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Cooper River Bridge Run Column - January 31st, 2005
Some Rules of the Road to Follow for Injury Prevention

By Art Liberman

Running oftentimes gets a bad rap, perceived by many as a hazardous sport. Most runners have heard comments like “Are you crazy? All that running has to be bad for your joints, knees, hips, etc.”!

The truth of the matter is that while runners of all ages and experience levels are vulnerable to a variety of injuries, most breakdowns occur as a result of training errors. The good news is that many injuries are preventable by training intelligently.

To illustrate, the following are five fictitious scenarios typifying runners who sooner or later, will likely succumb to injury.

“Procrastinator” – Joe decides to do the Bridge Run a month before the race. While he’s in decent cardiovascular shape, Joe hasn’t run in a year. Sensing urgency, his weekly mileage jumps from zip to 15 and then 25 miles.

“Slave to the Schedule” – Sue follows her training schedule precisely as indicated, even on days when her legs feel excessively fatigued. Stubbornly pressing on, the dull ache she recently began feeling in her knee now is excruciatingly painful.

“Inconsistent” – Bill admits his training is sporadic at best due to his many work and family commitments. Whenever he misses several days in a row, Bill plays catch up by doubling the specified daily mileage on his training schedule.

“Exercise-a-holic” – In addition to following her running schedule, Nancy visits the gym everyday to cross train as she loves aerobics, spinning class, weights, Pilates, and more. Her legs are always in a state of fatigue as they never get a rest day.

“More is Better” – Tom has a very competitive personality and oftentimes runs more mileage than what his training schedule specifies. Feeling invincible, most of his workouts are also done at a fast pace. He’s determined that this will be his best Bridge Run ever!

Do any of these people sound familiar? By following the injury prevention guidelines below, you will be taking a proactive approach to your training, increasing the likelihood of arriving at the Bridge Run starting line both healthy and well prepared.

Train at Your Level – Choose a creditable training program that matches your current running level.

Pace of Runs – Unless you are an experienced runner, your main focus should be on completing your training at a comfortable pace rather than adding fast paced workouts. If you wish to train with a partner, be sure they run at a pace similar to yours. For all your runs, warm up by gradually easing into your normal pace; don’t sprint to end your workouts but instead, cool down by jogging easily the last mile.

Build Mileage Gradually - Always follow the 10 percent rule that cautions not to increase by more than 10 percent weekly: (1) the distance of your longest run or (2) total weekly mileage. In short, the musculoskeletal system (muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, etc.) needs to adapt gradually to mileage increases.

Be Consistent – While consistent training is a major key to running improvement, inconsistency can lead to a variety of injuries. Don’t miss several days in a row of running and then pour on the miles to make them up.

Follow the “Hard-Easy” Concept – Hard workouts include long runs, races, speedwork, hill training, etc. These should not be run back to back. For example, if you race on Saturday, avoid doing a long run on Sunday.

Listen to Your Body’s Feedback – While consistent training is important, it’s vital to listen to what your legs are communicating. Take an extra day of complete rest if your legs feel excessively tired or sore.

Heed Injury Warning Signs – Recognize the differences between muscle stiffness/soreness, fatigue, and potential injury. If you experience an increase in pain or have to alter your normal running stride to avoid discomfort, discontinue the run. While some minor injuries respond well to rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medications, etc., never take chances with your health. Whenever in doubt, seek the guidance of appropriate medical professionals and follow their advice.

Preventing Heat Illness – Always stay hydrated throughout the day. Regardless of the outside temperature or your thirst level, be sure to drink water every 30 minutes of running. Sports drinks should also be consumed for runs lasting an hour or longer. And don’t overdress; keep in mind that despite the actual outside temperature, it will feel 10 degrees warmer after you run for about 10 minutes.

Shoes – If your current pair has more than 350 miles, purchase new shoes from a specialty store. Their staff can outfit you in the model that best matches your biomechanical needs.

Stretching – Always make time to stretch thoroughly after running. Don’t stretch a cold muscle. If you wish to stretch prior to your workout, do some fast walking or jogging. Hold your stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds. Don’t bounce or overextend to the point of pain past your current range.

Weight Training – While upper body strength is advantageous for both maintaining running form and ascending hills, it’s not necessary to go overboard exercising your legs by doing heavy squats and lunges. Keep those legs fresh for running.

Cross Training – Lateral, high impact, stop-and-go, and bounding sports can increase your risk of injury, particularly when building mileage. Cross training is a great way to supplement your running or to maintain cardiovascular fitness if you can’t run due to injury; however, keep in mind the concept of sports specificity, particularly if your time to workout is limited. Running is the most effective means to train for the Bridge Run. Preserve those scheduled rest days so that your legs will be rested for, and recovered from your runs.

Running Surfaces – While running on trails, at the beach, or hills/bridges are inviting diversions from the smooth and flat asphalt road, adapt to these surfaces by gradually increasing mileage. The same holds for the treadmill. Avoid running on roads that are highly cambered (steep) and at the track with all those turns.

Chafing and Blisters – Select apparel from head to toe made with synthetic blend materials (Coolmax, Nike’s Dry-FIT, etc.) as unlike cotton, these products wick away moisture keeping you comfortable. Petroleum-based products (SkinLube, BodyGlide, etc.) applied to sensitive areas will help prevent chafing.

Utilize Recovery Techniques – Getting a sports massage, soaking your legs in cold water, and taking a walk or easy spin on your bike are all great ways to rejuvenate tired or sore muscles.

A final thought. With so much training information available in the print media and Internet, it’s easy to feel confused or overwhelmed about what advice pertains to your individual situation. Whenever in doubt, seek the advice of a coach or experienced runner.

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