Jordan Moen, D.P.T.
Speaking of HealthBack pain care and preventionJune 06, 2017
Running is one of the world's most popular sports, hobbies and ways of staying fit. However, running also can lead to the occasional injury. At some point, whether it's a 5K, 10K or marathon, runners of all levels tend to cross this familiar bump in the road.
As a physical therapist for Mayo Clinic Health System, I treat all types of runners, from ultramarathoners to novices. With a doctorate in physical therapy, I'm an expert in motion, and have been trained to treat and prevent injuries in many athletes, particularly runners. I truly enjoy helping people cross that finish line. With the start of the Mankato Marathon — one of Minnesota's most beautiful marathons — quickly approaching, many people ask me what it takes to succeed during their run.
One of the most common barriers to success — or crossing that finish line — is injury. One can encounter a number of injuries in preparing for a marathon. Runner's knee, plantar fasciitis (foot pain) and stress fractures in the foot all are common ailments many runners find themselves struggling with leading up to a race. Therefore, the best approach to ensure success for your upcoming run is to avoid injury.
1. Preparing for your run
There's no secret to preparing for your run. Preventing injury is as simple as preparing ahead of time. Just like taking an exam, it's necessary to prepare by studying, getting adequate sleep and eating properly.
The most important step in preparing for running and competing in races is planning ahead. This is particularly true for longer distances, such as marathons. For these events, planning months ahead is necessary. Adhering to running programs that gradually progress running distances and allow for appropriate days of rest will progressively prepare your body's joints and tissues, allowing it to adapt and rebuild over time.
Often, people will overtrain and find themselves having to stop training or even backing out of a race. Starting gradually, instead of jumping into large distances, prevents joint or tissue overload. Once you begin your program, increasing mileage 10% weekly is a safe progression.
2. Stay strong.
Strength training is another key element in preparation for running. We often have weakness in various areas in our body that can lead to asymmetry or faulty running mechanics. This often is observed in the core and hip musculature. Strength training will address these faults and imbalances, preventing undue stress on weak tissues.
3. Choose a shoe that works for you.
Footwear is a topic that I cover with almost every runner who I work with. While there's no perfect shoe for everyone, finding the right fit and type of shoe is necessary for success. If you have flat feet, arch supports or more sturdy shoes can help prevent excessive stress to your joints. Some people do well with more flexible shoes, and some do not. Find what works best for you and go with it. Also remember that, like the treads of a vehicle's tire, your shoes can and will wear out with use. Make sure to keep an eye on the integrity of your shoes to prevent injury. Shoes typically last around 300–400 miles before needing to be replaced.
4. Use proper technique for efficiency.
The most successful runners often are the most efficient runners. Using the best technique for running will help you run more efficiently for longer and with less stress to your body. This is best done by monitoring your stride length and cadence. Recommended cadence is greater than 170 steps per minute. Instead of taking longer strides, increase your cadence. Taking longer strides requires more energy expenditure.
5. Rest up.
Most runners don't take into account their own recovery. Running taxes the body significantly, breaking down various parts of our body — and the body always is in the process of rebuilding. For the body to recover successfully, it's necessary to get adequate amounts of sleep; eat a well-balanced diet that is high in carbohydrates, low in fat and contains sufficient protein; and drink plenty of water.
6. Treat a running injury.
Preparation is the key to success. However, what if an injury was to occur? The PRICE method, which stands for protect, rest, ice, compress and elevate, is a great start. Depending on the severity of the injury, this alone may be enough. The most difficult task is taking the time needed to rest, especially when the excitement for an upcoming race is rising. Running or limping on an injured foot or knee is only going to prolong your symptoms or worsen them. If pain lingers for greater than one to two weeks, speaking with your health care provider or a physical therapist can help get you back to running all the way through the finish line.