5 Reasons Why Runners Get Injured

by | 9 Jan 2021 | Running Injuries, Running mistakes

We, the runners, participate in impact activity where we pummel the ground with our feet and send shockwaves throughout the body. Body doesn’t like shocks and the moment will come when the alarm will ring and we might get injured.

Not the most comforting intro into a running blog but there you go. And there is more.

The list of popular running injuries consists of IT band syndrome, shin splints, hamstring injuries, plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, stress fractures and finally, ever-so popular Runner’s knee. I didn’t include trauma through falls and what happens when we fall at full speed. I’ll leave that to your imagination. Mine is pretty gruesome.

How many of us will get injured over the year is impossible to verify. Google has given me various stats – 50%, 65%, 79%, and even worse, over 80%.

I would say even 50% is bad enough.

Although I personally picked knee, Achilles and stress fracture injuries, I made sure I got them pretty much one after another and they entertained me when I was a very new runner. For the past four years I’ve had none and although a bad hamstring pain stopped my marathon run recently, it was down to a cramp caused by dehydration, an issue that sorted itself out within a day or two.

So do we know why runners get injured? And why do we get injured in SUCH big numbers? Is it in our genes?

A vast army of people run for fun and health. Some amateur runners have predisposition to osteoarthritis which is a factor in knee and hip problems. Some have osteoporosis and osteopenia that could lead to stress fractures. I am not a doctor, but I did a simple research and read that those issues could be attributed to genes.

But the majority of us do not have those predispositions and still suffer from fractures, knee and hip issues.

I am the best example. My injuries were pretty bad. What did I do wrong to earn them?

Let’s look into possible reasons.

local park ideal for new runners

Reason why runners get injured number 1: Overuse through hard training

Some people are born to do certain sports at top level. You don’t just suddenly decide that Eliud Kipchoge’s two-hour marathon or Usain Bolt’s 200m World Record time will be your next hobby target. Nobody asked Lebron James to play basketball, he knew that instinctively. Did he know he was good even when very young? I didn’t ask him but I bet he felt it all the way.

What most of us amateurs do, we get inspired by those greats and take up a sport of our choice as our hobby. But unlike the top professionals, who know what they are doing and who train intelligently and very smart, we sometimes go for it with all we’ve got. And very often we do that often when ill equipped.

You see, runners can be a very enthusiastic bunch, especially when starting. As a new runner I treated each run as if that was the last run on earth. I gave it my best shot. In my case it wasn’t the wrong genes, it’s what I was doing that was wrong.

I wasn’t training smart, I was training like an idiot. I put so much pressure on parts of my body that were underdeveloped and didn’t give them any chance to rest up. I would go back and run again.

And I ran as hard as I could.

I was creating damage and then the moment came when I had to seek professional help because the knee got immensely painful through inflammation. The Achilles caused pain each time I would get up in the morning. And the stress fracture in my ankle? Well, you can imagine what that felt like.

I did it to myself.

I didn’t listen to anyone. In my head I was still one of the boys although I was 52.

But it’s absolutely amazing what those injuries did to my learning and listening skills from then on. I stopped being a wise guy overnight. In that respect, injuries did me good. They corrected my ego and put me in my rightful  place. I learned the mantra – overtraining leads to injuries.

Sometimes people will get hurt a bit later during their running journey. Those are the guys who have been running for a few years, got a bit stronger and confident and decided to tackle something that proves to be a higher obstacle.

Whoever has been through marathon training will remember those long training runs. That type of business can be brutal, it’s not a walk in the park.

I had graduated at bad injuries some years before I tackled the marathon and I so went through its training and the run unscathed but there will be those who will react to new difficulties deciding to get ‘fitter’ and subject themselves to monster routines of gym work, hill runs and other jewels that will, instead of making them stronger, simply stop their progress by creating injuries.

local park ideal for new runners

Photo by Cam Adams on Unsplash

Solution

Start slow and train smart. If you follow a beginners program like C25K or similar, don’t jump to 10k straight after the completion. Get comfortable in your new environment, your new level, take your time, find a new program and then move on.

I know of people who trained from 0 to marathon to mark important birthdays and not only did they not finish the marathon, they didn’t even finish training for it because of injuries. Let your body guide you, not your random target, and let the body decide when it’s ready to up the game.

And don’t compare yourself to others. Yes, there will always be that one guy who will complete zero to marathon in two months but those stats are likely to work against you.

Be patient, be smart.

