65%-85% of runners will injure themselves in any given year.
So, if you’ve developed a recurring pain from running like runner’s knee or foot pain don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Out of all injuries runners face each year, the number one culprit is overuse injuries.
What is an “overuse injury” exactly?
An overuse injury is any muscle or joint injury that is caused by repetitive trauma causes, such as stress fractures or tendinitis. The damage often stems from TRAINING ERRORS and is typically found in the lower legs, knees, and feet. The most common overuse running injuries are:
- Achilles tendinitis
- Plantar fasciitis
- Runner’s knee
- IT band syndrome
- Stress fractures
Overuse running injuries have been plaguing the runner’s world since the beginning of time!
So now you know running itself isn’t the culprit but running while making TRAINING ERRORS is the problem. Because if you run with perfect form and in perfect alignment, the chances of running injuries reduce significantly.
I run ultramarathons. Between races and training runs I’ve covered nearly 100 ultra distances. It’s not unusual for myself to wake up at 2:00 am in the morning to sneak in a 30-mile run before my day starts.
So out of all those miles what has had the most significant impact on pain and running injuries?
I will answer that question but first, allow let me explain why running ultra-distances qualifies my answer. My qualifications are based on what I like to call the “IKEA principle”. Yes, the “IKEA principle.”
Have you ever been to an IKEA furniture store and noticed test furniture on display?
“Ikea Tests Quality” reads the sign over the large clear case containing a piece of IKEA furniture attached to testing equipment. The testing equipment repetitiously opens and closes the cabinet door over and over again. The machine also has a device that counts how many times the door opens and closes. The whole process basically proves the cabinet will last twenty and a half lifetimes and never break.
Product testing also occurs in manufacturing plants to find defects in new products.
So how does this relate to my running and qualifications?
Well, ultramarathon runners clock a lot of mileage. Personally, I go out on 20-mile, 30-mile, and 40-mile training runs. I’ve run marathons, 100-mile ultramarathons, and even longer! There’s never “time off” because running isn’t what I do, it’s who I am. Here’s what I can tell you, imperfections in products as well as form only surface during the long stuff. For example, a compression shirt which causes chaffing, or wireless headphones of poor quality, or the way my stride creates pain.
So what did I learn from all those miles? What has caused the most pain and injuries from running?
Drum roll please **********
- The largest cause: RUNNING SHOES!
- The second largest cause: FORM
Please note, I am not a medical professional and this information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. I’m just sharing what worked for me from my own experience.
The Wrong Running Shoes
Running shoes alone are not the problem but using the wrong shoe will do you in. If your shoes do not match your stance, step, and stride, then you’re in big trouble and probably don’t even know it. I’ve had shoes that caused no issues at 5 miles, but at 20 miles I developed pain in my knees and feet.
Our feet are all shaped differently. Chances are a shoe that works well for me will not be the best fit for you. And if you wear the wrong running shoe, it creates a misalignment in your body. This misalignment causes your body to overcompensate and as such, puts too much stress on your knees, feet, and leg muscles.
For example, let’s say you have flat feet and have little to no arches. Most likely you overpronate.
What is overpronation?
Simply put, overpronation is when your foot strikes from heel to toe but rolls inwards. This inward roll misaligns your body, so the shock from hitting the ground now causes pain. Over a few miles this misalignment may not cause any pain, but run a few days in a row or long distances and welcome yourself to the world of overuse running injuries.
As a beginner, you may think the pain is from running itself. The farther you run, the more it hurts so it’s easy to conclude running is the problem. When you first start running, it’s hard to tell the difference between good pain and bad pain. Someone new to running will try to push through the pain, good or bad. Pushing through the bad pain will put you on the sidelines fast, unable to run due to injury, when all you needed was a pair of shoes made for your feet.
So how do you find the right shoe in the shortest period of time?
Simple, get fitted at your local running store.
Get Fitted At Your Local Running Store
When selecting running gear as a beginner, the most crucial aspect is your running shoes. Choosing a running shoe that meshes well with your stance, step, and stride is critical.
Most aches, pains, and running injuries as a beginner will stem back to your running shoe. It takes time to perfect your technique, so, in the meantime, a well fitted running shoe will compensate any deficiencies. For example, if your natural stride is to over-pronate and you jump into a neutral shoe, then, I can almost guarantee you will experience knee pain. Luckily, switching to a running shoe that supports overpronation will eliminate the knee pain. Sometimes, the solution you’ve been searching for has been right there in front of you all along, and you don’t even know it.
