5 Reasons I've Never Had a Running Injury

By , SparkPeople Blogger
This is the year of running for me. I ran my first half marathon this spring and will complete my third one this fall. I've reached new trail running goals, including a first and second place finish in recent races. In August, 11 other teammates and I will run the Hood To Coast relay, covering 200 miles in less than 36 hours. I've done fun runs, too, like the Krispy Kreme Challenge and the Warrior Dash. I'm loving every minute of this run-filled year, from the training to the races. The worst thing that could happen to me now is to be sidelined by an injury.

Yet it seems that every runner I know has dealt with a running related injury. There are lots of reasons why running can lead to injury, but I do believe is that you can avoid and prevent most running injuries if you train smart and set realistic goals. That is exactly how I've avoided injury despite increasing my mileage and speed and taking on greater challenges. It's not about luck—it's about leading with your noggin instead of your legs.

If you have goals of becoming a runner, completing a marathon, racing your way into smaller jeans, or even finishing that first 5K, this is a must-read for you. Here are the five training tips that have kept me running injury-free for years.

My 5 Rules for Running Injury-Free

Just Because You CAN Do Something Doesn't Mean You Should.
The last thing I like to hear is that a person who has essentially never ran is planning to run a half or full marathon in a matter of months. This is an injury waiting to happen, not to mention that it simply isn't safe or advisable for an inexperienced runner. I know that it seems as if everyone these days is running a marathon. And I know there are training plans that promise to take you from unfit to running 26.2 miles in four months. But just because you can do something does not mean you should. Seriously. Just because people can run that distance with very little training doesn’t mean it's good for their bodies. I firmly believe that one should only train for a marathon after several years of running. But even then, I don't personally believe that it's a healthy goal for every runner. An event like that (and the training it entails) is extremely taxing on the body. Plus, there is plenty of evidence that people who train for long endurance events can run into a host of problems that an average exerciser is unlikely to encounter: increased injury risk of overtraining, heart problems (in the most extreme cases), a weakened immune system, amenorrhea, stress fractures and more.

I ran for more than two years before I ever attempted a half marathon. And I have no plans to ever run a full marathon because I don't believe that it's healthy for my body, even if my body might be capable of it.

If It's Not Broken, Don't Fix It
Like everyone else, I read and adored Chris McDougall's book Born To Run, and was totally ready to hop on the barefoot running bandwagon after doing so. When I visited my local running store to try on some minimalist running shoes, I stopped myself before checking out. Sure, there may be some good theories and even some evidence that minimalist shoes or barefoot exercise may be better for us. But I'd also never been injured or hurt by wearing my cushy motion-controlled running shoes either. For all I know, my running shoes are absolutely perfect for me and switching to something else—no matter how highly touted—could be the start of problems. I decided that if it isn't broken, I'm not going to fix it. I'm sticking with my tried-and-true shoes until they no longer work for me. Then—and only then—will I change things up. (The respected ACE fitness organization agrees. After studying the effects of barefoot, Vibram (barefoot running) shoes, and traditional running shoes on recreational joggers, they advise, "If you aren’t experiencing chronic injuries while running, don’t quit with your [usual] shoes just yet")
(Side note: Getting a good pair of running shoes and replacing them before they get too worn out is another way to help decrease injury risk. I track the mileage I run in my shoes and replace them around 500 miles, which seems to work best for me. I also never wear them for any purpose other than running.)
The same thing applies to your training plan. Remember that what works for others might not work for you. If you run three times a week but then see a cool new training plan that says you should be running five days, stop and think a minute. Are two extra days really necessary? Can you achieve the same goals with your current frequency? Many half marathon training plans I saw recommended running four to six days per week. No, thanks! I still only run three times per week and I had no trouble crossing that finish line after training three days per week. As Coach Nancy always says, "We are all an experiment of one." When you find something that works for you, stick with it!

Don't Run Every Day
You probably know some old man or woman who runs five miles every morning and has been doing so for the past 60 years. But let me tell you, they are the exception to the rule. Yes, I think running in general can be good for your body. But like all good things, more isn't always better, and moderation is usually best. Running is a high-impact exercise, too much of which can be bad for the joints.

Even though I exercise or do something active pretty much every day, I never run more than four times a week, and I rarely run on two consecutive days. Most often, I run just three times per week. On the other days, I cross-train with low-impact exercises (like biking or Spinning) to help balance out my workouts. I also fit in core work like Pilates, and strength-training so that I'm helping achieve a balanced physique—not one that only runs. Doing too much of any one thing can cause imbalance and injury. Even runners need days off.

Be a Careful and Conservative Runner
I believe this is the number one reason I have never been injured. I'm conservative in my goals, in how much I run, and in my approach to running.

Let me put into perspective how I went from running a 5K to running a half marathon—and more importantly, the amount of time I allowed myself to train.
In spring 2008, I started running 1-2 times a week for about 30 minutes at a time. I already had a base level of aerobic fitness from other workouts, so running this distance was OK for me. I ran my first 5K (3.1 miles) in October 2008, but didn't do my second one until a year later.

That's right; I spent more than a year just acclimating to running, usually no more than 4-5 miles per workout. After about 18 months of running consistently, I trained for a 10K, ran a 15K a few months later, then finished a 10.6-mile race a few months after that. I ran my first half marathon almost two and a half years after I ran that first 5K—not four months later or even six months later. This is conservative training. It allows your body to really acclimate to running and the increased mileage versus trying to rush the process, which is what causes problems. Week to week and month to month, I still take a conservative approach to increasing mileage. I never run more than 5-10% further than the previous weeks, even if my body seems like it can handle it.

