If you’re looking for motivation to start running, keep looking. I’ve run long enough to know that you’re not going to convince anyone to start running - they have to decide for themselves. This blog is designed to help you get started running, once you’ve found the motivation to run.
I’ve raced road and trail, from 5k’s to ultra-marathons, during blizzards and in deserts. No matter the terrain, or the conditions, I follow a very similar training approach, and for good reason. I’ve sustained a couple running related injuries in my career, which I’ve learned to prevent through a few simple practices. Running isn’t exactly gentle on your body, but that doesn’t mean it has to be detrimental. If you’re new to running and are worried about injury hopefully these tips can help squash that fear and get you on the trails!
In my experience, running injuries have three main causes; poor form, overtraining, and lack of strength. Form seems to be drastically overlooked because running itself is a pretty natural movement. Most of us learn to run soon after we learn to walk. There isn’t one correct way to run, but it is important to be aware of how you run.
Everyone is going to be slightly different, but there are two important aspects; how your feet strike the ground and how your upper body is positioned over your lower body. Landing on the ball of your feet with knees slightly bent is ideal because you’re muscles are engaged, which relieves pressure from your joints and bones. If you’re a heel striker, practice landing on the ball of your feet and focus on bent knees. If you notice your knees are collapsing inwards that’s usually a tell-tale sign of weak glutes.
Like most physical activities, a strong core is crucial. Keeping your core engaged and directly over the lower body will help maintain good posture and therefore, good form. This is important because it will prevent reaching with your legs, which can put a lot of strain on your knees.
ChiRunning has also become a popular form of running, which focuses upon knee protection and injury prevention while running. The ChiRunning website has a lot of great resources, such as this article on "10 Components of Good Running Technique".
The second (and arguably most common) cause of running injuries is overtraining. Let’s say you just signed up for the Thirsty Thirteen and you realize the most you’ve ever run is crossing Camino Del Rio during lunch rush (no easy feat, of course). In anticipation of the race you decide to start pounding the pavement day after day. Then you find yourself in pain, and not the good kind.
Going too hard too fast is definitely a thing in running. Your body needs time to adapt and build the muscles needed to support a running regimen. For the first couple weeks, embrace the run/walk/hike trifecta. Ease your body (and mind) into running and focus on getting miles on your feet, not running miles, and not a certain mile time.
Lastly, and very much related to the prior two causes is strength training. In a recent yoga class, the instructor made a comment that I think pertains to running; “In yoga, you have to earn your right to flow.” In yoga, it’s important to have a strong foundation in alignment before doing a vigorous flow. In running, it’s important to have strong supporting muscles and solid form. Runners are notorious for weak booties and hips. Find a strength training regimen that you can commit to 2-3 times per week. It can be as simple as a lunges and squats at home, or a formal class. Find what works for you and stick to it.
Now, let’s talk about a training schedule. Let me start off by saying I’m not a certified running coach, but I have trained for all kinds of races and I’ve made training plans for friends in the past. This is only a guide, experiment for yourself.
The plan below is simple for a reason and that reason is consistency. Maybe you walk all 30 minutes on Saturday, so what? The main point is you got out there and did it. More importantly, you’re twice as likely to show up next week.
Monday: Rest (This is the most important day!)
Tuesday: 10-20 min walk/run
Wednesday: Strength training (see details below)
Thursday: 10-20 min walk/run
Friday: Strength training
Saturday: 20-30 min walk/run/hike
Sunday: 10-20 min walk/run/hike
From this point, the general rule of them is to build total weekly mileage by 10%, but I would suggest going for time, not distance, if you’re just starting out.
As for a strength training routine, I’m a fan of variety. Last season, I went to a strength training class at the Rec Center. This year, I’ve been bouldering a couple times per week at the Rock Lounge. I used to swear by P90X in college, particularly the plyometrics video. My go to exercises for running are weighted lunges, weighted squats, clam shells, and lateral band walks. Start with a weight that feels challenging but you can still handle 10-12 reps. A good article that covers strength training for both form and injury prevention is on Runner’s World.
There are other practices that runners swear by; namely foam rolling, yoga, and cross-training. Experiment with all of them! I do prefer to stretch after my body is warmed up, i.e. after a run or workout. While it is a little cliche, listening to your body will prevent both burnout and injury.
Another question I hear from new runners is “What gear should I buy?” While I understand the desire to have the right gear (I work at gear shop, afterall!), one of things I love most about running is that there is very little gear. A solid pair of shoes are important. My recommendation is to visit us at Backcountry Experience or the Durango Running Company and have someone fit you properly - a good fit is important. If you sweat a lot, then consider getting a handheld water bottle to run with, or a small running pack. One of the reasons I love running is just how accessible it is.
That’s all folks, now get outside and move your body!
*Photos courtesy of Liz Blair