Six to seven months of the year, I claim to be one of those strength training junkies that “hates running”. I’m perfectly fine to only touch a barbell and see the 4 walls inside a gym all throughout the winter and focus on the #gainz. There’s also something particularly cozy to me about the early morning sweat seshes in the gym when it’s dark and cold outside.
But for some reason, whenever the weather starts to turn warm in the spring and the trees turn green, I start getting all nostalgic for track season. I was always a pretty average athlete when it came to other sports, but running was my thing in high school. It was the one thing I felt I was naturally good at. In my spare time or after other sports’ practices, I would go out on country roads and run hills for fun, do sprint workouts by myself at the track, or run loops around the entire perimeter of my small town. And looking back, I was a high strung and anxious teenager, so without even knowing it, running was probably my first form of therapy.
So all that to say, whether I want to admit it or not, running holds a special place in my heart. And when spring hits, I start getting the itch to lace up those running shoes and ditch the barbell for a while. There’s just something so therapeutic to me about being outside in the sun, feeling the fresh air, and having that rare moment of time where my mind is completely clear.
I know I’m not alone in this. So many people pick up running in the spring and summer, and it brings me a lot of joy to see so many people getting outside to move their bodies. That being said, this is also a very common time of year for running injuries. So I’ve compiled my top 3 tips for improving your running and minimizing injuries, because as much as that’s good for business, I’d rather see you not injured in the first place. 😉
Ok, this is a big one. Unfortunately, most shoe companies have gotten it wrong when it comes to their shoe design. If you look at the natural shape of your foot, most of us have a narrower heel and a bit wider midfoot/toe area. But if you look at the shape of most shoes, they are narrow through the midfoot and tapered in the toe box. This makes essentially zero sense, and the last thing we want to be doing, especially during running, is cramming our toes into a shoe and squishing them together. Our toes, much like our fingers, should be able to splay freely. This not only helps with foot activation and control, but also overall stability of the whole leg and kinetic chain. Look for running shoes with a wider toe box, and at the very least, size up at least half a size more than your normal size to give your toes enough room. If your toes feel crammed or are hitting the end of your shoe in your running stride, it’s time for a bigger pair.
Let’s talk a little about cadence. This is not the same as pace. Your cadence is measured in steps per minute (spm), so essentially it’s a measure of how quickly your feet are turning over and hitting the ground. On the other hand, pace is how quickly you are traveling, and it’s usually either measured in miles per hour (mph) or your average mile times (i.e., 8-minute miles). Contrary to popular belief, your cadence should not necessarily be proportional to your pace. In other words, no matter how fast or slow you are running, you want your pace to be roughly the same. And most people’s cadences are much too slow. Before I knew anything about running or paid attention to my cadence, my average was around 145-150spm. But ideally (and there is still some debate about the most optimal cadence), you want to be more in the 165-180 range. I personally like to keep mine around 170 now. Having a quicker cadence means your foot is in contact with the ground for less time, reducing the impact/stress on your joints and muscles. It also prevents too long of a stride, which can bring about a multitide of biomechanical issues. Most watches or fitness trackers tell you your average cadence, so next time you’re on a run, be sure to pay attention to this. And one of my favorite hacks is using the Spotify “Running” genre playlists that are specifically curated to different cadences. I simply choose one of the 170spm playlists and just run to the beat of the music, which takes all the guesswork out of it for me.
3. Cross train
Last but not least, cross training (specifically in the form of strength training) is one of the best things you can do as a runner to improve your performance and prevent injuries. Running is a repetitive activity, which commonly lends itself to overuse injuries. Strength training can help increase the durability and resilience of your joints and muscles, making them more able to sustain the repetitive load of running. And I’m not just talking lousy band exercises—pick up a barbell or some dumbbells and don’t be afraid to get heavy. At the very least, mix in exercise a few times per week that is not running. If you just run every day and nothing else, you will be missing out on some fantastic strength benefits and making yourself more injury prone. (I have an entire separate blog on more strategies to prevent overuse injuries, and you can read it here).
Alright, friends. Hope you learned a little something and have some new things to implement to keep yourselves happily running all through the spring and summer. If any Lincoln locals need good trail recommendations, I’m your girl. 🙂 As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions, or if you are battling a pesky running injury, I’d love to help you out. Book an appointment here and we’ll get you taken care of.