Running: Knowing the Basics Goes a Long WayEn Español (Spanish Version)
People of almost any age can run for exercise. It can be done virtually anywhere at minimal cost, and you do not have to be an athletic superstar to participate. Nevertheless, there are some basic guidelines you should know to help keep your running program productive, safe, and injury-free.
Your running shoes do not have to be the newest, or the fanciest, or the most expensive shoes. But they should fit properly and comfortably, be well cushioned, and give your feet and ankles proper support.
Ask questions of the sales personnel to assure a good fit. Expect to replace your shoes relatively frequently every six months or 350-500 miles (563-805 kilometers). By that point, the shock absorbing ability of the shoe will become inadequate. But remember, miles logged on planes, trains, and in cars have little effect on your shoes!
Though often overlooked, safety concerns should be a part of your running routine. All runners should follow these basic safety rules:
- Run in familiar neighborhoods close to your home.
- Do not run in dark, secluded areas, especially at night.
- Avoid busy, highly trafficked streets.
- Take responsibility for staying clear of motor vehicles.
- Never assume a driver can see you in his mirrors.
- If you do run at dawn, dusk, or at night, wear bright clothing including at least one piece of clothing with specially designed reflectors.
- Avoid wearing headphones while running, as they decrease your awareness of surroundings.
Running injuries tend to be nagging rather than severe, but still require attention. The best approach is to avoid them. Common runner injuries can be avoided by taking some relatively simple steps. First, do not over-train. When starting your running regimen (or restarting after an injury or illness), start slowly. Never step up your running by more than 5%-10% per week. Vary your regimen by following a long, hard run one day with a short, easier run the next.
Dr. Gary Gibbons, vascular surgeon, director of the foot center at Boston Medical Center, and an experienced runner advises, "Vary the terrain you run on—dirt, grass, asphalt, even opposite sides of the street. This will reduce the stress on your entire body." Take at least one or two days off each week to rest and allow your body to strengthen. You should also vary your regimen over a number of weeks, decreasing the difficulty of your training every third week. Finally, cross train. Bike or swim instead of running at least twice a week or, add biking or swimming for 10-15 minutes before running.
No matter how careful you are, you are likely to eventually suffer some running-related injury. Generally, running injuries can be divided into four levels (also known as the functional classification of pain):
Level 1—Minor pain noticed after running
Level 2—Discomfort or tightness noticed while running, but does not limit activity
Level 3—Pain felt while running that begins to limit activity
Level 4—Severe pain while running that forces you to stop
In most instances, running-related injuries begin as a level one or two injury and progress to level three or four if not treated. The key is to treat the injury quickly and properly.
Immediately ice any area that is painful or tight from running. (For example, apply ice [wrapped in a towel] for 15-20 minutes.) Ice as many times as possible each day until the symptoms abate. It is important to sufficiently rest your injury . Failing to properly rest a low-level injury can make it worse. In general:
Level 1 may requires 1-2 days rest.
Level 2 requires 4-7 days rest.
Level 3 requires 2-4 weeks rest.
Level 4 may need six weeks or more of relative rest.
Use anti-inflammatory medicine strictly according to package instructions or physician guidance to control inflammation, not pain. Masking pain so that you can continue to exercise after an injury will lead to a more severe injury. If a level three injury does not get better after a week of proper treatment, consult with a sports medicine specialist. Level four injuries warrant immediate medical attention.
Come back very slowly from an injury. Recognize that it will generally take at least as long as the time you took off due to the injury to work back to the training level you were at prior to the injury.
Unless you have access to an indoor track or live in a very temperate climate, you will have to deal with extremes of heat and/or cold. However, if you take the proper precautions, neither temperature extreme should curtail your running regimen.
Running in extreme heat poses the danger of heat exhaustion
(severe dehydration) or the sometimes fatal danger of heat stroke
(a failure of the body to regulate heat level). To avoid heat-related injury from running, take the following precautions:
Stay well hydrated but avoid over-hydration.
- Drink fluids 30-45 minutes prior to running, and a cupful every 10-15 minutes while running depending upon your individual needs.
- The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking at intervals to match fluid loss, along with intake of electrolytes to prevent hyponatremia (a dangerously low level of sodium in the blood).
- Build slowly, gradually increasing your running in hot weather, so as to give your system time to acclimate itself. And take into account your fitness level, since the less fit you are, the more susceptible you are to heat-related injury.
- Pay attention to humidity. Recognize that the combination of heat and humidity affects your system. For example, 85ºF (29ºC) heat with very high humidity puts more strain on your system than 95ºF (35ºC) heat with very low humidity.
- Recognize that many health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, the flu, and obesity, as well as many medicines, can lower your heat tolerance. If you are uncertain about a condition or medicine, check with your doctor.
- Wear sunblock and UV-protective sunglasses when running during the day to protect against skin and eye damage.
Running in cold, wintry weather can lead to injury from slips and falls, strains or pulls due to cold muscles, and frostbite
. To avoid these injuries, take the following precautions:
- Warm up well before you begin each run.
- Avoid icy areas and snowy areas. But if you must choose, remember that snow gives you much more traction than ice.
- Recognize that not just cold, but cold plus wind (the wind chill factor) causes cold-related injuries, including frostbite.
- To help maintain warmth throughout your run, begin your run heading into the wind and return with the wind at your back.
- Make sure your entire body is protected. Pay special attention to your extremities (head, ears, hands, and feet), which are most susceptible to frostbite. Since a great deal of heat is lost through your head, be sure to wear a warm hat, and in extreme wind and cold, wear a ski mask or other protection for your face.
- Wear proper clothing. Wool is warm and helps whisk moisture away from your skin, but it can be heavy. Polypropylene and Gortex clothing are warm, allow evaporation of sweat, and have the benefit of being lightweight. A layer of nylon can also help lessen the effect of wind. On your feet, try a thick sock over a thinner sock as long as this does not make your foot fit too tightly in your shoe.
Finally, as with any training regimen, it is best to get a check-up with your doctor before you begin. Let your healthcare provider know of your plans and seek her advice.
American Council on Exercise
American Society of Exercise Physiologists
Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology
American College of Sports Medicine Recommendations for Endurance Athletes.
Am Fam Physician.2000;73(3): 547.
Early detection and treatment of running injuries. Team Oregon website. Available at:
Georgia State University website. Available at:
How to avoid injuries. Dr. Pribut's Running Injuries website. Available at:
Johnson JA. The running shoe. In: O’Connor FG, Wilder RP, ed.
Textbook of Running Medicine. New York: McGraw Hill; 2001:589-594.
Wilder RP, O’Connor FG. Evaluation of the Injured Runner. In: O’Connor FG, Wilder RP, ed.
Textbook of Running Medicine. New York: McGraw Hill; 2001:51.
Last Reviewed December 2011