DENVER – Whether you are an experienced runner who puts in dozens of miles a week or a beginner looking to go from the couch to a 5-kilometer run, you’ll only get as far as your body and gear will go.
Running is hard on the body and can lead to overuse injuries that will leave you watching from the sideline on race day instead of crossing the finish line. But injuries don’t have to happen.
Marjorie Brinton, former president of Durango Motorless Transit and longtime ‘On the Run’ columnist for The Durango Herald, said there are a number of factors that have contributed to her longevity as a runner.
These include backing off on mileage as she has aged and substituting other activities such as hiking, swimming and cross country skiing. Perhaps the most important has been starting from the ground up by adjusting her form as time has gone on and investing in shoes that help her go the extra mile.
Brett Sublett, owner of Durango Running Company and assistant cross country coach for Fort Lewis College, said having the right shoe can cut down on injuries by providing the appropriate level of support for the foot and helping compensate for gait irregularities.
Gait irregularities include pronation, where the stride lands on the outside of the foot and rolls inward, and supination, where it lands on the inside and rolls outward.
Both of these can be potentially damaging to the lower body but can be offset by a good pair of shoes and properly building up a training regimen.
Sublett said shoes are important, but so is starting out slowly when it comes to training.
So, what is a good running shoe? According to Sublett, it’s not your 10-year-old Converse All Stars and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
The process of finding the right shoe comes down to foot type, running form and goals in terms of mileage per outing and terrain expected to be covered.
“It’s a very subjective process,” Sublett said.
Durango has a selection of stores geared toward outdoor pursuits with staff willing to take the time to guide the process. There a few general guidelines the pros follow.
Sublett starts with a three-step approach when helping customers find the right shoe:
Fitting the shape of the foot, both in length and width but also matching the arch on the bottom.Appropriate structure for the type of terrain with trail shoes typically firmer and possibly having a “rock plate” in the sole to protect from obstacles. Adequate cushioning for mileage goals, with more cushioning generally needed for longer running times.He added that bringing in an old pair of running shoes can be helpful in picking a new pair, as they can look how the tread is worn during the evaluation.
Adam Carr, manager of Brown’s Sport Shoes, said another important consideration is how the shoe feels when worn.
“Let comfort be your guide. If it’s comfortable now, it will remain comfortable. If it’s slightly uncomfortable, that will remain as well,” Carr said.
So where do brands come in?
Carr said generally each brand has similar shoe types designed to compensate for gait irregularities and, unless an experienced runner, consumers should come to a shop with an open mind.
Brendan Trimboli, president of Durango Running Club, said runners should talk with a salesperson to find the right pair.
He suggests at minimum looking for something with a medium amount of cushion instead of a minimalist or maximalist shoes, such as Vibram’s Fivefingers or Hoka One Ones, respectively.
“People get so caught up into trends and fads and they’re like, ‘Oh I need to run barefoot, I need to run in these Vibram things,’ and it’s like, ‘No, you’re just increasing your odds of getting hurt,’” Trimboli said. “There’s only a select portion of the population that can run in that kind of shoe.”
Hokas, which were designed for ultramarathon runners, could potentially lead to your foot not developing the strength it needs for the average runner’s goals.
“If you running a 5K two or three times a year and you run 10 miles a week or something like that, that level of cushioning is probably going to be overkill,” Sublett said.
Once you’ve got shoes, the next step is knowing when they’ve reached the end of their life and need a replacement.
Carr said generally a set of shoes will hold up for between 300 and 500 miles. This can be cut in half if you wear them daily.
Once a pair has exceeded that mileage, the risk of injury is greater. That is something Luke Angel, manager of rehabilitation at Mercy Integrated Physical Therapy, commonly sees.
“If you are a serious runner, you really got to keep a mileage log on your shoes,” Angel said.
Overuse injuries at the most common in runners. Included in this list are several types of tendonitis, an inflammation of the tendons which connect your muscles to your bone, as well as damage to your ligaments and muscles.
Angel most often sees runner’s knee, an inflammation of the tendons and cartilage on and under the kneecap, Achilles tendonitis and irritation of the IT band that runs along the outside of the thigh from hip to knee.
These are generally caused by pushing too hard too fast or not having the right protective equipment. They progress through four similar stages, Angel said.
Irritation or pain after running and when going through strenuous tasks.Pain that starts at the beginning running but goes away once warmed up.Pain that develops and continues throughout the run.Pain all the time.If you catch an injury in the early stages, it can be dealt with through backing off on your regimen and icing the injury, but this isn’t what Angel generally sees.
“Runners being runners they kind of shake that first one off, and they usually come into us when it’s interfering with their daily life or when they can’t run anymore,” he said.
Addressing injuries early and taking time to adjust can help runners become predisposed to future ailments, Angel said. Still, those can flare up if the underlying issue – such as bad shoes or bad form – isn’t addressed.
Sean Meissner, a running coach in Durango who teaches rookie and experienced runners, said overuse injuries more often result from shoes or overexertion than form, so it’s not something he focuses on when coaching.
“Everyone has a natural form and, unless it’s horrible and that they are clearly getting injured because of that form, I don’t know that it’s necessarily the best to try and change someone’s natural gait,” Meissner said.
He added that some forms are more efficient from an energy standpoint but, for beginners, it is better to focus on what feels right, otherwise they may start overthinking it and get discouraged.
It’s generally better to think about kids running at parks and how simple it is for them, Meissner said. “They’re not thinking about their stride length or their pace or their breathing technique or anything like that. They’re just running.”
It’s also important to understand that, just like shoes, some running forms don’t work for different body types, Angel said.
With form considerations out of the way, focus should be on listening to your body, taking time off when you need to recover and gradually building your endurance and durability.
A common rule of thumb for building muscles and strengthening joints and ligaments is limiting regimen increases to 10 percent per week, Angel said. If you ran for 80 minutes last week, push it to more than 90 the next.
Meissner said this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, and experienced runners generally bypass it, but is a useful tool for beginners.
Another factor that can play into safely building is what surface you choose to run on.
Brinton is a fan of starting on roads, as it makes it easier for a beginner to focus on the basics, but Angel said it can actually be physically harder on your body.
“The pounding on a road is definitely more consistent, and it’s just harder surface and your not changing your gait on a road,” Angel said.
When running on a trail, runners land on different parts of the foot and engage a diverse set of muscles, dispersing the impact over a wider area, Angel said. But there is a greater chance to turn an ankle or fall when running trails.
Another important way to cut down on injuries is an all-body workout program that can help a runner become less reliant on the quadriceps for power and stabilization. Stretching after a run also helps cut down on injuries and keeps the muscles from tightening.