Anyone that knows me well knows that I love working with runners. I love seeing new runners get involved in the sport. I love seeing people reach their running goals. I love witnessing the transformation that happens when someone goes from hardly being able to envision him or herself running a mile to, somewhere down the road, diving into their first marathon. I love the sport of running and the people I share this passion with.
What I dislike about running is that people get injured. Running injury risks are over 80% for those who stick with the sport for any length of time. Overuse injuries in runners are going to happen, period. What I can't stand about this is that those that are new to the sport are over 2.5x more likely to quit running after an injury. Doctors tell them that running is not good for them: "It's hard on your joints," "you're going to get arthritis," "you're too overweight to be running." It drives me crazy when people accept these answers because I strongly believe there are better ones. I believe that anyone who wants to be a runner can be a runner, no matter what shape, size, or exercise background. I also believe that running is a sport for all ages and those that wish to run well into the later decades of life can, and should do so. Experienced runner, or new, don't let the fear of arthritis or injury stop you from enjoying all that this sport has to offer.
With that said, new runners in particular need to know what they are getting into. Yes, injury risks are high, but so are the risks to your health and life if you continue to live a sedentary lifestyle. My main message to new runners (and all runners for that matter) is: BE PROACTIVE. Take the time to educate yourself about running related injuries and how to best prevent them. My goal as a physical therapist is to serve as a local resource for runners about this. I went to my first physical therapy running conference almost 5 years ago out in Colorado. After this conference I was instantly hooked and have since been all over the country attending conferences and courses on running related injuries and how to best treat and prevent them. I have learned from some of the best in the field and have loved every minute of it. While I still have a lot to learn about running related injuries, I do feel like I am at a point now where I can begin to start sharing some valuable information with my local running community about this topic. One of my main goals is to get the message of injury prevention out to new runners, especially since they are the ones most at risk of quitting after an injury. Really though, this is not just a message for new runners, it's a message for all runners. I have 3 main points. I did not get these points from Google but rather from the research, clinical experience, and coaching I have done with over 100s of runners since that first conference I attended in Colorado 5 years ago. Here are the points in no specific order:
# 1: Knee injuries are the most common running related injury; they are also the most preventable.
I am convinced that over 90% of knee injuries in runners are due to one of three things:
1. Training mistakes - too much too soon, in terms of volume or intensity. You got to earn the right to go further and faster.
2. Poor running mechanics - landing too far out in front of the body or with poor posture will overstress the knees.
3. Weak hips - runners are notoriously weak in their hips. I've done detailed running analyses on close to 100 runners and I see it ALL THE TIME! The research linking hip weakness to knee injuries is also very hard to ignore.
# 2: There is no one right way to run, but there are several wrong ways.
Everyone is made different; therefore not all runners will run the same. There are however basic running mechanic essentials that are important to know about if you plan to stick with this sport for any length of time. If basic mechanics are off, you not only will increase your injury risk even more but also will never reach your full potential as a runner.
# 3: Strength training and having a good sense of body awareness are important and just because you are good at one doesn't mean you are automatically going to be good at the other.
You can spend hours strength training each week and never have it positively impact your running. A great example of this is core strengthening. You can do all the planks and ab-work in the world to get your core strong but if you don't understand what good spinal alignment "feels like" you will never be able to optimally use your core when running. The same holds true for body awareness. You can be super in-tune with your body and know how to position yourself well mechanically but if you aren't strong you will eventually break down as fatigue sets in. Runners need to be both strong AND have a good sense of body awareness.