As much as we absolutely love running, many of us are aspiring to get better at it. Running is an amazing form of physical activity and, from an evolutionary lens, running is an act that is deeply embedded in our DNA. At a time it’s purpose was to hunt, gather and escape from danger; today it is a predominant form of exercise.
So if we were designed to run then why do things go wrong? Why do we get injured while running? How do we accumulate running injuries that plague us for days, months, years? Well the answer is simple, we push our bodies to run distances that are outside of our natural ability. Many of us are able to navigate through running injury-free but on the other hand we are susceptible to injuries just when we think we are hitting our stride, no pun intended.
Have you ever experienced what the avid runner refers to as a “runner’s high”? It is that feeling of being able to run forever, this feeling of euphoria. There is a huge endorphin rush that dumps into your body and gives you this almost incredible out of body experience. I want you to experience that feeling, pain-free and injury-free. But our work to accomplish happens now in the off-season. Our prep for this spring when we get outdoors to tackle our first run begins right now.
Here is your 4 step guide to getting to you to your “Runner’s High” this spring:
1. Increase core stability
We often forget the core’s involvement in running. Your core control is important in gait. The more core control you have the more efficient your running will be. Two things happen with a stronger core. Firstly, you waste less energy by minimizing torso rotation. Secondly, you reduce the risk of injury as your core minimizes excessive movement in the sagittal plane. Dr. Stuart McGill is a professor of spine and biomechanics at the University of Waterloo and is considered a guru in the rehab field. Here is a breakdown from his work on core stability and the types of exercises you could incorporate to start effectively and safely improving your core stability.
2. Increase pelvic stability
Increasing your pelvic stability is a vital aspect to running as a means to increase efficiency and minimize knee injuries. Excessive movement in the frontal plane. Lack of hip control creates excessive load at the knee and can create poor foot mechanics all potentially contributing to future injury. Here is an Instagram video I made this past Christmas (ignore the tree) where I breakdown the concept of frontal plane sway from lack of pelvic stability and an exercise you could add into your routine to help you improve your pelvic stability.
3. Ramp up slowly
Typically we try to start off our new running season where we left off last season. If you remember your last run being 12km then you would assume that you're ready to get right back at it and run 12km again. Unfortunately the reality is that if you took the winter off from running then your body has become deconditioned to tolerate the full load of running. So unless you have been maintaining your consistency throughout the winter months you should start off slow and then ramp up, your body will thank you.
Running is no different from strength training. If you once were able to bench press 80lb dumbbells and you took 6 months off you would have to start at something lower and work your way back up to 80lbs. The only difference in running that your body doesn’t tell you that you did too much too soon until it's too late and all of a sudden you’re plagued with an injury for the rest of the season.
4. Run your own race
Many of us love running in groups or with a running partner. However, very often we choose a group that is a little above our level or a running partner that is running a mileage that you aren’t capable of achieving yet, and that’s okay. Communication is key. Discuss with your running partner or running group about their goals and see if they align with your own. If a potential running partner is setting out to run 8km and the furthest you have ever run is 4km then that partner isn’t a good fit for you. As much as I know you would love the company, you are better off running on your own for a couple of months and increasing your mileage tolerance. Trying to keep up with somebody else’s pace is a fast and sure way to get injured. Run your own race, accomplish small wins and before you know it you could partner up with any person or group because you will be ready!
Preparation and variety is key to injury free running. Follow this guide and you just may surprise yourself and fall deep in love with running in a way you never thought possible!
McGill SM. Low Back Disorders: Evidence Based Prevention and Rehabillitation. 2007.