Reason why runners get injured number 2: Muscle weakness

Just because you have a chiseled torso it doesn’t mean that you’ll make an instant runner.

I’m a slim guy but my leg muscles were woefully underdeveloped for running. It didn’t even cross my mind that I should work on my core, calves and hamstrings.

Have you noticed how you can guess athletes by their body shapes and muscles? Swimmer, basketball player, rugby player, marathon runner. Different muscle groups needed to deliver their respective results.

Me? I didn’t care. I just went for it. A niggle in the hip? Ah, that will pass. Painful shins? Never mind. Burning thighs? That will cool down. And instead of treating them gently, introducing them to new stress and building them up gradually I gave them the bashing of their lives.

I learned later that due to my weak core muscles and hips being out of balance, there was too much pressure going to one knee, and that knee was the first to go. I also overcompensated for the weakness on one side and tried to lean to another which caused the Achilles to warn me and my right ankle to fully stop me.

Some guys simply don’t learn any other way but through pain. And I was an Academic in that field. I sometimes  wonder how I avoided completely falling apart.

Solution

It’s good to sit down and read about the body. It’s helpful to understand what muscles do. The more we know, the better.

Yes, it’s good to work on your upper body in order to improve your overall fitness but unless you’re running on your arms it’s more important to do a few squats and strengthen your legs.

There are various strengthening exercises that runners do, and there are good reasons why they are important. They make better those parts of the body that power the run. And by getting stronger we will minimise the injury risk.

No need to join the gym if you don’t want to, no need for expensive equipment either. I only have some raw weights at home, some foam rollers, willingness to do planks and good knowledge of stretching exercises. You won’t need more than that to keep many of your running muscles happy.

Hyde Park in London is a great place to run

Photo by mr lee on Unsplash

Reason why runners get injured number 3: Lack of variety and balance in training

My friend always complains of various niggles. His ‘knee does this’, his ‘knee does that’, he feels ‘the pain in the hip’, etc. He’s always been doing one type of running. Fast at all times.

When I say it’s good to get to know your own body I mean it’s helpful to understand what’s inside and how it operates.

If we have three types of muscle fibers in our legs, why don’t we train them all? For example, if you do nothing but slow long runs and suddenly burst into the best sprint of your life, you may aggravate those other guys inside who have been so dormant for so long.

I understand that we may prefer certain types of running but that is where we just please the brain. Muscles don’t know what the brain thinks. They are being told what to do.

Might as well use all we’ve got and create balance that will benefit the brain AND the muscles.

Solution

I used to be a one-trick pony. The pony who limped rather than galloped to the doctors when I got plagued by injuries.

Then I learned some new tricks and nowadays I practice tempo runs, interval runs, sprints, hills and long slow runs. I have a varied running menu. I do cardio zones. I follow training programs. I engage different muscles at different intensities. I try to avoid getting injured by doing so.

There are also weak spots that you cannot strengthen by running alone. Try and find out the best exercises for your hamstrings, Achilles and calves. Engage your core muscles more, do lower body training. Some say that such exercises are boring. They may be but that’s not the point. Simply go and do them, later you will thank yourself.

By engaging the full variety of muscles I feel less sore after long running. I simply feel stronger and better.

The important thing about strengthening exercises is the same as with running. Don’t overuse it. Your body can only tolerate gradual improvements so reach your peak in careful steps. Don’t just join the gym and hit the weights.

Patience and measured approach within your own limits is the key.

I love running in London thanks to fantastic parks and sights

Reason why runners get injured number 4: Inadequate running shoes

In the beginning I thought that if I bought running shoes, any running shoes, I would be able to run. I didn’t buy running shoes that were good for me and they contributed to my injury woes. No idea if I bought trail shoes, road shoes, or Saturday Night Shoes.

At the time I didn’t know that the majority of running injuries can be traced back directly to our shoes. The first place where a good detective would look.

How can that be?

Well, I personally fell for good marketing and bought ‘cool’ shoes. I didn’t know that shoe sizes vary either. Today I have three pairs from three brands, all fit me well and all three have different sizes. And none of those sizes are the same as my regular ‘civilian’ shoe size.

I didn’t know that some brands would better fit certain types of feet. I learned that two brands are really good for my long and narrow feet but many others are not so good for me.

In other words, many people simply buy their first shoes online based on brand power, popularity, design and price. We trust brands so much that when things don’t work out and we feel not too comfortable running even short distances, we refuse to believe that maybe that shoe is not good for us.

