5 Tips for Injury-Free Running

South Florida runners are in their final stretch of training as both experienced and novice athletes prepare for the Miami Marathon/Half Marathon Jan. 25 after months of training.

But staying well-hydrated and injury free remains a concern for all runners until they reach the finish line after 13.1 miles or the full 26.2 miles of a marathon.

All sports activities require proper stretching exercises and warm-ups, along with proper hydration throughout the course. But marathon running can be especially tough on joints, muscles and overall health from repetitive impact and so-called “overuse injuries.”

South Florida’s location and climate makes it ideal for distance events, such as marathons and triathlons. But the year-around mild-to-hot weather, combined with the area’s well-known humidity, can take their toll on both beginners and more experienced runners.

“Appropriate training is crucial for staying fit during long-distance events such as marathons,” said Christopher Hodgkins, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and foot and ankle specialist with Doctors Hospital’s Center for Orthopedics & Sports Medicine and a member of the Baptist Health Medical Group.  “Most injuries occur because people run too far and too often without properly building up the necessary flexibility, strength and techniques. Your body needs to adapt before increasing your mileage or speed.”

Marathon training programs offered by South Florida’s running clubs teach proper warm-ups and training routines to achieve the physical conditioning required for a half-marathon or marathon. But even runners training on their own can learn how to stay healthy by following certain rules.

Here are 5 tips for injury-free running:

1. Avoid Doing Too Much, Too Soon
They are referred to as the “terrible too’s” — doing too much, too soon and too fast. The body requires time, rest and proper nutrition to reach the level required for long-duration events such as marathons. Muscles and joints need to recover throughout a typical six-month training program for a marathon.

The 10 percent rule works well: build weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent. But even this guideline of 10 percent could be too much from some people. Joining a running club is the best way to make sure you are not overdoing it because runners are classified by level of experience, and coaches can keep track of progress while teaching proper stretching, warm-up and cool-down techniques.

2. Proper Hydration/Nutrition
South Florida is notorious for its heat and humidity and long-distance runners need to take extra care in staying properly hydrated during all phases of training, as well as during the event itself. Learn how to measure your “sweat rate,” which is based on the amount of liquid your body loses after an hour of exercise. By calculating your sweat rate, you can better evaluate what you should drink to replace lost fluid and help avoid injuries. Proper nutrition is key for overall health. Long-distance runners need to replenish calories and they need more carbohydrates than most people. That’s because muscles are fueled primarily on carbohydrate when you run hard. But runners need to get the right carbs at the right times. Running clubs can help with dietary advice as can dietitians or your primary doctor.

3. Listen to Your Body
Most running injuries, commonly involving knees, the feet, the Achilles heel or the hamstring, don’t appear suddenly. They usually provide slow-developing warning signs that should not be ignored. Normally, these red flags include aches, soreness or a persistent pain. It’s up to each runner to heed the signs and see a doctor before serious injury develops. If signs persist after proper rest and ice/heat treatments, a physician may recommend physical therapy. “The most important thing is to never let the pain or soreness get too far before seeking help,” says Dr. Hodgkins. “Most often, your body lets you know when it’s time to stop, rest and see a doctor.”

4. Get the Right Running Shoes
Don’t underestimate the importance of the proper running shoes, especially for marathoners. An estimated 15 percent to 20 percent of running injuries involve the feet. Plantar fasciitis, small tears or inflammation of the tendons and ligaments from heel to toes, is usually the No. 1 foot complaint among runners. Those runners with very high or very low arches are more vulnerable, so the properly-fitted running shoes are vital for distance athletes. There is no single shoe that is best for runners. You should find one that best supports and fits your unique feet.

5. Monitor Progress/Set Goals
Detailed workout logs and periodic goals can keep you from those overuse injuries. Keeping a journal of how you did and how you felt during your long training runs can help you determine if a trip to the doctor is necessary. For example, you may notice during one weekend run that your knees started aching. If the ache worsens, you then have a precise record to share with your doctor regarding the start and duration of the pain. Monitoring progress and setting realistic goals are important tools for keeping the proper training pace and avoiding common injuries.

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With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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