By By Cora Tomowich, MScPT, Hons B Kin
Okay, so we’ve selected our running shoes, we’ve done our dynamic warm-up, now it’s time for the run itself. There are several habits and behaviours that runners adopt that I would like to discuss in this piece. Here are a few things to know before you hit that pavement:
1. Whether training for a marathon or leisurely running, it is important to keep your body tissues at the ready!
How many times per week should you run? With respect to the prevention of running injuries, there is no concise research that specifies an optimal weekly frequency, however, there are some experts who share their thoughts on the matter. Most running-related injuries are sustained because the body has done too much too soon, or has not been allowed adequate time/loading to get used to the new demand placed on it.
Our bodies can easily adapt to the mechanical stresses and loads placed on them, if done so at a gradual rate. What do I mean by this? Let’s say one of my runners wanted to complete a total of 15 km per week. It would be unwise for him or her to perform all 15 km in one day and then rest for the other six days, because this places an extremely high demand on the body all at once, and can lead to injury. Instead, it is better for tissue adaptation to spread it out a little bit. I’d suggest perhaps a minimum of four runs per week with distances that total the goal of 15 km, i.e., three 3 km runs and one 6 km run throughout the week. This way, we can expect that all tissues be gradually exposed to the demands of running and perform well enough to ultimately avoid injury. On non-running days, keep active with biking, swimming, general aerobics, etc.
The specifics of weekly run frequency are a very individual thing. There are a lot of factors involved in this matter so if you have further questions regarding your run frequency, book an appointment with a running specialist for your customized plan.
2. When it comes to routes and surfaces, mix it up!
It was once believed that hard surfaces and hills put runners at an increased risk of injury. Today, however, we know that all surfaces present the same risk for the appropriately adapted runner. It is only when a runner changes surfaces too quickly or doesn’t change surfaces at all that the risk of injury increases.
Repetitive injuries are more likely to occur if the body tissues are loaded the exact same way each time you run. So, instead of always running in the same direction on the same side of the street, go in the other direction or run down a different side of the road. We know that roads were designed to have a slant quality on either side, thus if we always ran on the same slanted side, we would be loading our body tissues the same way each time… cue repetitive injury. So, I tell my patients to vary their running routes: turn left instead of always turning right; explore a new neighbourhood instead of always running through the old ones.
Now, when it comes to running surfaces, we need to think about adaptation. By surfaces, I mean concrete, asphalt, sand, grass, hills, etc., which each place different biomechanical demands on the body. Hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt produce higher impact on the body, while soft surfaces like sand require more body stabilization. We know that runners expose themselves to overuse injuries when they make a rapid change in surface that does not allow the body enough time to adapt. Instead, experts recommend that runners be gradual and careful when changing running surfaces.
3. Hydration is something to “drink” about!
It is important to note that even when you’re not feeling thirsty, the body could be craving hydration. One good indicator of hydration level is the colour of urine. We should be aiming for a pale yellow colour; however, some marathon runners have been found to have normal hydration levels with darker colours of urine in the hours following a race. This is likely due to water loss, accumulation of muscle byproduct, etc.
It is also important to note that overconsumption of fluid has caused more medical problems than under-consumption. In cases of hyponatremia (low blood salt), drinking more water only serves to dilute the blood even more, which can lead to serious complications during or after a marathon. Some experts also claim that drinking Gatorade and Powerade does not reduce the risk of hyponatremia. There are marathoners out there who have actually been able to adapt their bodies to consuming less water during a race, while remaining perfectly healthy. Once again, hydration seems to be an individual thing and should be customized accordingly.
4. Foot-strike and arches and cadence, oh my!
Experts have found that the safest, most optimal way to run is by using a midfoot or forefoot strike pattern. This helps to decrease vertical displacement of the body, overall ground reaction force, and the number of arbitrary muscle contractions of the legs and core. Conversely, a heel-strike pattern increases vertical displacement, ground reaction force, arbitrary muscle contractions, and vertebral torsion, thus increasing the risk of running-related injuries from higher impact forces. It is a good idea to have your running gait properly assessed by a running specialist, and please do not ever switch your strike pattern too abruptly because… hello injury!
Many runners who come to see me have reported that someone somewhere has told them that they have flat feet, they need all this technology in their running shoes, or they will get hurt. This, my friends, is a myth. In reality, there is no predictor of running-related injuries based on inherent anatomical features (like high arches, flat feet, knock-knees, excessive pronation/ supination etc.). If you haven’t already, watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JWUhW5yRdI
Even though research is very divided on this issue, new evidence shows that there is no link between “atypical” anatomical presentations of a runner’s foot and injury risk. My personal belief is that the body grows and adapts to how it is used. As long as I give my flat feet time to adapt to my running habits, they will naturally figure out what to do… so I did and they have!
And finally, as for cadence (number of steps per minute; reported as bpm), many experts have found that the optimal pace adopted by elite marathoners is 180 bpm. This has been found to minimize ground reaction force, energy loss, and injury risk all while maximizing stride efficiency. I usually recommend my runners listen to songs with a 180 beat (see Google) and simply run to the beat of the music!
So there you have it, little tips from me to you about how to get your running started. Please note that if you have any specific questions, I would be happy to meet with you in person, simply book an appointment. Until next time!
- Dubois B. The Running Clinic [website] http://therunningclinic.com
- Hall JP, Barton C, Jones PR, Morrissey D. The biomechanical differences between barefoot and shod distance running: a systematic review and preliminary meta-analysis. Sport Med. 2013 Dec;43(12):1335-53
- Dubois B. New Trends in the Prevention of Running Injuries (Course) Jan 17-18 2015 – courseware
- Meardon S, Derrick T. Effect of step width manipulation on tibial stress during running. J Biomec. 2014 Aug22;47(11):2738-44
- Chuter V, Janse de Jonge X. Proximal and distal contributions to lower extremity injury: a review of the literature . Gait Posture. 2012 May;36(1):7-15
- Buldt A, Levinger P, Murley G, Menz H, Nester C, Landorf K. Foot posture is associated with kinematics of the foot during gait: a comparison of normal, planus and cavus feet. Gait Posture. 2015 Jun;42(1):42-8
- Almeida M, Davis I, Lopes A. Biomechanical differences of foot-strike patterns during running: a systematic review with meta-analysis. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2015 Oct;45(10):738-55
- Goss D, Gross M. A review of mechanics and injury trends among various running styles. US Ar Med Dep J. 2012 Jul-Sep;62-71
- Louw M, Deary C. The biomechanical variables involved in the aetiology of iliotibial band syndrome in distance runners – a systematic review of the literature. Phys Ther Sport. 2014 Feb;15(1):64-75