Good for another guy, yes, but not good for you.

Solution

When I injured my ankle the physio recommended a gait analysis shop where they found the shoes that were perfect for me and from that shop I also got customised insoles.

Haven’t had an injury for around 4 years as a result, amongst other factors listed above.

Of course, technology has gone far but my shoes could well be useless for you. We have different built, gait, feet, and as a result we need different shoes. The idea is to find the ones that fit you perfectly and then search for various cool colours and details within that brand and model.

Neither of my two first choice brands fit me, regardless of their price range. And both are big and famous brands. I went with the third choice and discovered the new world of comfort and stability.

Never compromise when it comes to shoes. Even the prices may surprise and you can walk out in perfect shoes for less money than you expected.

Pick your shoes most carefully.

Reason why runners get injured number 5: Insufficient recovery time between the runs

Running can often be so enjoyable that we can’t wait for the next run. We’ve all been there. An easy run in a beautiful environment and perfect weather (of your particular esteemed choice).

We get home, not even feeling tired and contemplate our next run. Can I go and run tomorrow? Or maybe even today, again? It’s not illegal, some pros do it twice per day, six days per week but I am mentioning pros here (and don’t forget the genes either).

Amateurs who get injured through running on consecutive days are mostly newbies. Well, I was when I did my knee. What recovery did I need and in what time?

Solution

In the beginning it’s good to rest at least a day between the runs, feeling tired or not. What we don’t feel and certainly cannot see are those tiny micro tears in our muscle fibres, the ones that need to recover fully before the next run. Your ligaments and tendons need to stay connected and the resources in your body that got depleted need replenishment.

And don’t forget your bones. You need to love them as well. Work on their strength and give them time to recover.

Failing that, we are risking injuries.

As we get stronger in time after a year or maybe sooner (genes alert!!!), we can start to run on consecutive days and not suffer for it. When I marathon trained I ran three, sometimes four days in a row and felt fine afterwards but I worked towards it carefully.

We also need to avoid punishing ourselves with hard runs too often. Most of the ones that I was doing were long slow, cardio easy runs, not uphill sprints.

Sometimes runners assume that if they are feeling good that’s licence to work hard again and soon.

Avoid that. Rest.

Avoiding getting hurt when running may not always be possible and as much as we try to be careful, a surprise injury can happen. A cold muscle can react badly, an accidental slip can cause an ankle to bend awkwardly but regardless, we can still do lots in terms of injury prevention.

It helps to learn about the body, learn to recognise its warning signals and learn how to treat it kindly. And of course, we should listen to other runners’ positive experiences as well as mistakes and learn from them.

Running for fun and health should not place large physical demands on the body and although we are all different there are common mistakes that we make. Being able to recognise and avoid them is a good way of avoiding the injury couch.
Good luck & happy running!

Cover photo by Vitor Fontes on Unsplash

2 Comments

  1. I’ve been running for well over 40 years and only had a couple of moderately bad injuries, both of which were caused by one of my dogs who was frantic to start!!

    I’m not a natural runner, but I did ballet as a child and that had given me balance!

    But the most important for me is to get regular massage from a qualified sports masseuse. I see her regularly every month and she picks up on minor injuries that I haven’t really noticed….. until she “massages” the problem area!

    My other love is weight training. I go to three or four classes a week. It’s fun and I know it’s helping to keep me safe. And for any doubters out there: My body hasn’t bulked up, it’s just a lot stronger!

    I’ll be 65 this year and planning for a cannicross ultra marathon right now. I’m not fast but I’m still running!

    Reply
    • I often read of the importance of massage and I fully agree. We tend to carry minor injuries without being aware – until they arrive with fanfare. Even in the absence of regular massage, it’s important to visit a good sports masseur after very long, exhausting runs, such as marathon or ultras. They create enormous shocks throughout the body and it takes time to recuperate.

      Weight training is crucial. It’s not imperative to lift as hard as bodybuilders but it’s important to tone up and gain general body strength. And the stronger we are, the more we minimize potential injury risks.

      Listening to our bodies should also never be overlooked. Part of my martial arts training is heavy use of my tools of trade – knees and ankles. I simply learned how to develop body awareness and know when to go gentle. As a result, my running has also improved.

      65? You have decades of running ahead of you. Enjoy them!

      Reply

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I hope that sharing my story, and what I have learned along this journey, will inspire you to get started and to keep going. To keep striving and being the best you can be. In running and in life.

Be.Your.Best.

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