As the weather slowly improves and the days get longer, more people are heading back outdoors to exercise.
But any new routine can quickly be derailed by an injury. So a couple of folks who regularly see new runners and running-related injuries are offering some advice for those who are ready to lace up their shoes and hit the pavement.
Their best advice for people starting a running routine: Take it slow.
“The biggest problem people have is doing too much too soon,” said Jim Webster, a physical therapist at Rebound Orthopedics in Vancouver. “They get up and want to run for more than their body can tolerate.”
“That’s why most injuries occur,” he added.
Dan McDowell, training program coordinator for local Fleet Feet Fit Right running stores, most often sees three running-related injuries: plantar fasciitis, shin splints and IT band syndrome. Blisters, while not a serious injury, are another painful nuisance that can prevent people from running, he said.
Plantar fasciitis involves pain and inflammation of a thick band of tissue, called the plantar fascia, that runs across the bottom of the foot and connects the heel bone to the toes. The plantar fascia supports the arch of the foot; if tension on the plantar fascia becomes too great, it can create small tears, according to Mayo Clinic.
Shin splints refers to pain along the shinbone and often occurs in athletes who have recently intensified or changed their training routines. The muscles, tendons and bone tissue become overworked by the increased activity, according to Mayo Clinic.
And IT band syndrome occurs when the ligament (iliotibial band) that extends from the outside of the pelvic bone to the outside of the tibia becomes tight and rubs against the outer portion of the femur, according to Mayo Clinic.
Easing into a running routine can help to prevent those injuries, McDowell said.
New runners may find it easier to focus on minutes, rather than miles, he said. Start with 10 minutes of running and build up. Or, plan to exercise for 30 minutes and alternate between running and walking, McDowell said. Then, make it a goal to reduce the walk breaks, he said.
“A lot of people are afraid of being judged if they can’t run a certain distance,” McDowell said. “The exercise is great for you, whether you’re going out for 10 minutes or a 10-mile run.”
When building up, consider adding days, rather than just increasing the minutes, McDowell said. After feeling comfortable with a run distance or length of time, add a second run each week of the same distance or time, he said.
Couch-to-5K programs are a good way for new runners to ease into mileage and reduce the risk of doing too much, Webster said. The programs are offered by various groups, gyms and stores. The next Fleet Feet Fit Right program for beginners starts May 16 and concludes with the Lacamas Lake 5K on July 26.
People who followed a running routine before — perhaps they’re starting again after taking the winter off — may be able to get back into shape quicker, Webster said. As a general rule of thumb, however, Webster encourages people not to increase their mileage by more than 10 percent per week.
Webster also recommends spending five to 10 minutes warming up before a run and cooling down after a workout. The warm-up should be dynamic, using exercises such as skipping and lunges, and include some light stretching. A cool-down can include walking and more stretching, Webster said.
“People that are finding they are more prone to injuries, they may find they need more warm-up or cool-down,” he said.
People new to running should also consider cross training, such as yoga, weight lifting or pool workouts, a few days a week, Webster said. While it’s good to exercise daily, Webster doesn’t recommend new runners go running every day. Rest days are also important, he said.
“Everybody needs rest, especially people who are new,” Webster said. “They need to pace themselves and listen to how things are going.”
It’s normal to feel some muscle soreness, but people who feel like they aren’t recovering or who can’t workout for several days after a run are probably overdoing it, Webster said.
Shoes that are worn down or don’t fit properly can also put a person at risk for injuries. Knee pain, for example, could be caused by shoes that don’t provide enough support or cushion, Webster said.
Running shoes should fit differently than everyday shoes, McDowell said. While running, feet will swell a little bit and need more room, he said. Many times, when a person is fitted for shoes for the first time, the fitter ends up recommending a bigger size than the person is used to wearing, McDowell said.
When it comes to blisters, McDowell said fabric is important. Ditch the cotton socks for socks made with moisture-wicking material, he said.
“Cotton is rotten,” McDowell said.
And, finally, McDowell recommends finding a running buddy to keep things fun and provide accountability.
“The time that you’re on your feet will pass a lot faster when you’re conversing with someone else,” he said.