In many of my posts I write a lot about all the benefits of running. And there are plenty of good things about running!
However as with almost everything, there are also negative aspects with running. Though the positive things exceed the negative ones by far, there are some things that can be pretty annoying or even lead to serious health issues or trauma.
So it’s time to also talk about the dangers and downsides of running. I’m sure this list is not complete but the seven issues outlined in this post are the most common I read and hear about.
Maybe this isn’t what a lot of runners expect when they start running. Because running is all healthy, right?
Yes sure, but only if done right! And one problem you can already read in the first sentence of this section. Almost nobody expects to get injured. Most beginners think they can just run dozens of miles a week after being inactive for years.
The result is alarming. It’s estimated that more than a third of all runners get injured every year summing up around two injuries per year and runner.
But that’s not the idea behind an activity that is widely accepted as one of the healthiest thing one can do. As mentioned the chance of getting injured can be almost reduced to zero if you do things right. And putting the know-how out there with my 10+ years of injury free running is one of my key purposes with this website.
So what do I mean when I write “do things right”?
I wish there was one simple statement but I guess there’s not. There are many ways you can get injured on a training run. You can take a misstep and twist your ankle. Or stumble over a rock and break a bone. So first piece of advice: Just be focused and careful.
But I wanna put the attention on another thing here. The vast majority of running injuries have the same cause: Overstressing your body!
Whether it be plantar fasciitis, runner’s knee or achilles tendinitis, most common running injuries could be avoided if you slowly increase your training and listen to your body.
So take things slowly. Don’t train for a marathon if you spend the last ten years on your couch. Start with brisk walking with some short easy runs in between. Don’t increase your training volume by more than 10% each week and react to any pains and issues that occur.
Check out these posts for more information about injury prevention:
Luckily I’m not an expert in this. As a tall, male runner in one of the safest places on earth (Switzerland) this is a fear I don’t have at all.
However it also happens here and I’ve read about the fear of being assaulted many runners have around the world.
And I totally get it. Crime is an issue in many countries and cities around the world and especially as a female runner you are still (I hope I can get rid of this sentence in a couple of years!) a target for a lot of criminals.
But not running or just running inside on a treadmill is not really an option. And there are also some things you can and should do to lower the likelihood of an assault and be prepared should it happen anyway.
Sure this is not something that is entirely in your sphere of influence. But still there are some safety measures you can apply.
An accident can happen to everyone and everywhere. Especially road runners that often need to cross the streets are in danger.
But it doesn’t stop there. If you go running on technical trails far away from civilization even a small accident can have fatal consequences.
As a young running enthusiast I didn’t care much about any accidents that might happen. But the older I got (I’m still quite young I guess 🙂 the more safety becomes important, especially since I became a dad.
So I thought about what kind of accident there are and how I could prevent them. But also what can be done to react should still an accident happen.
In theory accidents can easily be avoided: Just be careful!
But in reality it’s not that simple. One of the great things in running is that you can end up in the zone and experience that great runner’s high. As an effect you lack focus. And that’s where accidents happen.
The first thing to bear in mind is where you are running and react accordingly. When you run on technical mountain trails then you just have to be focused especially on the downhills. You also have to be reactive should you trip over or fall. So don’t go running on too technical terrain if you are on heavy medication or overly tired.
If you run near roads where cars or motorcycles could hit you just sharpen your senses. Look closely before crossing a street. Also you should consider not listening to music so you can hear the dangers arriving. Or at least use a low volume and head phones where you can perceive your surroundings.
If you just want to relax, let go and run with the flow, try some easy trails in a nearby forest. Not much can happen there.
Should you still have an accident you should be prepared for that. Take your cell phone with you and put your emergency contacts on short dial. Also consider using features like MedicalID in Apple’s health app if you’re an iPhone user.
Also remember to carry some money if you need to call a cab. When I go running in the mountains I also carry a medical emergency kit with some pain killers, patches, bandages and disinfection.
Compared to an accident or a serious injury, this is a minor danger. But still it is something many runners fear and want to avoid: What if you need a toilet when you’re on a run? Or what if you suddenly get sick and need to throw up?
If you are into long distance running or ready to go to the limit of your physical potential in a race, you might notice strange things happening to your body. As your blood is primarily used to transport oxygen to your muscles, your digestive system is neglected.
Often the result is nausea or sudden diarrhea, forcing you to hide in the bushes. But on some races there are no bushes around. There also might be thousands of spectators and TV cameras around like in the big major marathons.
And there, the need to go is something you just don’t want to happen. So what can you do about it?
The best thing you can do is to make sure your digestive system doesn’t have a lot to do. So how much and what you eat before a race or during the event is crucial.