When shopping for a new running shoe, be sure to stop by your local running store. Here you can get fitted, try on different shoes, and usually test them out before purchase. Although shopping in-store will most likely cost more than shopping online, a small investment in yourself today will pay dividends later in your running journey. The right shoe will have a massive impact on how you follow through with your training program because you can now feel joy from running, not pain.
Foot Strike Types
The primary objective when getting fitted is to determine your foot strike type. Learning how your foot strikes the ground is essential in promoting a smoother ride and preventing unnecessary pain and running injuries. The three types of foot strikes are: pronation, neutral, and supination.
Type 1: Pronation
Pronation is the first type of foot strike. Pronation occurs when your arch flattens as your foot strikes the ground. Most of the time when your foot strikes the ground with flat feet your ankle rolls inward. This inward roll creates a misalignment forcing the rest of your body to overcompensate. It also puts stress on your ankles causing a variety of lower leg issues like shin splints. But if you wear a shoe designed for overpronation, you will prevent an inward roll thus preventing running injuries. With the right shoe, you will have a more natural stride allowing you to run further distances while avoiding unnecessary pain.
Type 2: Neutral
A neutral foot strike is ideal for runners. It’s when your foot strikes effectively and efficiently neither overpronating or supinating. Pain or injury significantly reduce for runners with a neutral foot strike. If you have a neutral foot strike, wear a neutral shoe, and practice good form, you have excellent odds at an injury-free experience.
Type 3: Supination
Supination is the opposite of pronation. It’s when your feet have high arches. When your foot strikes the ground, there is minimal shock absorption because your foot doesn’t flatten at all. Instead of an inward roll seen in pronation, the high arches create an outer roll. This outward roll causes overuse running injuries like plantar fasciitis.
Once the running store helps determine your foot strike, it’s time to find a comfortable shoe.
Comfort Is King
It’s a wise idea to buy a running shoe designed for your foot strike as well as a comfortable one if running long distance. The specific mileage you run doesn’t matter as distance is relative. Your feet and the rest of your body gradually adapt. Our bodies do not know miles; it only knows stress. Distance is relative to your current abilities. Let’s say a half marathon hurts your feet now, but then you run a marathon. When you go back to run a half marathon your feet will most likely feel great. Like every other part of your body, your feet stress, break down, adapt, and get stronger.
Not all shoes are comfortable so read their description and try them on. Running shoes are also explicitly built for stability, responsiveness, breathability, style, durability, weight, flexibility, and traction. But more of one benefit is typically at the cost of another. For example, a stability shoe is often heavy and inflexible. If you are looking to avoid pain and running injuries, find a shoe built for comfort. A comfortable shoe will absorb shock from the constant pounding of the pavement. The farther you run, the more frequently your feet hit the ground thus becoming more important to wear a shoe built for shock absorption.
Please note, if you’re new to trail running here’s my advice. Don’t bother finding a “trail running shoe.” Instead, focus on finding a shoe that matches your foot strike and one built for comfort and stability. Also, look for a shoe with excellent traction. Trail running shoes are all considered “neutral” because of the constant uneven surfaces of the trail. As a newbie first worry about reaching long distances pain-free, then dive into finding a trail running shoe. I’ve run many trail ultramarathon’s with stable road shoes for my flat feet. What’s most import is eliminating your pain first, then work on the specifics.
Once you have a shoe picked out in the store, it’s time to test them.
Test Them First
Once you get fitted and find a pair of running shoes you love, make sure to test them. All the best running stores will have a treadmill. It’s important to take your shoes for a spin first before purchase. A shoe that fits well when you’re standing and walking could feel much different while running.
When they discontinued my first real running shoe, I went to my local running store to find a new pair. My wife covered my eyes as I tried each one on so I wasn’t biased based on the brand (e.g., Nike vs. New Balance). I finally narrowed it down to two shoes. The final decision was made after running on the store’s treadmill with each pair. Both shoes felt comfortable, but once I increased the incline, the right shoe became clear as day. One shoe performed much better uphill than the other. Once I trained and raced in them, I ordered another ten pairs to stock in my closet. Ultra-runners sure go through a lot of shoes.
I sure loved my original running shoes that provided me support and comfort as I set sail into the world of running. They weren’t the fastest shoe, but they fit like a glove and performed well with my flat feet. Unfortunately, like all running shoes, they eventually timed out and were sadly discontinued. I called Nike corporation who then located the last 15 pairs of size 13 in the country. As they arrived at my home from various Nike outlets scattered throughout the US, my wife stacked them in the closet with a big smile on her face. She smiled not because she was happy or found it comical, no far from it. She smiled because I could never again complain that she bought too many shoes. Those shoes were blackmail for life!
