On The Run: How to Prevent Running Injuries

September 1, 2015

Two running experts tell us how to stay on our feet

By Clint Cherepa


Staying injury-free should be on top of every runner’s goal list because once injury hits, running usually stops. I recall starting out as a runner and thinking, “How do you get hurt running?” I soon found out with a sharp bout of inflammation along the tissue that connects the heal bone to the toes, otherwise known as plantar fasciitis.

All it takes is one dance with iliotibial band syndrome where connective tissue rubs against the thighbone, or runner’s knee, shin splints or a stress fracture in the foot, legs or vertebrae for a runner to know that the road to injuries is a road best avoided.

So how can you prevent injuries?

Know Thy Enemy

First, be aware of the causes. Alison Naney, a massage therapist and running coach from Seattle, says, “It’s really easy to run hard (long distances at a fast pace) all the time, which, can feel satisfying, yet is taxing on soft tissue (muscles, tendons, fascia). Easy running (short distances at slower paces) gradually strengthens soft tissue, preventing injuries by mixing hard and easy runs throughout training.”

Keep in mind that your running base is not built in weeks, but in years. Trisha Steidl, the Head Coach of men’s and women’s cross-country and Track and Field at Seattle University, feels that ramping up mileage and intensity too quickly will cause injury.

“There are a lot of runners who think all they need to do is run and they’ll be fine,” says Steidl. “Weight and strength training, including core, are crucial pieces of the puzzle.”

Get Strong

A regular routine of running will lead to being stronger and fitter, but more strength conditioning will lead to a stronger you. Staidly has her runners focus on a weightlifting routine and core work. Steidl’s philosophy is: “If you experience fewer injuries, you can train more consistently. The more consistently you can train, the stronger and faster you’ll become.”
Steidl tends to direct her runners toward hill workouts and plyometrics — or jump training—to help them stay strong and injury-free.

Naney, the running coach, is also a huge fan of strength training. “Many injuries stem from some sort of muscle imbalance, where the affected muscle or tendon isn’t able to do its job,” she says. “Core and hip strength is very important, but runners can benefit greatly from strengthening legs and upper body as well.”

Find your Form

Many runners have never given a thought to their running form. But, it is worth examining.

According to Naney, “Running is repetitive, so if there is misalignment somewhere along the kinetic chain, injury is more prone to happen. Proper running form is important so you don’t put incorrect stress somewhere in your body.”

Naney suggests learning correct running form by making sure you have correct posture.

“You can think of keeping good posture throughout the day as training when you can’t get out as often as you’d like,” she says.

On the other hand, form can be relative.

“I believe form is important,” says Steidl. “But I also have seen plenty of people with ‘bad’ form who rarely get injured. The stronger you are, the more efficient you’ll be, which includes your form becoming more fluid.”

A good way to check form is to have a friend take a video clip of you running. You may be surprised at what you see.

Shoe Shopping

In a sport that requires little gear, shopping for running shoes is not only fun but also a very important decision, especially for your biomechanics, notes Steidl.

During an average week Steidl will use four to five different pairs of shoes.

“I’ll wear thin racing flats for a track or hill workout, marathon-type racing flats (with a bit more cushion and support than thin racing flats) for a tempo run, a light, flexible trail shoe for my long, trail runs, and then switch between two different ‘regular’ training shoes for my recovery and easy runs,” says Steidl.

Naney worked at Seattle Running Company for many years and was surprised at how many people were running in the wrong or worn-out shoes. “Running shoes are designed to only last around 300 miles, after which point the cushioning and support diminish,” she says.

Once injured

Injury seems to bite every runner eventually. What should you do once injured?

Naney advises to first figure out what caused the injury: “Was there a specific moment that you felt something ‘happen’? Was there something you did differently in terms of duration or volume of running?”

Next, follow Steidl’s sage advice: “See someone who works with runners rather than trying to figure out— or fix—the injury on your own.”

Finally, take the needed steps of repairing, resting and recovery to get back on your feet.

Clint Cherepa is the running columnist for OutdoorsNW. He is currently training for ultramarathons and working on a new venture: www.strongerrunners.com