On March 8, there will be 7,500 people running the 4th Annual San Diego Half Marathon. Since anyone can gain entry into the popular road race, amateur runners will abound. So if you’re new to the sport but aspiring to get to even this half marathon level, there are things every new runner needs to keep in mind in order to prevent injury.
Dr. Perry Julien, a sports medicine podiatrist and author of “Sure Footing,” says revisiting the basics is important because so many people are constantly new to running or to exercise.
“It’s very common for new runners to get themselves into trouble,” Julien said. “They do too much, too soon. They’re wearing the incorrect shoes. They don’t allow time to warm up or cool down. They’re not stretching.”
And more people are in marathon mode these days. The popularity or the 26.2 mile runs around the country continues to grow. According to RunningUSA, a non-profit association, about half a million people finished marathons in the U.S. in 2010. That’s up almost 9% from the previous year and approaching twice the number of participants in 1995. The group says there are several reasons to explain the increase: training programs (both charity and for-profit), an increase in women participating and many people finding them to be fun events for the community.
Julien sees many patients who are new runners who have made mistakes; they may lead to injury. He is constantly giving them the following advice:
-Buy sports-specific shoes. Walkers and runners need a runner shoe. Tennis shoes should be worn by tennis players.
-Replace your shoes on a regular basis. For an average use of three to four times per week, you should replace the shoes every four to six months.
-Go to a specialty running store to be fit properly for your shoes. For example: a foot with a higher arch typically needs more cushioning. A foot with a lower arch typically needs more support.
-Softer surfaces are better, in general. A packed gravel trail is the best; if not available, most roads are made of asphalt. Asphalt is softer than concrete, like sidewalks.
-Treadmill runners may be prone to injury because they are on a fixed path. A runner cannot move left or right; the motion is constantly the same.
-Always increase slowly; if not, overuse injuries can result.
-Realize that some discomfort is normal as you apply new stresses to your body.
-Treat aches and pains with ice. Heat is completely wrong. Ice the sore area for 15 minutes, two or three times per day.
-If the pain does not go away within 48-72 hours, it usually means that you’re overdoing it.
-If you suspect an injury, cut back on your amount of activity. If pain is involved, you may have to stop.
-Any pain lasting more than seven days or recurs should be evaluated by a sports medicine physician. For the foot, ankle or leg, see a podiatrist. For the ankle or knee, see an orthopedic surgeon.
“One of the effects of exercising- you’re creating microinjury to the tissue, which as it heals, it heals stronger,” he said. “But the more you injure it, the less potential it has to heal.”
“If you’re walking or running on an injury-exercising on an injury, you can make it worse and you can increase the time it takes to actually heal that injury.”
The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine suggests a gradual return to running following an injury if further medical intervention is not needed.