People of almost any age can run for exercise. It can be done virtually anywhere at minimal cost, and you do not have to be an athletic superstar to participate. Nevertheless, there are some basic guidelines you should know to help keep your running program productive, safe, and injury-free.
Your running shoes do not have to be the newest, fanciest, or most expensive. But they should fit properly and comfortably, be well cushioned, and give your feet proper support. If you run on trails, you will want to buy shoes for trail running to grip the terrain and protect your feet.
Find a local running store that does gait analysis to help you select your shoes. You will be asked to try on different running shoes. The sales person will watch how you run in different shoes to determine which ones will provide the best support for your running style.
Expect to replace your shoes every 3-6 months or 350-500 miles (563-805 kilometers). By that point, the shock absorbing ability of the shoe will have lessened. If your legs begin to get sore, they may be a sign it is time to replace your sneakers.
Though often overlooked, safety concerns should be a part of your running routine on the road or on the trails. All runners should follow these basic safety rules:
- Run in familiar neighborhoods or trails close to your home. If you are away from home, plan your run ahead of time to choose a route that is safe and has support services along the way.
- Do not run in dark, secluded areas, especially at night.
- Avoid busy, highly trafficked streets. You should also avoid rural roads that may have fast drivers or lots of curves and hills.
- Run on the shoulder of the road facing traffic. This will make you more visible to drivers.
- Take responsibility for staying clear of motor vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Obey traffic signals and other pedestrian safety rules.
- Never assume a driver can see you.
- If you do run at dawn, dusk, or at night, wear bright clothing including at least one piece of clothing with specially designed reflectors.
- Avoid wearing headphones while running, as they decrease your awareness of surroundings.
- Consider carrying a mobile phone in the event of an emergency.
- Wear insect repellent if you are running on trails, especially in areas that increase your exposure to ticks and mosquitoes.
Running injuries tend to be nagging rather than severe, but they still require attention. The best approach is to avoid them. Common runner injuries can be avoided by taking simple steps.
- Keep your shoes in good shape. Always wear socks to avoid blisters.
- Do not over-train. Never step up your running by more than 10% per week for any given increase. Take time to adjust to that level before increasing your running again.
- Vary your plan by following a long, hard run one day with a short, easier run the next.
- Cross-train to help strengthen all of your muscles and reduce your chance of injury.
- Begin each run with a warm-up and follow each run with a cool down.
- Stretch to increase flexibility.
- Vary the surfaces on which you run. Include roads, trails, and hills, for example.
- Rest to allow your body to recovery after a difficult race, such as a marathon.
Treating the Inevitable
No matter how careful you are, you are likely to suffer a running-related injury. Generally, running injuries can be divided into four levels:
Level 1—Minor pain noticed after running
Level 2—Discomfort or tightness noticed while running, but does not limit activity
Level 3—Pain felt while running that begins to limit activity
Level 4—Severe pain while running that forces you to stop
In most instances, running-related injuries begin as a level one or two injury and progress to level three or four if not treated. The key is to treat the injury quickly and properly.
Immediately ice any area that is painful or tight from running. Apply ice wrapped in a towel for 15-20 minutes. Ice as many times as possible each day until the symptoms improve. It is important to rest your injury . Failing to rest a low-level injury can make it worse. In general:
Level 1 may require 1-2 days rest.
Level 2 requires 4-7 days rest.
Level 3 requires 2-4 weeks rest.
Level 4 may need six weeks or more of rest.
Use anti-inflammatory medications to control inflammation, not pain. Masking pain so that you can continue to exercise after an injury will lead to a more severe injury. If a level three injury does not get better after a week of proper treatment, consult with a sports medicine specialist. Level four injuries require immediate medical attention.
Come back slowly from an injury. Recognize that it will take at least as long as the time you took off due to the injury to work back to the training level you were at prior to the injury.
Unless you have access to an indoor track or live in a mild climate, you will have to deal with extremes of heat and/or cold. However, if you take the proper precautions, neither temperature extreme should slow down your running.
Running in extreme heat poses the danger of heat exhaustion, which is severe dehydration. It can also cause heat stroke, which is a failure of the body to regulate heat level. This can cause damage to your organs. To avoid heat-related injury from running, take the following steps:
Stay well hydrated, but avoid over-hydration, which may result in hyponatremia—a dangerously low level of sodium in the blood.
- Drink 10-15 ounces of fluids 10-15 minutes prior to running, and a cupful every 20-30 minutes while running depending upon your individual needs and the temperature.
- If your urine is clear, then you are well hydrated. If it is dark, you will need to drink more fluids.
- Build slowly, gradually increasing your running in hot weather, so as to give your system time to adjust. And take into account your fitness level, since the less fit you are, the more likely you are to suffer heat-related injury.
- Run early in the morning before it gets too hot. Stay in the shade, when possible.
- Wear light-colored and breathable clothing.
- Pay attention to humidity. Recognize that the combination of heat and humidity affects your system. For example, 85ºF (29ºC) heat with very high humidity puts more strain on your system than 95ºF (35ºC) heat with very low humidity.
- Recognize that many health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, the flu, and obesity, as well as many medications, can lower your heat tolerance. If you are uncertain about a condition or medication, check with your doctor.
- Wear sunblock and UV-protective sunglasses when running during the day to protect against skin and eye damage.
Running in cold, wintry weather can lead to injury from slips and falls, strains or pulls due to cold muscles, and frostbite. To avoid these injuries, take the following precautions:
- Warm up well before you begin each run.
- Avoid icy areas and snowy areas. But if you must choose, remember that snow gives you much more traction than ice.
- Consider wearing traction devices over your shoes in snowy or icy conditions. They can be purchased at a local running store.
- Recognize that not just cold, but cold and wind causes cold-related injuries, including frostbite.
- To help maintain warmth throughout your run, begin your run heading into the wind and return with the wind at your back.
- Make sure your entire body is protected. Pay special attention to your head, ears, hands, and feet, which are most likely to suffer frostbite. Since a great deal of heat is lost through your head, be sure to wear a warm hat. In extreme wind and cold, wear a ski mask or other protection for your face.
- Wear proper clothing. Wool is warm and helps whisk moisture away from your skin, but it can be heavy. Polypropylene and Gortex clothing are warm, allow evaporation of sweat, and have the benefit of being lightweight. A layer of nylon can also help lessen the effect of wind. On your feet, try a thick sock over a thinner sock as long as this does not make your foot fit too tightly in your shoe.
- After running, change out of wet clothing to avoid hypothermia.
Finally, as with any training regimen, it is best to get a check-up with your doctor before you begin.