Running is what humans do. Not since the start of the first organized city marathon but for hundred of thousands of years. So we somehow are damn good at it, right?
Maybe no more. The numbers I read on a regular basis about how many runners get injured, suggest that we have no idea how running works at all. That got me thinking!
How can it be that so many runners need to stop their training plan, take a rain check on races and need treatment because of a runner’s knee or a plantar fasciitis?
For my part injury prevention has always been a crucial part in my running. And that worked for 10 years without a single injury until I sprained my ankle on a technical downhill trail.
So over the next couple of weeks I want to focus on the most common running injuries, how to diagnose and treat them and most important: how to prevent them in the first place!
Before digging deep into the specific injuries over the next month, I’ll strongly encourage you to read the following paragraphs.
The title of this post might sound harsh and to be honest with you, the entire post is not in a happy you’re-doing-everything-fine tone.
If you get a typical running injury it is almost certain that YOU did something wrong. And yes, we all learn from mistakes and if you keep that attitude you won’t have the same running injury twice or more in your running career.
To get you started and help you to assess what went wrong and what you need to change, I’ll share what are in my opinion the top 10 mistakes runners make that lead to injury.
Let’s get started.
Knowing your body is one of the most important things if you wanna increase your mileage and achieve your running goals
You think you know your body just because you see it in the mirror?
Well that’s not enough for running!
Every little kid runs by intuition. So almost every person starts developing a running body early on. But in our modern lifestyles, running stops at a certain point in time. Probably when you start going to school or get overwhelmed with work and/or family duties.
When you get back to running because you learned all the benefits of it, your body is no longer in running mode but most probably “trained” to sit all day.
One of the first things to do as a runner is to develop a feel for the signals your body sends out and how you should then react. If you fail at this, chances are high you get injured.
I’m running for more than 10 years now and from the beginning until now I check my body during and after each workout. Are my knees holding up? Any foot issues? Are my muscles more sore than usual? Am I overly tired? Any other pains or issues?
As time goes by you get better and better by learning what different sensations mean and how you should react. But keep listening to your body as one of your main focuses in your training. Otherwise you will most certainly run into trouble.
Just don’t make the mistake to only measure your body by the pace you can run and the things your running app or watch tell you.
Well short-term thinking is the reason for many problems we face today. This website is not about climate change but it’s a good example for short-term thinking.
Despite this being a major reason for problems, it’s hard to blame anyone for it. For 99% of the existence of humans, individuals had one simple task: Survive the day! And that’s a pretty short-term task.
However our lives in the 21st century are a lot more complex. Running is not as important as 100’000 years ago and thus training for a marathon needs proper planing and an understanding of whats needed to achieving your goal that is months in the future.
So when it comes to running you shouldn’t prioritize your next workout over the goal you want to achieve. If you feel a little pain in your heel and think you still can go for an intense 20k interval training session you might be able to finish this workout. But you might well be sidelined for two weeks with a plantar fasciitis afterwards.
And that’s not beneficial for your race goal, is it?
So always keep your priorities straight and have a long-term attitude. You wanna desperately run that marathon in a few months NOT the next workout on your training plan.
Be honest to yourself
Having a goal is very important to keep your motivation up. But being too focused on reaching your goal can make you blind.
It happens easily that you tell lies to yourself like: “Ah I can do this tough training week, the pain in my knee is not serious”. Or: “I’m exhausted and tired because of work but doing a 35k long run isn’t a problem.”
If you keep telling you those lies, you probably run into an injury or overtraining. And probably it happens just a week before your big race.
So do yourself the favor and be honest to yourself. Your body and your mind will later thank you for it.
Motivation is crucial to keep working towards your goal. But being overmotivated can be dangerous as well.
As I said before, motivation is very important when you strive to achieve bigger and more ambitious goals. Without any motivation you won’t get much done. And the best motivation is intrinsic, it comes from yourself and is not forced upon you by someone or something.
As exciting as it might be after signing up for a big race, this excitement can lead to irrational decisions. Overmotivation is in my opinion one of the main reasons beginning runners get injured.
If you were inactive for 10 years and now have the (great) idea to train for a marathon, you should calm down, control your excitement and make a reasonable plan and put a framework into place that guarantees long-term success.
Starting out your training with a couple of 50k training weeks after living on the couch for years will make you end up throwing your shiny new running shoes in the trash and never run again.
You might think now, how can I forget to run, I didn’t run at all before in my life.
Well that’s BS. Being able to run is one of the things every healthy-born human being is able to do. Have you ever seen a three-year old kid that calmly walks towards his mom or dad when he recognize him or her on the other side of the street?
