Chasing a runner’s high? You’re not alone. With limited access to gyms, many Americans have turned to running as their new primary form of exercise. Running is a great way to get fit, release endorphins and enjoy the outdoors. However, if you’re looking to start running regularly, it’s important to be smart about it. Nick Kafker, a healthy running expert and co-founder of Recover Athletics, estimates that 70% of all runners experience some type of injury each year. Whether you are new to the sport or training for a marathon, get off on the right foot by avoiding these five common running mistakes.
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Mistake #1: Running too much
There is nothing quite like the feeling of going for a run on a beautiful day. That feeling can quickly become addictive — leading many people to incorporate long runs into their daily routines. While this may work for some, it could be dangerous for less experienced joggers. Michael Conlon, a physical therapist and owner of Finish Line PT told TODAY that you need to "be honest with yourself about how much you can handle.” He advised runners who are just starting out to find training programs online that offer a safe and structured running schedule. "If you run every other day, it still takes six to eight weeks to develop a solid foundation,” Conlon said. Kafker agreed and advised that you should track your mileage and know that the more miles you run, the higher your chances of injury. Ramp up your running gradually, and don’t run intensely every day unless you know you to handle it.
Mistake #2: Running too fast
Never be ashamed to go slow! “Not every run is a workout that should leave us breathless,” explained Conlon. While it can be rewarding to push yourself, you don’t always need to run as hard and fast as you can. Make sure you mix up your running pace throughout the week. “One popular technique,” said Kafker, “is hard day/easy day.” If you run a nine minute mile on your first day, slow down to a 9.5 or 10 minute mile pace the next day. “The variation in pace will let your body adapt and encourage active recovery, so you feel better on your next run.”
Mistake #3: Only running
One of the biggest misconceptions about running is that it’s a catch-all for physical fitness and can take the place of all other forms of exercise. In fact, the opposite is true. This is a frequent marathon training mistake. If you want to run longer distances, you need to prepare your body with strength-training and flexibility workouts in between runs so your lower body can weather the impact of running several miles. Runners who incorporate some resistance or strength training along with running are half as likely to sustain an overuse injury as those who only run. Stronger runners also find themselves running with less effort, which means running is easier to enjoy.
Conlon explained that “similar to how we’re supposed to floss every day to maintain our dental hygiene, we should all be doing various exercises that tend to our ‘soft tissue hygiene.’” Warm ups, cool downs, foam rolling, strength training and active stretching routines help condition the whole body and not just the cardiovascular system. If this sounds overwhelming, or you are unsure of which strengthening exercises to do, Kafker’s company, Recover Athletics, specializes in running injury prevention. They offer an app that generates customized, 10-minute exercise plans for runners of all experience levels. If you want to run injury-free, it’s important to have a routine that extends beyond running. Bottom line: mix it up!
Mistake #4: Not having proper footwear
As four-time Boston Marathon winner Bill Rodgers said, “You gotta love your shoes if you want to love running.” It’s even been scientifically proven that comfortable shoes are more likely to reduce the risk of running injuries. Kafker recommended going to a running specialty store and getting fitted for a comfortable pair that matches your unique stride and gait. Many of these stores also do online fittings.
Mistake #5: Running through pain
“No pain no gain” is not always the best mantra. “Pain is the body’s way of telling you something is wrong,” said Conlon. As you get to know your body, take note of the difference between soreness and sharp pain. If you feel pain while running, stop. If the pain gets worse each time, consult a doctor or PT sooner rather than later to prevent a chronic injury. If you follow these guidelines, you might be surprised by what your body is capable of — and it might just turn a quarantine hobby into a lifelong passion.