Running seems to attract hardworking, goal-oriented people who appreciate the fact that the sport rewards honest effort. These runners learned that the more they put in, the more they get out. Running is different. Your willpower and your heart-lung machinery can handle much more work than your musculoskeletal system. Beyond a certain point, it's better to relax about your training than to approach every workout as a challenge. Some workouts should be pure fun. The following guidelines show you how you can safely enjoy your running without risking injury.
- Honestly evaluate your fitness level - If you haven't had a physical exam lately, have one before you begin your running program. Start out running gently and slow to a walk when you feel tired. Remember: you should be able to carry on a conversation as you run. If you're patient with yourself, you can increase your effort as your body builds strength and adapts to the stress of running.
- Easy does it -
The generally accepted rule for increasing your distance is to edge upward no more than 10% per week. Beginner runners should add just 1 or 2 km per week to their totals. This doesn't sound like too much, but it will help keep you healthy, and that means you can continue building. Start from a base of 20 km per week; you can build up to 40 km per week (enough to finish a marathon, if that interests you) in 10 to 12 weeks. Your long runs are another consideration. To avoid injury or fatigue, these should be increased by only 2 km per week.
- Plan for plateaus -
Don't increase your distance every week. Build to a comfortable level and then plateau there to let your body adjust. For example, you might build to 20 km per week and then stay at that training level for three or four weeks before gradually increasing again. Another smart tactic is to scale back periodically. You could build up from 10 to 12 to 14 km per week, and then rest with a 10 km week before moving on to 16 km. Don't allow yourself to get caught up by the thrill of increasing your distance every single week. That simply can't work very long.
- Make haste slowly -
Another cause of injury and fatigue is increasing the speed of your training runs too much and too often. The same is true of interval workouts, hill running and racing. When the time is right for faster-paced running (after you're completely comfortable with the amount of training you're doing) ease into it just once a week. Never do fast running more than twice a week. Balance your fast workouts and your long runs (both qualify as "hard" days) with slower, shorter days. This is the well-known and widely followed hard-easy system.
- Strive for efficient running form -
You'll have more fun because you won't be struggling against yourself. Poor running form is the cause of many injuries. For example, running too high on the toes or leaning too far forward can contribute to shin splints and Achilles tendonitis. Carrying the arms too high or swinging the elbows back too far can cause back or shoulder stiffness or injury. To run most efficiently, keep your body straight, and concentrate on lifting your knee just enough to allow your leg to swing forward naturally. Combined with a gentle heel landing, this will give you an economical yet productive stride.
- Turn away from fad diets; go instead with wholesome foods -
Runners function best on a diet high in complex carbohydrates. That means eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products and low-fat dairy foods and avoiding fried foods, pastries, cookies, ice cream and other fat-laden items. Fish, lean meats and poultry are better for you than their high-fat cousins—sausage, bacon, untrimmed red meats and cold cuts. Generally, you're wise to eat three to four hours before running. That way, you're less likely to experience bloating or nausea. Remember: fluids are vital. Aim to drink 8 to 10 glasses of water a day.
- Hills place an enormous stress on the cardiovascular system, so it's best to warm up for several miles so you raise your heart rate gradually -
When climbing hills, shorten your stride and concentrate on lifting your knees and landing more on the front of your foot. Pump your arms like a cross-country skier. Lean forward but keep your back straight, your hips in, your chest out and your head up. Barrelling down a steep hill can multiply skeletal forces several fold, increasing chances of injury. Hold your arms low and tilt your body forward to keep it perpendicular to the slope. Allow your stride to stretch out a little, but don't exaggerate it. Try to avoid the breaking action of landing too hard on your heels.
- Be smart about injuries -
Runners who interrupt their training programs at the first sign of injury generally recover very quickly. You might not be able to enter the race you're aiming for, but you'll be able to find another one soon. On the other hand, runners who persist in training hard even after they start to break down are courting much more serious injuries. When you develop a persistent running pain, open your eyes and obey the red flag. Stop. Rest. Wait until your body is ready to begin training again. When it is, ease back into your training. Don't try to catch up too quickly: it can't be done.
- Pay close attention to pain -
It's usually okay to forget mild discomfort if it goes away during a run and doesn't return after. But pain that worsens during a run or that returns after each run cannot be ignored. Remember: pain has a purpose. It's a warning sign from your body that something's wrong. Don't overlook it. Instead, change your running pattern, or if the pain is severe enough, stop running and seek professional help. "Any Pain, No Brain."
- Consult your doctor before continuing your running program if one of these applies to you:
- You're over 60 years of age and not used to regular exercise
- You have a family history of coronary heart disease
- You have pain or feel pressure in the left or mid chest area, the left side of your neck, left shoulder or left arm during or immediately after running
- You feel faint, dizzy, without explanation, and out of breath after mild exercise
- You have high blood pressure that is currently not being treated
- You have had a heart incident, a heart murmur or a heart attack
- You have arthritis
- You are a diabetic