Lacing up for your first training runs of the season can be exciting. But before you log a single training mile, see consult a sports medicine doctor or physical therapist. These professionals can assess your overall readiness for running and perform a running analysis.
Studies show that over the course of a year, at least half of all runners will experience some form of injury. Many of these injuries are a result of biomechanical flaws. A gait analysis performed by a sports medicine doctor or physical therapist can identify and correct strength deficits, postural imbalances and biomechanical faults to reduce the chance of injury. Weak or inflexible muscles when stressed by a lot of running can result in injury. Even simple movements, like an excessive arm swing, can affect the performance of a competitive runner, increasing their running times. After a gait assessment has been performed and reviewed, ways in which to correct any imbalances or problems can be corrected and implemented into your running program. Corrections may include the use of orthotics, a more suitable running shoe, and/or adding strengthening drills and/or stretching exercises. Training advice can also be given to help improve or alter your running style.
Use these suggestions to get the most out of your training efforts.
1. Follow a Good Training Program
A good starting point for a novice is a run/walk program. Try alternating between walking and running for 20 minutes. Slowly and steadily, build up to more running. For every day that you complete your run/walk, take a day off or a day to engage in some other form of exercise. The goal is to progress to the point of running for 20 minutes straight. Be careful not to overdo it in the build-up phase. Doing too much too soon can cause injury.
If you want to follow a more structured program, it is pretty easy to find one on the Internet. If you research training philosophies, Hal Higdon will probably be one of the first names you come across. Higdon’s Novice 1 Marathon Training program is a great place to start. The program consists of nine different increments, like long runs, run slow, walking, breaks, cross training, rest and so on.
Following this method of training will also help you avoid over-training. A good program encourages a gradual build-up in your conditioning and rest so that you are not sidelined by nagging aches and pains or even more serious stress fractures.
"No pain no gain” is not the case when it comes to training safely. Your body needs rest. Depending on your running level and how your body feels, resting 1 to 2 days a week is appropriate. Your training will not suffer because of rest time, as long as you stay consistent.
2. Proper Warm Up and Cool Down
The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine recommends a brisk quarter-mile walk or run to prepare your body for activity. If you are tired or sore, stay at the warm-up pace a little longer. Be sure to stretch the following muscles during your warm up: the hamstring, the piriformis muscle (hip), the gastrocnemius (calf), and the soleus (lower calf).
A good cool down plays a vital part in your body’s post-workout recovery. The post-workout stretch is how we remove lactic acid from the muscles. Lactic acid build-up produces muscle soreness. Repeat the same stretches from the warm-up but hold them a bit longer.
3. Stay Hydrated
Drinking water to replenish your fluids before, during and after your runs will help you avoid dehydration. A good rule of thumb is to drink 6 to 8 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes during your run. If running more than 90 minutes, add a sports drink to replace lost sodium, potassium and chloride. Sports drinks also provide carbohydrates, which are necessary for long runs. Lastly, remember hydration is critical during both hot and cold weather runs.
4. Protect Your Feet
You will be training for several months to get ready for your race, so a few pairs of high quality shoes will be necessary. Look for shoes that are lightweight, with cushioning and stability. Shoes will likely need to be replaced about every 3 months. An overused pair of shoes will affect your gait and can cause imbalances that can result in knee, hip and/or back pain.
5. Avoid Over-training
Do not undervalue the importance of rest in your training program. Those first training runs are often where some get over zealous and forsake the proper rest time. While logging training miles is important, over-training can lead to serious problems. Not adhering to a graduated loading training program and ignoring your bodies need for rest is a recipe for fatigue and injury. Over-training puts you at risk for injuries like shin splints, stress fractures, muscle tears and joint inflammation. Give your muscles the time they need to regenerate and get stronger.