No, that kid runs! Every kid runs! It’s what we do, what’s in our genetic heritage. The ability to not just walk but run has a history of almost 2 million years.
But running is not a necessity in the modern world nowadays. So chances are that you forget how to run along the way.
And that means you have to learn it again. And that’s a task that’s harder that one might think. The marketing departments of running equipment companies don’t want you to develop a proper running form.
They want you to buy their stuff!
Also race organizers want you to run their races. They don’t want you to build up your abilities slowly and sign up once you’re ready.
So you have to ignore the influences that might be around you and work properly on learning to run again in a sustainable manner.
Don’t use only your running shoes. Also cross train, do strengthening and stretching.
To be honest this is probably my biggest issue. I love running and I like to use most of the time I have for training to go on training runs.
But the higher the distance you aim for or the more ambitious your speed goals get, the higher is the strain you put on your body.
It should be easy to stay injury free with running only if you just do two easy 5k workouts each week. But when you are into 80k training weeks as I am now, running is not enough.
Stretching, strength training, cross training, nutrition, recovery and more gets massively important. Don’t make the mistake to just focus on running alone.
I learned my lesson in 2018 when I got injured for the first time. After a couple of days without any sports, I started cross training on my road bike for a few weeks. This boosted my fitness and contributed in other ways to my running. I didn’t expect that huge effect.
Usually I try cross training with cycling, hiking and swimming. Strengthening with a weekly circuit training, stretching after every intense or long workout and recovery activities like foam rolling.
These are just a few ideas on how you can complement your running.
As said before having a goal is quite important for motivation and validate your training. But not any goal. A goal has to be good. A goal needs to suit you.
I would never recommend any new runner to set running a marathon as a first goal. You can’t run a marathon without running 5k first!
When I started running over a decade ago my first goal was running a half marathon in less than two hours within 6 months. Was this a good and reasonable goal? Hell no!
But I still succeeded without getting injured. But only because I was very careful and I rigorously stuck to most other advice I give in this article.
Running is a sport that can be done up to high ages. So take one step at a time and choose a realistic goal.
Of course it’s great to dream about running a marathon or even win one (yes you can!). But set realistic minor running goals in between.
Recovery is one of the most important aspects of runner. In fact it is in the recovery between workouts in which your body adapts to the training stimulus and actually gets better.
So I wanna mention two things here:
So always focus on recovery! And not only sit around, try active recovery as well. You could foam role, get massages do easy walks or cross training and of course: Eat healthy food.
Bad advice is everywhere. Especially around the internet. And it’s not always that easy to distinguish between good and useful information and bad one.
Even I myself can not proof you that all I write about in this page is good advice. And I’m sure some advice I give is not great for you.
And that’s what you need to notice when you search for running advice online. Someone who sells you his idea and advice for the total and only truth, you should be careful.
Every body is different and running and what works and what doesn’t is pretty individual. That’s why I often tell you, that it’s very important to get to know your own body like on the top of this post.
Also I try to explain my views and deliver some reasoning for the stuff I claim here. That’s also something you should always look out for when getting advice.
Running shoes are the most debated piece of equipment for runners
In my opinion equipment is certainly not the number one reason why runners get injured. Sure you can have bad shirts, tights and a pack that might not be optimal in regards of chaffing for example.
The piece of equipment that is talked the most about in regards of injuries is obviously running shoes. And yes it happens easily that you use footwear that are not ideal for you. But if you take the other things I write about in this post seriously, you recognize a bad shoe choice early on and can fix it.
Of course there’s no right or wrong running shoe and there is quite a debate going on if heavy cushioned and supported shoes are better than a more minimal style.
Here’s my take on this:
Humans have been running barefoot or in sandals for hundred of thousands of years. So it’s obvious that it’s theoretically can be done still today.
I also think being able to handle things like damping and stabilizing your running posture is something your body should do and not a fancy running shoe.
I’m not all pro minimal running but I myself like to use minimal shoes as much as possible. However this is not for everyone and any style of running.
For 100k trail races some cushioning is not only comfortable but also helpful for injury prevention. Also the surface you run on (the softer the better) and your own personal biomechanics play an important role in your shoe choice.
Again it’s all about knowing your body and the amount and style of running that you do and that suits you.
As you can see there’s very much that can go wrong that is within your reach of influence. Don’t blame your shoes or someone else if you get injured.
Always try to figure out what has been gone wrong and what you could do better in the future to prevent any additional injuries. Over time you will get really good at spotting first signs that might lead to an injury and you can then react accordingly.
I hope this advice helps to prevent any injuries. If it does, I’d love if you could share this piece with your friends.
In the next four posts we will have a closer look at the most common running injuries plantar fasciitis, runner’s knee, shin splints and achilles tendinitis.