Common Running Injury

Avoid common running injuries and pain while improving performance are key to enjoying and benefiting from the running sport.

Exercise jogger or race contestant, regardless of your aspirations, when you first get started in the running sport there are some basic misconceptions you must avoid or risk injury and discouragement. You must also gain an understanding of how your body responds to exercise and harness that knowledge to improve your times and enjoyment of the sport.

SHOES: All sport shoes are not created equal. Invest in a pair of running shoes before hitting the road for the first time. Hitting is exactly what you are doing to your feet when you run and any old pair of shoes you have lying around is not going to protect you from that punishment. Shoe companies produce numerous styles of running shoes and several variations within each style with the intent of matching up to your individual physical needs and running styles. Running magazines routinely publish in-depth articles comparing the various shoes available.

STRETCHING: Do not stretch before starting your run. That probably sounds radical considering that you have seen countless people preceding their runs by trying to push buildings over and reaching for their toes in contorted positions. Unfortunately they are the reason that improper stretching is a leading cause of injuries in runners. Cold muscles and ligaments do not stretch, they snap. Start your run slowly and do some gentle stretching after your body has warmed up. For novice runners, this may mean waiting until the end of the run. Competition runners often slowly run as much as a mile before a race so that they can be warmed up to safely stretch before starting.

Stretching is not supposed to be a test of strength. Warm or cold, never stretch beyond the earliest felt stage of resistance and always approach that area gently. Just hold that pressure for a few seconds and then release gently.

PAIN: By far, the greatest mistruth the beginning runner will face is that notorious phrase taken from another sport and incorrectly applied to running, "No pain, no gain." There is no surer way to become disillusioned with running and it almost guarantees that the runner will be plagued by injuries of all types. The irony is that just the opposite is true.

SMART RUNNING: The key to efficient and enjoyable long distance running is to keep the body in an aerobic state. Simply stated, this means that oxygen is being efficiently taken from the lungs at a rate sufficient to keep up with the energy being expended by the body.

The alternative for the body is to be anaerobic, where the efficiency of oxygen consumption cannot keep up with the activity level so the blood starts stripping oxygen stored in muscle tissue. Such a process may not sound appealing but it illustrates why the runner in such a condition is gasping for breath and feeling pain in their legs and other muscles.

Keeping your body in an aerobic state is not difficult. Beginning runners should discard watches, distance markers, and well meaning running companions. All these put the focus on keeping up, finishing on time, going the distance, etc. They all distract from the essential process of "listening" to your body.

It is not necessary to get highly clinical with discussions of endorphins and other bio-chemical processes to understand how this all works, common sense usually suffices. It should be obvious that the body is not going to have all its systems running at full speed all the time. If that were true, our life spans would probably be measured in months. The body turns its systems on and off as needed (note the changes in breathing, body temperature, and heartbeat when sleeping).

When a runner starts to exercise, the muscles signal the brain to turn on additional oxygen processing systems. If the result is sufficient for the activity level, the new systems stay on and the body remains in balance. If not, the cycle repeats as a new message is sent, more systems turned on, etc. Understanding this general concept is the key to pleasurable running and will guarantee an immediate improvement in your existing performance level.

Listen to your body as you run. Slowly increase your speed until you just start to feel a bit uncomfortable (muscles, breathing, etc.) and immediately back off just enough to where you feel comfortable again. Just maintain this pace. Remember you should be just below the discomfort level so periodically check to make sure you are not drifting too far away from this point by periodically repeating this increase - back off - maintain sequence.

What you are doing is giving your body the time it needs to turn on the oxygen processing systems that match your level of activity. The exciting result of this pain-free technique is that although you are experiencing no discomfort, your speed will continually keep increasing throughout the progress of your run. Even long-time joggers see an immediate improvement in their times when they first apply these principles.

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