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Avoiding Running Injuries - A Little Wisdom Goes a Long Way

by Hal Higdon - from Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide

A frequent question asked me by younger runners who hope some day to become older runners is: "How often have you been injured?" Not often, I admit.

In a running career spanning seven decades, only three injuries caused me to miss more than two weeks of training.

While writing a book on masters running for Rodale Press, I expected to discover that those of us over age 40 were more likely to become injured than younger runners. Surprisingly, we seem to get injured less.

Partly, this is because we run fewer miles, according to a survey by John Pagliano, D.P.M. of Long Beach, California. Younger runners typically suffer lower leg and knee injuries. Older runners suffer more foot and hip/lower back problems.

"As we get older, our backs give out," reports Dr. Pagliano, suggesting that all of us need to focus on improving core-body strength.

If masters runners do suffer fewer injuries than our younger counterparts, it is because we have learned from our mistakes. When we make a training error and get hurt, we learn not to make that error again. But it may take years to accumulate the wisdom to injury-proof your body.

MarathonIf you are new to the sport of running, here are some tips to help you shortcut the learning process.

1. Obtain proper equipment: Few sports cost as little as running. Our main item of equipment is a cheap pair of sneakers. Fashionable clothing and global positioning watches definitely are icing on the cake. Don't scrimp on footwear. Acquire shoes that are appropriate for your biomechanics. And when the shoes begin to show wear, throw them away. Most running injuries can be traced to the point where the shoe touches the ground.

2. Train intelligently: Don't stumble from one workout to another, not knowing what you plan to run tomorrow, next week, next month, or even next year. Set goals, but give yourself time to meet those goals. If you don't have a coach, there are many training resources online: both schedules and answers to your questions.

3. Find your red line: Through trial and error, determine the point (usually miles run) where you get injured. Then back your training down below that red line. Sometimes you can nudge this point upward by pushing gently, but everyone has a red line beyond which they get hurt. Find yours!

4. Never get out of shape: This is the key to injury prevention. Maintaining a solid base level of fitness means that when you want to increase your training to achieve a specific goal, you don't need to push too hard or too fast. Mileage increases should be made gradually.

5. Keep a diary: It's not necessary to record every workout in detail, but record trends, so that if an injury occurs you can look back and discover why. Mileage trends are important, but so are activities around running. If you got hurt in a race, maybe it was because you jumped out of a car just before competing after a four-hour drive.

6. Utilize professionals: If injured and resting 72 hours doesn't produce a miracle cure, seek medical intervention. The runner's best friend is often a podiatrist, but other sports medicine experts, from orthopods to chiropractors to physical and massage therapists, also offer healing hands.

Not all runners have bullet-proof bodies. We all differ in our biomechanics and our susceptibility to injury. If you want to maximize your success and enjoyment as a runner, you need to give constant attention to avoiding injuries.


Hal Higdon's book on Masters Running is scheduled for publication next year. For training advice, visit his Web site: www.halhigdon.com.

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