Running is seriously addictive. No other sport is more convenient – just tie up those shoes, run out of the door and, within seconds, the stress of the day has vanished. It’s one of the best forms of cardiovascular exercise, reduces depression and anxiety and it has a wild, freeing quality that makes us feel alive. No wonder so many of us do it. Of course another big benefit is that pounding those pavements doesn’t require much skill – it’s a pretty natural movement for us humans. However, heading out there without arming yourself with good-quality kit and a good technique could jeopardise your results and your body. Between 37 and 56 per cent of recreational runners suffer injuries each year, with up to three quarters of these issues relating to poor, repeated movement. As well as repetitive strain injuries to joints such as knees and shoulders, running incorrectly can create foot problems and even prematurely age your skin and breasts. But wait, keep reading, because happily, with the right technique, kit and a few useful tips, all these issues can be prevented and your runs will be nothing but a great source of fitness, freedom and joy in your life. Hooray for running!
Check your posture
Most running injuries are caused by repetition of the same poor movement, such as landing on your heel or not kicking your feet high enough behind you, straining your joints. Make sure your gait, technique and posture are correct by booking a session with a coach or investing in 360° video analysis. ‘Gait analysis is effective at diagnosing and preventing running injuries because it’s looking at you while you’re moving, not when you’re static,’ says performance analyst Mitchell Phillips at StrideUK in Hove (strideuk.com).
Protect your joints
The impact of your feet hitting the ground at speed sends a jarring jolt through your joints. Knees are the most affected, and knee problems make up 42 per cent of running injuries. ‘Knee issues are often caused by increasing the load too quickly, which doesn’t allow your body time to adapt. Follow a well-structured programme that includes a gradual build-up of load (mileage and pace), as well as a strength and conditioning routine,’ says physiotherapist Paul Jones at Studio 57 in Brighton (studio57clinic.co.uk).
Bounce-proof your breasts
Stay comfortable and prevent premature sagging of your breasts by wearing a good sports bra. Experts at Kansas State University say the most effective sports bras lift your breasts upwards, rather than pressing them into the body, and have wider shoulder straps to reduce pressure on your shoulders. Everybody is a different shape, so there’s no ‘one suits all’ model. Shock Absorber and Berlei make great running bras, but try on a variety of styles before you buy to find the one that fits you best.
Safeguard your skin
It’s often said the constant up and down movement of running (especially on hard surfaces) can lead to premature ageing and a sagging face. What is proven is that running without sunscreen can lead to premature skin ageing and increase your risk of skin cancer. Apply a waterproof sunscreen because you’ll be sweating and choose an SPF that will protect you for the length of your run. For example SPF15 will extend the time it takes you to burn from 10 minutes to 150 minutes. Even on a cloudy day, wear at least SPF15.
Mend those muscles
A lot of running injuries can be prevented by reducing muscle tightness. ‘Our bodies are a system of levers that should work in harmony,’ explains Phillips. ‘Running problems are caused by one lever (such as a muscle) not working, causing another muscle to overwork. By strengthening or releasing the tightness of the muscle that’s misbehaving, we improve the gait.’ For example, tight hip flexors could hamper your hamstrings and glutes, overloading your calves and knees. Warm up before your run, stretch after and release muscle tightness with a foam roller and a ball daily. Get a free guide to using both from strideuk.com
Running can do wonders for your health – a study published in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology shows that running for just five minutes a day can extend life expectancy by three years. However, research in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology reveals that running a marathon, without being fit enough, can damage your heart muscles. Build up mileage, strength (via resistance exercises) and speed gradually, reduce your intake of saturated fat and eat iron-rich green leafy vegetables daily
Have comfy feet
Invest in decent running shoes every year if you run regularly. Avoid minimal ‘barefoot’ shoes unless you’ve done lots of ‘barefoot’ training to boost your leg strength and technique. Road running shoes tend to be well-cushioned; while grip, support and protection are important in off-road versions. ‘The key thing is to get the correct size of shoe,’ says Jones. ‘Buy a size bigger than your usual shoes so there’s enough space at the front of your trainer – your feet expand during a long run and if your toes are squashed, you could lose toenails.’