Anyway, also look for promotional events at your local running store. Shoe companies host shoe testing events at running shoe stores all the time. Meet at the store, try on a shoe, and test them. It’s a perfect time to road or trail test whichever shoe you are considering buying.
The important thing is to run in the shoe before purchasing unless you know the company has a hassle-free return policy.
Find A Return Policy That Rocks!
When buying a new shoe learn about their return policy. Some shoe companies have fantastic return policies, and some do not.
One time I bought a shoe directly online. It was the first time I didn’t try it on first at a shoe store. My current running shoe discontinued, and I ran out of my stockpile at home.
I ordered a shoe from the Nike website. After a few runs, I noticed a recurring knee pain and concluded this shoe was not for me.
Fortunately, Nike has a 30-day hassle free return policy. I boxed them up and sent them back no questions asked. After the return, I went back to my local running store. The running store did not have such a favorable return policy but after dealing with a professional, trying on multiple pairs, and testing on the treadmill, I found a new shoe that I still use to this day.
The No Pain No Gain Misconception
When you first begin to run, one of the first sayings you hear is “no pain no gain.” Sure, I get the point, when you push against resistance you grow back stronger. But if you’re new to running, it’s difficult to distinguish the difference between good pain (growth related) and bad pain (injury related). If you experience pain when you run, chances are something is wrong. I’ve learned many hard lessons figuring this out for myself. Yes, our bodies get tired, and we wear out mentally, and we sometimes need to push through it, but overall running should be an enjoyable experience. If it’s not enjoyable than it may be time to reevaluate your training program and techniques.
I put out a book titled The Ultramarathon Guide: A Simple Approach To Running Your First Ultramarathon. And if you want to run an ultramarathon, I suggest you pick up a copy. But even if you’re beginning your running journey, it’s also worth a read. My book helps you develop new insights into running and encourages you to understand your potential is limitless. Believe it or not, the mechanics of running are much more straightforward than you think. Anyone can learn the mechanics but what’s most important is your psychology. With the right mechanics it doesn’t have to be a painful experience, and with the right psychology, you can run any distance imaginable.
If you have developed a recurring pain, then there’s something wrong. From experience I can tell you pushing through it will not be the answer. It’s important to look at your pain objectively. Instead of finding ways to relieve the pain it’s necessary to determine the cause. And for most runners, it often stems from the wrong shoes and/or bad form.
The Big Dominos For Proper Form
As mentioned, the other problem that causes the most pain and running injuries is bad form.
Most runners learn good form, but whether they practice it or not is another story. When you learn proper form, especially for beginners, it’s easy to get lost in the details. Instead of giving each new technique the attention it needs we try to take on many different forms at once. Unfortunately, this only leads to confusion and worse running form. We end up awkwardly running which forces our stride thus leading to pain and overuse running injuries.
So how do you develop good form?
Take one technique at a time, learn it, practice it, master it, then move on to the next. Make sure you work on each technique until it feels natural.
For starters, learn the most effective techniques first. It’s important to find the big domino up front that will have the most impact on your whole experience. This way you can make the most significant changes in the shortest period of time.
I chose three of the most beneficial techniques to learn first. With these three tips, plus a well-fitted shoe, you will have a much better chance at avoiding running injuries and pain. So, let’s dive in and start by leaning forward.
Have you ever stood back and thought what running is exactly?
Running is controlled falling.
When you run, you are affected by one of the largest forces on earth: gravity. So instead of working against gravity, allow gravity to work for you. When you lean forward, you fall forward using gravity for propulsion instead of your legs. Now you naturally run forward instead of forcing the movement. Also, leaning forward keeps your body in alignment which as we learned is essential for preventing running injuries. An aligned body will also take us to the next technique as it naturally puts your feet underneath you while running.
Since a forward lean places your feet underneath you, it’s much easier to practice a mid-foot strike. Landing mid-foot is the second most useful technique to learn. A mid-foot strike keeps your body in alignment which will help decrease the odds of running injuries.
Pay close attention to where your feet land when attempting to land mid-foot. Your feet should land underneath or slightly behind you. This puts your hips inline with your shoulders. When you land mid-foot, you prevent heel striking. Heel striking is like running with the brakes on and contributes to a plethora of common running injuries.
What is running cadence exactly?
