How to Handle (and Prevent) Running Injuries

© Martinmark | Dreamstime.com

© Martinmark | Dreamstime.com

Injury is the one word that beginning runners and seasoned veterans can commiserate over with the same intensity. Injuries can turn happy runners into miserable people when they are forced to take days, weeks, or even months away from running.

When training for a half marathon, an injury could potentially prevent you from racing. It all depends on the severity of the injury and the length of time needed to recover. Never try to run through an injury as this only exacerbates the problem and could potentially lead to further time away from running.

(MORE: 13 Essential Tips for Your First Half Marathon)

An injury or illness that requires you to miss two weeks or less of your training program will likely not affect your ability to race. If your base fitness is strong and you ease back into training, it should take only a few runs to feel normal again. However, any injury that takes more than two weeks to recover from should be approached with care.

Depending on the nature of the injury and the time frame until race day, it may be advantageous to pick a new race. Your memory of your first half marathon should not include limping towards the finish line.

Stretching

Aside from avoiding accidents, there are a few preventative things runners can do to avoid injury. Stretching, strengthening, and avoiding too much too soon will keep you from being sidelined.

“If it feels like something is wrong, stop and rest for another day,” advises Jonathon, a first-time half marathoner from Georgia. “Listen to your body and respect its limits.” Many injuries start as a nagging pain and become debilitating. While you don’t want to throw in the towel too soon, you also want to ensure that you are able to stick with your training program.

(MORE: 12-Week Half Marathon Training Schedule)

Stretching is a common way to assist in avoiding injury. Warm up before each run with a brisk walk or a few jumping jacks to get your heart pumping. A short series of dynamic stretches will improve your range of motion and help prevent injury. Great dynamic stretches include marching in place, arm circles, and kicking your rear as you slowly run.

Static stretches like touching your toes are better suited for after the run. Nine-time half marathon finisher Katelyn from Ontario is an advocate: “Stretch — everything.” Because you utilize your entire body while running, ensure you include plenty of upper body stretches.

Training for strength

Strength training is another great tool for injury prevention. Not only will it help your muscles become more effective, but it can help reduce weak spots in the body. If you don’t belong to a gym, don’t worry. Simple, but effective exercises can be performed at home, using your own body weight. Abby, a six-time half marathoner from Delaware, likes doing squats, lunges, planks, push-ups, and crunches.

A set of dumbbells can be purchased for under $20 if need to vary your routine. Incorporate 2 to 3 days of strength-training into your training program and aim for a minimum of 20 minutes. If you run on the same days as you strength train, take care of the running first. Warm muscles are great for strength-training, tired ones are poor for running.

Lastly, avoid the common error of doing too much, too soon. This advice is applicable to mileage and speed. Increase your weekly mileage by 10% or less to avoid injury.

Most training plans will add an additional couple of miles each week and this gradual approach is best. Speed and pace are different for every beginning runner, but it is safe to state that an easy run should not leave you feeling nauseated.

Especially in the first few weeks of the training program, pay attention to what feels comfortable during your run. Overexerting yourself can lead to poor form and will eventually lead to an injury. Remember the goal is to make it to race day and cross the finish line happy and healthy.


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