(Part one in a series.)
Do you need to be taught how to run? To many of us, the question seems ludicrous. Isn’t running among the most basic of skills? Is it even a skill at all? Or is it just an automatic thing we pick up naturally?
On the surface, the answer might be that running comes to us naturally and doesn’t have to be taught. After all, children and teenagers spend a lot of time running and yet, barring the odd accidentally broken bone, it is almost unheard of for them to get injured while running.
But then something happens; we grow up and join the adult “50 percent to 75 percent of runners get injured” club. Why? Let’s look at some common thinking on the subject.
The Six Most Common Things We Blame Injuries On
1. Sharp Increases in Mileage. A commonly accepted guideline for increasing mileage is to follow the 10 percent rule. The 10 percent rule says you should increase your miles by no more than 10 percent each week. For example, if you ran 20 miles one week, you should run no more than 22 miles the next week (two additional miles).
The rule is wise but I’m puzzled over what to think when someone follows the rule and still has problems. What happens if (like me) you acquire shin splints while following the 10 percent rule?
2. Sharp Increases in Intensity. At the heart of this statement is the idea that the “pounding” of running is magnified when we run more intensely (e.g. during speed intervals). The outcome is that the body’s restorative powers can’t keep up and “Mr. Injury” comes a knockin’.
This rationale is also not without merit, although I wonder about the premise that running must involve “pounding”.
3. Poor Footwear. For years, shoes have supposedly gotten better at protecting us from injury. It is documented that despite advances in shoe technology, the rate of injury among runners has not improved. What’s missing from this picture? Are better shoes the answer, or is there something else we need to consider? Stay tuned!
4. Hard Surfaces. We’re told that running a large number of miles on pavement is literally like running on the road to destruction. Is this true? What about the growing number of barefoot runners who spend most of their time running on pavement? Are they superhuman? Or have they learned something the rest of us haven’t?
5. Our Parents: Genetics likely plays a role in our susceptibility to injuries, but there is little we can do about that so we won’t focus our attention there.
The Sixth Thing: Poor Running Form
The least-talked-about reason for becoming injured is running with poor form (aka “mechanics” or “technique”).
What’s interesting about correcting poor form is that doing so can lessen the effects of long, intense, pounding miles on hard surfaces.
And this brings us right back to where we started, though with clearer questions: Do we know what good form is, whether we’re doing it, and if we’re not, can and should we change it?
Where Do We Go From Here?
In part two we’ll talk about whether you should work on improving your form and, after that, we’ll talk about the potential gains and risks for doing so and then discuss different ideas around defining what good running form is. There, we’ll look at some methods for learning how to run, talk about each method’s strengths and weaknesses, and how each of them propose to make you a better, less injury-prone runner.