, it's important to inject variety into your training.

You should be engaging in strength training, which is shown to decrease the risk of injury and improve performance.

Additionally, you should also be mixing up your runs. Try running on trails, softer services, running uphill (there's less impact associated with running uphill), or altering your pace.

Variety is the spice of life and it can also help stave off running related injuries.

Watch your cadence

It is important to have good cadence. Your cadence is the number of steps taken per minute, and it should be more than 170 steps per minute on both feet. That's 85 steps on the right and 85 steps on the left in a given minute of running.

If your cadence is too low (160 or less), you may be putting too much stress on your body. Don't forget running can generate 3-5 times your bodyweight in impact force PER FOOTSTRIKE!

It's important to minimize this impact. Focus on taking short quick steps and keeping your feet underneath your hips when you run.

Be proactive.  

Using ice and self-myofascial release (such as using a foam roller) is a great way to treat sore muscles, help expedite recovery, and reduce the chances of injury, but there are other ways to be proactive as well.  

Listen to your body. If it's sore or otherwise complaining, you may need to dial your workout back or take a day off entirely. Sometimes, this is the best course of action. 

When you are running, keep track of your heart rate and level of fatigue. Having a handle on this can help you better assess if you need to slow your pace or stop for the day.  

If your heart rate is unusually high during a run or workout that is typically easy, this is a yellow flag. Your immune system might be compromised or you might be at risk for an injury.

While becoming a good runner involves developing an ability to manage fatigue and discomfort, there’s a difference between discomfort and ‘pain’.

If you ever feel sharp or stabbing pain, you need to stop running. This is not the kind of pain you want to run through.

Avoid the ‘three too’s’

Logging too many miles can increase the risk of injury. Increasing your mileage too soon can increase the risk of injury. Running too fast can also increase the risk of injury.

Combining these three 'too's' creates a potent injury catalyst cocktail.

The combination of too much, too soon, and too fast can compromise your ability to recover and thus, increase the chance of injury.

Avoid the ‘three too’s’.

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