Running is a great, inexpensive way to get fit and explore the outdoors. However, before you take off at the starting line, you’ll want to make sure you have the right gear and goals in mind, so you aren’t suffering from running injuries by the time you finish. Specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation, Devin RH Smith, MD, UnityPoint Health, has basic running tips for new and seasoned racers alike, so they can make the most of their experience.
It’s All About the Shoes
Dr. Smith says the pavement should determine what type of shoe runners wear. Road-running shoes are appropriate for those who stick to track and pavement, but those who run off-road require heavier trail shoes with added protection for rocks and roots.
“There is no single, optimal design that improves performance or safety empirically, but there are customizations available to accommodate differences in foot-strike patterns,” Dr. Smith says. “Staff at running stores can identify individual strike patterns, especially flat feet, extremely high arches or abnormal knee alignment. However, for casual and beginning runners, it may be more cost-effective to get a basic shoe and show the wear pattern to the store associate when buying the next pair.”
Most running shoes last between 300 and 500 miles, depending on the weight of the person and the terrain. Dr. Smith says that running shoe mileage is usually about three to four months for regular runners. You can also take other cues that it’s time to replace your shoes. If they are worn through or feel increasingly uncomfortable, it’s likely time for a new pair.
Dr. Smith says there is little evidence to suggest barefoot running improves performance or reduces injury in general. He says not wearing shoes means the soles of your feet are much more susceptible to penetration injury from stepping on sharp items. Smith says this is even true after callouses develop.
“In most individuals, running without shoes shifts the strike-pattern from heel-initiated up toward the mid or forefoot. This has been show to shift the distribution of injuries toward the feet and ankles and away from the knees and hips. However, it has not significantly been shown to reduce the incidence of injury,” Dr. Smith says.
As is often true with fitness, Dr. Smith says the best thing you can do is to try it out. Though scientific trials haven’t consistently demonstrated a benefit to running barefoot, the best way to see if a runner personally benefits is to try it out for a month or two and compare results.
Many runners who like the idea of a more natural experience have tried out the so-called toe shoes. However, Dr. Smith says there’s no evidence that these shoes are safer or superior to traditional running shoes. In fact, shoe company Vibram reached a settlement in a class action lawsuit over its five-fingered shoes. The lawsuit alleges the company’s advertisements overstated evidence of the benefits from the shoes’ design. In the settlement, Vibram did not admit guilt or wrongdoing.
How to begin a Running Program
- Talk to a provider before beginning any running regimen. There are risks associated with running, including injuries and other problems, like cardiac arrhythmias.
- Identify a goal. It can be anything from winning a race to simply running for a certain distance or time. With this in mind, runners can create incremental goals to ensure progress and design a program.
- Allow plenty of time to increase mileage and improve speed gradually to avoid injuries.
Common Running Injuries
Dr. Smith says the most common injuries caused by running are muscle strains/sprains, blisters and joint paint. However, there are things runners can do to minimize the chance of injury.
Athletes can reduce the risk of muscle strains/sprains by warming up thoroughly before running, slowly increasing workload over time and cooling down with stretching. Treatment includes the “RICE” protocol.
- Relative rest (abstaining from activity that makes the pain worse)
Dr. Smith suggests putting moleskin over irritated skin spots to help reduce blistering. Joint pain can also be minimized by gradually increasing exercise and interspersing low-impact movements, such as swimming, biking or the elliptical machine/
Can You Run Too Much?
Dr. Smith says absolutely. Exercise is like medicine, it can be just as bad to have too much as not enough. Most experts recommend moderate exercise for those training to increase their lifespan running six to seven miles per hour for two to five sessions weekly, totaling around 20 miles. Gaining training advice from a community of runners can be helpful, but, make sure to ask several runners their opinions, and beware of those who advocate a one-size-fits-all approach. He suggests all runners listen to their bodies and pay attention to how they respond to stress.
If you have any questions about your running regimen, contact your UnityPoint Health primary care provider.