I have to start by saying, I LOVE to run. Running is how I make myself feel better. Running is when I think things through. Running is my "me" time.
I write the above disclaimer because I suspect some runners are going to have a knee jerk reaction to this blog. Five or six years ago I am sure I would have also bristled at the mere idea that running had any possible negative side effects, or, that being "a runner" did not automatically make me strong and fit.
Through helping people, including myself, rehab numerous often avoidable running injuries, I have learned better. Experience has taught me the wisdom of the words -- don't use running as a way to get in shape: get in shape to run.
Too many people rely on running as their sole means of exercise. Countless runners become endurance junkies who have minimal strength, power and speed. They simply have the ability to run for long periods at a slow pace. Believe me, during my early years as a runner I made this mistake BIG time. I had the endurance to run long distances, but I was not strong. Strength and endurance are related, but are not one and the same. I still maintain much of my "endurance junkie" mentality, but I am aware of the problems associated with it and I am trying to take steps to get stronger and faster. To improve my strength and speed I do speed intervals, hills, weights and boot camp classes where I get to flip tires and use a sledge hammer. Hitting a tire with a sledge hammer and pushing weight plates up a hill is my (new) idea of fun!!
I do all of this because you have to be strong to run injury-free. Running is hard on the body. Every time you land, your support leg has to absorb the weight of your body, plus additional impact forces. Your entire lower kinetic chain has to be strong enough to support continuous single leg impact forces far greater than just the weight of your body. If your kinetic chain is not strong enough and/or you don't give yourself enough recovery time between runs, injuries occur.
Your body needs to be strong. You have to strength train! Do weights to strengthen your lower body and core so you can better handle the impact forces that occur while running.
Running uses some muscles more than others. Therefore, too much running has the potential to cause muscle imbalances. To avoid imbalances ensure you adequately recover, cross train, stretch, and strengthen both the muscles required for running as well as the muscles running neglects.
I will admit something. The reason why I am particularly passionate about this topic at the moment is because I am currently nursing what appears to be a stress fracture in my left hip. I have not been able to run for three weeks and not running is driving me bonkers.
I write this blog partially so other runners can learn from my mistakes and avoid potential running related injuries and the bad mood that accompanies them.
The injury occurred while training to get a personal best in an upcoming half marathon. Since I was aiming for a PB (personal best) I was doing a lot of speed work. The injury stems from a lack of strength in my left lower kinetic chain, relative to the increased load I was placing on it. I strength train regularly, but the capacity of my muscles was not sufficient to withstand the new stress of running at faster speeds.
Learn from my mistakes, strength train to be a faster and injury-free runner. If you decide to increase your speed make sure you also increase the strength of your muscles. Your strength always needs to be equal to or greater than what is demanded from the run.
Build recovery time into your training schedule. If you add faster intervals into your training, allow for additional recovery to balance out the extra demands you are putting on your body. Also, don't forget to stretch.