Injury free running

Every runner dreams of running injury free for as long as possible, but we resign ourselves to the fact that that sooner or later we will be injured.  My time came last year when I sustained an unknown knee injury that ruled me out for 3 months!

The one good thing to come out of having an injury is that you take a long hard look at yourself and ask yourself the question: Why?

I analysed this question in my September 2015 blog and came to the conclusion my running form was really quite poor.  Having read a few books including Chi Running by Danny Dreyer, I embarked on a mission to change pretty much everything I did when it came to running.

Here I am in February having ran/cycle/row 519km so far in 2016, with 190km of that being running. These runs have ranged from a short 3km to a long 50km, outside and treadmill runs, weighted runs and Cross Country runs.  I am amazed that I have had no problems at all so far.  The only issue I had was on my long run when I started to develop cramp in my calf at about the halfway point.  However using body assessment, I managed to identify something was wrong and that the first little signs of cramp were starting to appear.  When this happens you have to think to yourself, what am I now doing differently that is starting to cause this?  No easy task to ask yourself this question in the middle of a run.  In my case I came to the conclusion that I was running too much on my toes causing me to put extra strain on my calf.  I therefore shortened my pace slightly, concentrated on my cadence and tried to ensure I maintained my mid-foot strike, almost to the point of running on a flat foot.  I amazed myself when this worked and the signs of cramp went away.  I eventually reached the end of that run and didn’t even so much as have a blister.

I believe the most important thing I learned from the Chi Running book was to have the ability to self assess every so often during a run.  It can be hard to bring your mind back on track and remember to check your body for signs.  Start with your feet and work your way up.  If you identify a pain or sore, is it normal, how bad is it, will it develop, are you doing something slightly different to cause it, can you resolve it now before it gets any worse.  To be able to do this whilst running you have to understand your body and how running affects it.  Some of the key principles I have learnt are:

1. Form.  Use your core muscles to keep your body straight.  Don’t bend forward from the waist, because that can put a strain on your lower back.  Keep a straight posture and lean forward using your core muscles and let gravity do the hard work for you.  If you lean forward, you will automatically put your foot forward to stop yourself from falling over.  If you want to run faster, lean forward further.

2. Cadence.  I like to run on treadmills from time to time as it allows me to measure my cadence easily.  Ideally you should be looking at about 180 steps per minute, however I struggle to reach this and end up around the 170 mark.  A quick cadence will ensure you keep a short stride because you want to make sure your foot is directly below you head when it strikes the ground.  This is important for protecting your knees and shins.

3. Foot Strike.  I believe a mid-foot strike is generally the best type of running placement.  From time to time I do resort back to heel strike, but this tends to be when I am running down hill.  In the old days of heel strike I always had issues with my knees and shins, when I tried fore-foot strike I had issues with my calves, yet mid-foot seems the ideal balance.  I am now pain free in my knees, shins and calves.  I also believe that a mid-foot strike allows the body to naturally use the foots arch to absorb the load bearing down.

4. Relax.  Easier said than done, but I find it is important to relax your legs.  Allow gravity to pull you forward and your feet to move short and quick and to plant in front of you.  Keep your shoulders relaxed, so that you don’t get a build up tension in your shoulders and neck.  I find looking around whilst running helps to relax my shoulders.  I also try to keep my hands up by my chest, open and relaxed.

5. Swing.  Seems a strange one but I try to swing my legs back not forward and I also try to swing my elbows backwards as well.  The reason for this is that swinging backwards, helps my core propel my body forwards.  I am sure some science person will be able to compare this to Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion or to the Pendulum Motion.  Even if it doesn’t I find whatever the reason, it works for me.

Knowing all of these principles means that you can self assess and have a good idea of how to rectify an issue before it turns into a problem.  A year ago I would never have given these principles a second thought and would have blindly bounded on.  But as the weeks and months go by without any signs of an injury, the more I believe these principles actually work.

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