Injuries are every runner's nightmare. As I sit here typing, there is an ice pack freezing in my office refrigerator so I can use it to ease the pain in my left foot.
And although injury and inflammation is just a reality for serious runners, prevention can diminish major strain. In addition to using the best gear and proper form, there are easy things you can do to ensure that you can cross the finish line of your race without a break, strain, or tear.
1. Listen to your body and don't wait. If you are feeling any pain—even the slightest amount—it's imperative that you seek treatment immediately, says Beret Kirkeby, an orthopedic manual therapist and owner of Body Mechanics in New York City. Whatever you do, don't run through the pain. This is the most common mistake that new runners make because they are not listening to their bodies, she says.
2. Start slow. Increase your pace slowly by following a training program like the one I'm using from Team USA Endurance, my running team and the official United States Olympic Committee (USOC) Team for the NYC Marathon. The guidelines are there for a reason! We all feel like superwoman when we are running, but too much too fast can bring any runner down, says Kirkeby.
3. Stretch pre-run. Michelle Portalatin, an ITCA-certified triathlon coach, suggests the following dynamic stretches:
1. Leg swings. These loosen up your hips, glutes, quads, and hamstrings.
2. Good mornings. Do this move without the barbell to loosen up the hamstrings.
3. Curtsey lunges.The most basic version is a good hip stretch.
4. And post-run! Hold these static stretches for 20 to 30 seconds each, Portalatin recommends.
1. Standing hip flexor and IT band stretches (use a bench)
2. Hamstring stretch
3. Seated hip/glutes stretch (#9)
4. Quad stretch
5. Calf stretch (use a tree stump)
5. Ice, ice, baby! Pain and inflammation is a sign of injury, and inflammation triggers the production of scar tissue (a less functional tissue), which can cause problems down the line. Applying ice after a run can help reduce inflammation, Kirkeby says.
6. Mix it up. Doing repetitive motions (i.e. running,) can lead to overuse. To maintain your mobility, make sure you're going through a full range of motion, such as stretching and "legs up" exercises (bringing your knees above your waist—see the exercises below). It's also important to switch up your exercise regimen at least once a week. Activities that involve a full range of motion, such as swimming, are good to activate muscle pump that encourages lymph drainage and recovery, Kirkeby says. This will help avoid sore muscles, which can lead to tissue damage over time.
RELATED: Get Loose! The Best IT Stretches
7. Exercise. Three days a week after a run or on recovery days, do the following injury-prevention moves. Perform the first four exercises for 30 seconds each, then do 10 to 12 squats. Complete the circuit 2 to 3 times.
1. Front plank
2. Side plank
3. Side leg lift
4. Side-lying clam shell
5. Single-leg or regular squat
8. Get your zzs. Sleep is just as important as your running, according to Kirkeby. When you go to sleep, your body switches to repair mode. If you're going out drinking all night and then getting up at 6:00 a.m. to run, your body never gets a chance to reset. Not only does this lead to fatigue, making you more prone to injury, but you also won't repair from the day before, adding insult to injury.
9. Give back. Training takes a lot out of your body, so you need to give back just as much, if not more, Kirkeby says. A proper diet and rest are essential, and it's also important to participate in special treatments. Whether its yoga, meditation, or regular massage therapy, commit to it regularly—your body will thank you.