The sun hadn’t even come up, but Dana Jones was out with a pal on an unusually warm March morning to get her run in before heading home to make breakfast for the kids.
This time last March Jones likely would have been on a treadmill, she said. But the early spring weather has also allowed for the early start of the outdoor running season.
“Yep, a lot of my friends are out already,” said Jones of Mankato, Minnesota, who has been a runner on and off for 10 years.
Jones said the transition from treadmill to pavement always requires a bit of caution to avoid injury. And especially when she has gone a lengthy period of time without running, she pays special attention to posture, foot placement and proper footwear, among other things.
“I’ve had plantar fasciitis, which was really painful. I’ve had pulled muscles,” Jones said. “It just happens to runners. It’s part of it.”
But using caution and taking care to focus on a few key points can minimize the occurrence of many injuries, said Dr. Jacob Ziegler, orthopedic surgeon with Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.
For starters: Get yourself some good running shoes, he said. To give you an idea of where to start when shopping for shoes, pay attention to the water mark your foot makes on the floor when you step out of the shower, Ziegler said.
If your footprint is mostly the outline and toes without much of the middle of the foot, you probably have a high arch. If more of the middle of the foot shows, you are probably more flat-footed.
Also, Ziegler said not to worry too much about having a “perfect” running gait because everyone will be different. Even experienced runners may land differently on either foot.
“Finding the most comfortable gait pattern for you is probably the best way to go,” he said.
For new runners, and for those who haven’t consistently engaged in a running program for a while, building distance and speed should be gradual. Sudden increases, especially when sustained over some time, can cause overuse injuries.
Common injuries include plantar fasciitis, shin splints, knee pain and even stress fractures, Ziegler said. Other injuries may include tendinitis, pulled hamstrings and back pain.
Building up core strength, running muscles and flexibility helps to support the body’s ability to absorb the shock of each step.
“Also, I always stretch,” Jones said. “I get my muscles loosened up.”
Mayo Clinic also recommends these running tips to lessen the risk of injury:
■ Look at the horizon to keep yourself from looking down. This prevents neck and back strain and makes running feel easier.
■ Lift your chest up and out, which straitens your back and allows you to breathe more deeply.
■ Don’t swing your arms. Keeping your elbows close to your body minimizes trunk rotation and also helps you conserve energy.
■ Land with a slightly bent knee. This helps your body absorb the shock and avoid knee injuries.
■ Practice a quick cadence to shift your load forward from your heel.
One indication that you need to work on one or more of the above is if your footsteps are loud. A loud strike means you’re not absorbing impact well.