So I'm on a half marathon training team. And there's TONS of people there every Saturday running our weekly 'long' runs. And I see and hear so many things from folks about aches and pains - that could be easily prevented. Luckily, before I started running, my husband had been running for several years. Throughout that time, I learned all the things he did wrong, through his trial and error and from learning from other runners. This means I didn't have to go through all those things. So I thought I'd share some of them here so that maybe some new runners won't have to go through those things either. These are some of the most common mistakes that lead to unpleasant aches and pains that could be prevented. If you're a runner - and have something to add here, please do leave a comment below!
1) Don't wear anything that has ANY cotton in it. Remember, cotton is rotten! :) Choose your socks, underwear, shorts/pants and tops that have absolutely 0% cotton in them. Any cotton and you'll have material that holds onto wetness, gets heavy and worse still, makes some very nasty friction. You don't want chafing...and that can happen easily with any cotton in your clothing. Polyester, Rayon, etc will dry quickly, is lighter and doesn't hurt!
2) Always, always, always warm up for a few minutes before a run. Dynamic stretching is considered by many seasoned runners as a great way to get your muscles and joints ready for the run. Google "dynamic stretching for runners" if you're unfamiliar with what this looks like.
3) Don't skimp on shoes. I know it hurts some people to pay $100 for a pair of shoes. But let me tell you now; you can skimp on your pumps, your flats, your dress shoes if you want...but if you want to save your joints and prevent injury, you will not want to skimp on running shoes. Please do not go to a store and pick out your own shoes your first few times. Go to a running store. Not a sporting goods store, not a mass retailer, an actual, specialty running store. They'll check your gait, your feet, and talk about your needs to find the perfect shoe for you. After a few times, you may be able to pick out your own once you know what's best for you. But leave it to the pros the first few times! And don't forget, running shoes need to be replaced regularly. Several times a year, or more depending on your mileage. Replace them every few hundred miles or so.
4) Stretch WELL after every single run. Even if the run felt easy. Stretch everything you can. And do it well. Stretch your calves, hamstrings, quads, IT band, hip flexors, glutes....and even your arms/shoulders. Hold each stretch 30 seconds if you can.
5) Rest after a hard run. If you've never run 5 miles before...and then tomorrow you do run 5 miles, that's a big deal to your body. Take the next day off. You can do another workout if you want to, but try to rest your legs. The rest time is when your muscles heal and rebuild. Don't skip it...that's how you build strength and prevent injury.
6) Try not to increase your weekly mileage more than 10% each week. And listen to your body. If you're absolutely exhausted or you have some persistent aches and pains, take a couple days off. Use ice/heat as necessary...and don't be afraid to take ibuprofen for aches and pains. Just don't take it BEFORE a run. You very well may get some awful stomach pain if you do!
7) Hydration, even in winter, is key to an effective, pleasant run. Drink enough water EVERY day, but be extra cognizant the day before a run and the morning of a run. Drink about 64 ounces every day, or more or less depending on your body and activity level. Remember, if you'll be running in very hot weather, you ought to take water on your run with you. They make handy little running belts with water bottles that are super convenient. Even if it's not hot, you should have water with you (or sports drink) if you'll be running an hour or more. You may also consider bringing some snacks with you on these long runs too. Think of simple sugars, that's what your body needs during these runs. Gummy bears, pretzels, or the little packets of Gu or Accel Gel work great.
8) Don't forget to EAT. About an hour before your run, you should eat something. It's your fuel, don't skip it. Try simple carbs and a little protein. Stay away from too much fiber. You may need to play around with what works best for you. For me, 1/2 a wheat bagel with a tablespoon or 2 of peanut butter gets me through about an hour run. Then I use the gummy bears, etc mentioned above. If I eat a heavier breakfast, I don't feel too well on my run. This may differ for you, but I'd start out smaller and work your way up if you start getting hungry too quickly.
9) Don't be afraid of fitted clothes for running. Compression or tighter clothing chafes less (as long as there's no cotton, as mentioned above!) and also helps to keep you cooler or warmer, depending on the weather. Some folks even swear by compression because they feel that it helps their muscles stay comfortable and supported. Personally, my compression capris are now my FAVORITE thing to run in, because of the way it makes my legs muscles feel.
10) Regarding your stride, try to keep a few things in mind right off the bat. Try not to land heavily on your foot. Also try not to land directly on your heel. Don't be afraid to go a little slower or faster if it helps the way you land. Keep your elbows at about a 90 degree angle, close to your body and swing your arms slightly and only from the shoulder. Don't make fists, keep your hands loosely closed, sort of like you're holding something fragile in each hand. Keep your head lifted, looking out toward the horizon and keep your shoulders back, and your back straight. Lean every-so-slightly forward, but do not bend at the hips. This will all help prevent injury and back soreness and will definitely help you waste less energy with your arm-swing & gait. If you have trouble picturing what this all looks like, check this video out; it includes even more little pieces to the running form puzzle - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tx6x2cD6Y8Q
Most importantly, just try to have fun and enjoy the scenery around you. Run outdoors if you can, in my opinion, it creates a better environment and also trains your muscles more effectively since there are hills and changes in the trails. Just stay away from running on concrete - shin splints LOVE concrete :)
I'd love to hear from other runners, comment below if you have something add or correct!
~To Your Health~