How to Start Running: 3 Tips for Avoiding Injury
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As I have said and will continue to repeat: I am not a personal trainer or physician. However, over the past 3+ years I have managed to stay injury free (unless you count a few blisters and some boob chafing), so I feel like it's not completely ridiculous for me to offer advice on this topic.
For today's post, I want to focus on three things I feel are important to staying fresh and avoiding injury. That's not to say that even if you do these things you won't get injured, but it will reduce your risk.
There's an ongoing debate about whether you really need to stretch before you start running. Me personally? I don't. I've noticed that the first few minutes of a run (or first few miles) are slower, and that's just me warming up.
There is, however, no debate about the importance of stretching after a run.
I used to not take the time to stretch or if I did, I would maybe stretch for 2-3 minutes after a run. Now I consistently spend 5-10 minutes stretching, and honestly, I really don't know why you wouldn't want to stretch. It feels so good, and it's a great reward for your hard workout. Well, that and chocolate milk. Amen.
Also, I can tell a difference when I haven't stretched. When I don't stretch, I'm more sore and tight the rest of the day and the next day as well. Here are a few links to stretching resources. You can find more helpful tips on my Fitness board on Pinterest.
2. Stick to Your Training Schedule
I mentioned this in Part 3: Setting a Schedule, but it's important that once you set a schedule that works for you, don't compare yourself to what other people are doing.
Example: Let's say you and a friend are signed up to run the same race at the same distance. But your friend has been running longer than you and has a personal goal in mind that's faster than your goal time. Or maybe your only goal is to finish.
Your schedule says to run 5 miles on a specific day, but your friend is running 7 miles. Should you try to run the seven miles with her? I would suggest not.
Now, obviously sometimes it's okay. Maybe you're ahead of your training, or your schedule ends up being too easy and you want to see if you can take it up a notch. However, in general, I strongly suggest sticking with the plan you had in mind when you started.
What I want to be clear about is that during training you will come across all kinds of people doing different mileage than you. Don't freak out and think you need to increase your training! You don't. Trust the schedule and listen to your body, and don't compare to what anyone else is doing.
Overuse leads to injury, and if you run too much too fast, you are almost guaranteed to hurt yourself. Just ask my dad, who got a stress fracture in his foot during marathon training due to overuse. The key is gradual increase. Whether that's in time or distance, only crazy people (like my brother) go out and run 13 miles with no training. Usually it doesn't end well.
3. Take Rest Days
First of all, every plan you will ever see includes at least 1 rest day a week. That means doing nothing and not feeling bad about it. You've earned rest and, more importantly, your body needs rest to recover and be stronger for the next time.
How many days a week you plan a rest day is up to you. For me, again, I have at least 2 rest days per week. Some people only have 1 rest day a week. Some people have 3. Neither is bad as long as you're doing what's right for you and your goals.
On top of scheduled rest days, you also should know that it's okay to take an unscheduled rest day. This is not something you should feel bad about or beat yourself up over.
There are many different reasons to take an unscheduled rest day: scheduling conflict, weather, preventative injury rest, lack of sleep, feeling sick, and the list goes on. Obviously, taking an unscheduled rest day just because you "don't feel like running" is pretty lame, especially if you do it every time you have a run scheduled. However, sometimes you just need a rest! You aren't feeling the run, maybe you don't have time to squeeze it in, maybe you're starting to feel sick. Some people may disagree with me about this, but I say it's okay.
You're not going to lose months' worth of training by skipping one or two runs, and forcing yourself to run if you just aren't feeling it is going to make running feel like a chore. This should not be the case the majority of the time, so if you really aren't feeling it, don't go! That's been my attitude about running since the beginning. For me it's helped keep running fun and something I look forward too instead of something that overtakes my life and makes me sad.
Here are a few additional articles to check out:
Do you agree with me about rest days?
What other tips do you have to add about not getting injured?
*I am not a personal trainer or physician. This post is not intended to offer medical advice. Contact your doctor before beginning a fitness routine or if you experience pain while exercising.