Running cadence is the amount of times your feet hit the ground per minute. When most people begin running long distance, they tend to have a low cadence. A low cadence means your feet spend a lot of time on the ground, so the number of steps taken per minute is small. But here’s the problem, a low cadence causes a runner to overstride. Overstriding causes runners to overextend. There is a long list of running injuries directly related to overextending as it strains your muscles
The ideal range is a cadence of 85-90 strides per minute. Counting your strides throughout your entire run can be tedious. Instead, count a few times each time you run and adjust accordingly. Eventually, you will reach a natural flow and counting will no longer be necessary.
So, as you train don’t focus on improving your entire form at once. Remember, the key is to master one technique at a time. A forward lean, mid-foot strike, and high cadence will alone have a massive impact on your running for the better. It will decrease running injuries, increase efficiency, and make running much more enjoyable. These three techniques will be your foundation for proper form.
As you practice each technique it’s essential to RELAX. New runners tend to tighten up and force their run, but running is the most natural form of movement there is. Forcing your run leads to stiffness and tension which can also cause running injuries. So, stand tall, bend your knees and elbows, and relax into your run. When you master these three techniques through a relaxed state, your running will never be the same.
Let’s Bring It Home With The Adaptation Principle
When running with new shoes and a new form keep gradual adaption in mind. How our bodies adapt to stress explains why a new runner will become sore after running a few miles. However, after increasing their mileage for weeks and months, they can run those same few miles with little, if any, muscle soreness at all.
The principle of adaption applies to new running shoes as well. If you throw on a new model running shoe your body will need time to adapt. It’s wise to try a new running shoe before you start a training program. After a few test runs, then, begin your training program from the beginning. Trust me, I know from experience. When I started running marathons for the first time I took a new pair out for a 20-mile run which caused severe leg pain. Afterward, I backed off my mileage and started from the beginning of my training program. My body gradually adapted to my new shoes, and I ran the same 20 miles with no pain at all.
Gradual adaptation is the reason someone can go from barely making it up a hill to climbing Mt. Everest or someone like myself went from running a few miles on a treadmill to one hundred-mile ultramarathons. Your potential is limitless in a world where possibilities are endless. But our bodies take time to stress, breakdown, adapt, and grow. And if you do not stress then you do not grow.
I’ll never forget the lesson I learned about how our feet adapt to new stresses. Unfortunately, I learned it on my honeymoon in the Caribbean Islands. On the first day, my wife and I had just finished a round of beach volleyball when I saw a native running down the oceanside barefoot. Hit by a sudden spark of motivation and the smile of approval from my wife, I took off running. Of course, my light morning run quickly turned into a race around the entire island. Halfway around, my feet began to feel strange. I quickly realized the skin on the bottoms of my feet were ripping apart! Like calluses on your hands, the skin on the bottom of your feet grows back a thicker and stronger layer from barefoot running. Anyway, I continued around the island until I reached my starting point. After my run was over, my feet needed to be cleaned and bandaged quickly. The medical facility basically asked for my entire life savings along with my first-born child for payment. This led me to Plan B. I went to a nearby shed where a few locals were kind enough to assist. They gave me a shot of rum, a towel to bite down on, and ripped the remaining skin off. Afterward, we all shared a good laugh, and I left them with a tip for their generosity. Walking like a penguin, I waddled back to my wife. She did not find the story nearly as comical.
The story above demonstrates how we put stresses on our body, forcing it to respond, and adapt to its new demand. My feet did NOT have time to gradually adapt to the surface like the native of the island.
Our body needs time to adapt to barefeet running gradually, it needs time to adapt to long mileage, and it needs time to adapt to a new model shoe.
To prevent excessive stress, pain, and injury it’s essential to increase mileage with a new shoe slowly. And when it matches your foot strike, absorbs shock, and you have good form, say goodbye pain.
With this information, you now have an excellent chance at curing and preventing pain from running.
Running injuries can be frustrating, I know, I’ve been there. But when facing an injury there is so much to learn. Stress, resistance, adversity, difficulties, pain, obstacles, they are not so-called “problems.” But when we learn from them they are GIFTS in our lives to help us grow. They are like weights in a gym, we push through them, breakdown, adapt and grow back stronger.
See pain for what it is, a signal from the body that’s something wrong, and then change your approach. And if your new approach doesn’t work then change your approach again. And if that doesn’t work then change your approach again. Eventually, if you decide to make feeling good & healthy a MUST, then you will find a way. You will find a way to a pain-free experience, and your shoes and form will be the foundation.
Remember… Stress, resistance, and adversity are GIFTS in our lives to help us grow.
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