Long distance runners face a unique set of challenges compared to short distance runners. Long distance running requires both physical and mental training. When appropriate measures are not taken, long distance runners may face injuries that could prevent them from participating in the sport the love. For this series, we talked to Karen Mohr, physical therapist and Director of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Foundation. Mohr is an experienced long distance runner who has completed dozens of marathons and ultramarathons over the years, including five 100-mile races.
Some running injuries cannot be prevented, but there are steps long distance runners can take to prevent some of the most common injuries, such as overuse injuries and runner’s knee.
Doctors, coaches, and fitness experts agree that taking these prevention measures during training can help prevent injury.
1. Train properly. If you are new to running, work with a running coach who will work to improve your running form and direct your training program to ensure you are running the appropriate distances. If you are working up to a new distance, it’s important not to increase your distance too quickly, suggests Karen Mohr, PT, Director of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Foundation, and ultramarathon runner. “Don’t increase your training regimen more than 10 percent per week,” she said.
2. Take time off. Rest days are an important element of any training program. Every running workout creates microtrauma to the muscles. Without rest days, those microtraumas don’t have a chance to heal, which can result in a more serious injury.
How often should you take a day off? It varies from person to person, but as a general rule of thumb, “the older you are, the more important your rest days become,” said Mohr. Some runners will still exercise on their day off, but do something other than running, such as cycling or yoga. For most runners, a running workout five days a week is adequate, although some training programs advocate for six days per week.
3. Eat well and stay hydrated. Nutrition and hydration are important for a healthy body, regardless of your level of activity. As a runner, you must be taking care of your body, giving it the nutrients and water it needs, in order to have the most success and help prevent injury.
4. Stretch. Tissues that are tight and shortened are more prone to injury, but there is also evidence to suggest that stretching when the muscles are not warmed up can have negative consequences. Before stretching, take five to 10 minutes to walk or jog. Stop to stretch before continuing with your workout. If you cannot warm up and stretch before your workout, stretch after you run.
5. Listen to your body. If you think you may be on the brink of an injury, try icing it after your workout. Many injuries are the result of inflammation, which can be eased with ice. If you experience persistent soreness or pain, see your doctor. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and prolonging treatment for an injury could result in a more serious injury requiring more time away from training and racing.
6. Strength train. Keeping your muscles — especially your leg and core muscles — strong will provide more support for your joints and keep your body aligned, helping to prevent injuries during your miles of running. Focus on the muscles in your trunk, hips and legs, including abductors, adductors, glutes, and hamstrings to increase your leg strength and stability.
If you have questions about your training, consult with a certified running coach, orthopedic surgeon, sports medicine specialist or physical therapist to help determine what changes to make to your training program in order to best prevent injury.