On shorter races up to 10 miles there’s no need to eat anything while you run. You can have a good breakfast and fully digest it before the run. Make sure you don’t eat a heavy steak or burger before any race, but something that is easily digested. The classic pre race food are bananas.
On longer races where you need to provide your body with constant energy you only should eat stuff you know that works for you. On many races there is a variety of gels, bars and “regular” food that is being offered. Test what works for your stomach on training runs so there are no surprises on race days.
Also test the intensity – or race pace – before the event. Usually the excitement let’s you run a bit faster that anticipated and the tension can burden your stomach even more.
Test as much you can beforehand to be ready on race day!
When you train a lot and increase workout volume and intensity too fast, not only mechanical injuries can occur. Overtraining is something many runners fear and is not that easy to get out of.
It can happen that you can still go on your training runs but the effect is not increased speed and endurance but the opposite: Your performance decreases.
This can happen to both amateurs but also pro athletes alike. It needs a deep knowledge of your own body and honest analysis of your training and recovery to differentiate between regular post-workout soreness and exhaustion and the first signs of overtraining.
Here are the signs you should look for:
First symptoms you might be overtrained are decrease in performance when running and when you’re overly tired. Also insomnia, moodiness and lack of appetite can be signs of overtraining.
If you notice one of these symptoms you should react accordingly. Cut back on your training especially long and intense runs. Try to sleep enough, eat healthy and try to relax and recover your body and mind.
To not get overtrained in the first place, follow these simple rules of thumb:
Include recovery habits in your post running routine
Running can be a great tool to overcome an addiction. In fact many start running to get a healthier person. And for example overcoming smoking or other addictions is something that can be achieved with running.
The reason why running is great is quite simple. Running gives you what many addictions give you as well. But obviously with a better result regarding your overall health.
Running can give your life another meaning and a sense of achievement and self-esteem. Also it is an activity that is best when formed into a habit you conduct several times a week. If that happens it easily can be a replacement to alcohol misuse or smoking.
However running can turn into an addiction itself. And to be honest I’d say I’m pretty addicted to it. Since starting over ten years ago, I never wanted to stop but rather run more and more year after year.
I often tell people, that it’s the healthiest addiction there is. This is true but only if you always put your body and your health first. Also like with other addictions you have withdrawal symptoms when you don’t run for a while but were running heavily before. You can be sleepless and a pretty grumpy person.
I sometimes ask myself why running really is like a substance addiction. And the answer is probably because it is exactly the same. The runner’s high for example is caused by endocannabinoids and endorphins, so you get a small dose of cannabinoids and opioids every time you run.
So to keep your running addiction under control, you should bear in mind a few things:
Prevention might be not the perfect word here. In a way you want to get addicted so you can reap all the benefits of running throughout your entire life. But it’s important to keep it balanced.
Running should never be the only important thing in your life and it also shouldn’t be THE most important thing in your life. Don’t get so deep into it that you forget and ignore all other important aspects in your life.
Make sure that at all time you have your priorities set and live up to them. And find at least one hobby or interest other than running. This is similar to your job. If you have no clue what you do when you get retired, you’ll fall into a deep low once that day comes. Running is something you can do up to a high age but eventually the time might come when you have to stop or cut back on your running. You wanna be prepared for that.
Also try to plan two weeks each year without any running whatsoever. Or do this after every major training block in your schedule, like after a big race. This is not only great to focus more on other things in your life but also to get your body properly recovered.
Last but not least I wanna mention something I also often hear, especially after going to the marathon distance and beyond.
You won’t be able to even walk when you are 60 when you keep running like this!
The fear of long-term damage to you body or some parts of it, is something runners often have as well as their loved ones. And there’s nothing to blame here.
In our comfort filled western societies most people think that it takes its toll when you run marathons for decades. And for some this is true.
But if you are careful enough and listen to your body this is something I’m pretty sure can be avoided at all.
So let’s look about some things you can do throughout your running career to be a perfectly healthy retired person.
To be honest this is not an easy task. You pretty much have to do everything I’ve written about in the “Prevention” sections of all chapters above. And this for the entire duration of your running career.
From the beginning you should carefully focus on injury prevention. Do all the stretching, strength training and recovery stuff I’ve written about so far.
And most important get to know your body and learn how much it can handle. Never run with pain in training and never sign up to a race you don’t know for sure you will be ready and prepared for.
It’s the subtle art of amateur endurance running to find the sweet spot between too much motivation and holding yourself back.
Just always remember that you don’t have to rush anything. Even if you have some pretty lofty goals. Running is a sport you can easily do until you reach the age of 60 or 70. So take your time and do one step after the other.
So that’s it with the danger of running I heard the most of and dealt with the fear of them to arise myself. As always I’d love if you could share this with your friends if you like it and spread the word.