In addition, I'm careful as I run. I run outdoors all winter long (albeit very slowly). The only time I head indoors is when it's icy or the temperature is in the single digits. When I run on trails, I slow my speed dramatically so that I feel sure of my footing. I also wear shoes specific to trail running for even more grip and support. A careful runner is an injury-free runner!

Listen to Your Body
When you only give yourself a few months to train for a given race, you often end up forcing yourself to run through fatigue, pain and other signs of injury. An example of this would be a novice runner registering for a marathon that's just four months away and following a training plan that will literally take all 16 weeks to complete. By running more conservatively, say, giving yourself six months to train after you have already built up to running a quarter of that distance, you allow some padding into your training. That way, when you feel tired, sick or sore, you can rest as needed without botching your whole training plan or exacerbating a potential injury.

I run three times a week and have a general plan for how far I want to go each time. But some days I'm just tired or my legs feel like lead. So I go slower, don't run as far, or skip those days when I really feel like my body is telling me to go easy. I have never pushed through major fatigue or pain in order to keep training, and by giving myself plenty of lead time for an upcoming race, I've never had to throw in the towel either.

A Few Final Rules
  • If you already have major joint or muscular injuries or problems, don't run. Talk to your health care provider, especially a physical therapist, to find out if running is right for you.
  • Don't run if you are extremely overweight. I might get a lot of flak for this one, but because running is such a high-impact activity that puts a lot of pressure on the vulnerable knee joints, people who are very overweight should not run. Yes, there are exceptions to every "rule" and some overweight individuals can run without any issues. But from an injury-prevention standpoint, if you have a lot of weight to lose, you'll do your body better with lower impact exercises until you are carrying less extra weight on your frame. No, I'm not saying you have to be thin or skinny or at your weight-loss goal to run, but be smart. If your knees already ache from carrying extra pounds, running will only worsen those symptoms.
  • You must walk before you can run.  Build up a solid base of aerobic fitness with walking and other activities before you run. This goes back to the idea that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. This is a safe and viable option for people who hope to run later one but just aren't there yet, especially if you have a lot of weight to lose. Walking will help you burn calories and lose weight while you build a solid base of fitness, and it will get your body ready to run!
Of course, the rest is up to you. You can push yourself through pain, run a 5K in 5 weeks or less, or train for a marathon when you have 100 pounds to lose. All exercise is risky. We each take a risk every time we step out the door.

But isn't it hard enough to commit to an exercise program without pain, injury or fatigue getting in your way? Be smart and safe, and running will be that much more enjoyable for you!

Here are a few related SparkPeople resources that will help you run safely and still reach your goals:

Quiz: Are You Ready to Start Running?
Safe and Effective "5K Your Way" Training Plans
SparkPeople's Running Center (everything else you need!)

Have you ever experienced a running injury that could have been prevented? Do you follow any of these injury-prevention rules?

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I believe that deep stress fracture would have been avoided if I hadn't switched to minimal shoes... Yup, the Barefoot Running fever (on a Physical Therapist recommendation) got me good! Two years later, I am still not running the way I used to before that injury... :-( Report
Loved this article! I'm 67 and walk/hike a lot these days. I occasionally break into running (or my version thereof) ... not fast and not far, but such a great feeling for me. I'd like to do a 5K some day ... we'll see how that goes. Thanks for the info! Report
Good article!! I'd been considering starting training for a half-marathon in the spring after having run off and on (mostly off) for the past decade and a lot more over the past couple of years (I just turned 35). This past February, my boyfriend and I ran our second personal Valentine's Day 8K. I've decided that 8k will be my distance, though--maybe I'll try a 10k run someday, but as of today, I'm happy to run 5k three times a week. I love running now even though I really disliked it when I was younger, all the way until I was in my mid-20s. I do think that you are VERY lucky for having avoided injury, but you can pat yourself on the back for your excellent training techniques if you like because I agree that smart training can avoid at least most training. I patted myself on the back, too, until I got hit with the shinsplints about 8 years ago and sidelined my running for years when they became a recurring problem. I just don't want others who've suffered injuries to think they've done something wrong if they've come away inujured. When you exercise, you just run that risk. Of course, when you don't exercise, I think you run even worse risks. I also agree with you about the shoes. I saw that one commentor's food and bone doctors were all for flat-footed running. My foot and bone doctors told me to toss all my slipper-like flats away because of the damage they were doing to my severely flat feet, especially if I was going to pursue running. While orthopedic shoes aren't always sexy and stability sneakers aren't always cute, they're comfy as heck and have helped me achieve and surpass all my fitness goals--a lot of people need them, and if you have foot problems because you're wearing the wrong shoes, then good shoes are so worth the investment. They've also helped my shin splint issues disappear for good. Yeah, I miss the $10 Target ballet flats, but my feet have never been happier, and I'm just bummed I wasted so much time in the wrong shoes. I also agree with not jumping into running if you're very overweight. I've had overweight friends try to jump on the running bandwagon, injure themselves, and be not only immobilized, but demoralized about trying to lose weight in general. I always tell them to just start with walking. Good way to prime the whole body--lungs, joints, muscles, heart, etc. That's how I started, and one day, I ran a few steps, a few steps more the next day, then one day and 30 lbs lighter, it was a mile without stopping or losing my breath. Report
I feel victim to trying too much too quickly. I got a bout of runners knee in March of this year when I first started a 5K program. Allowing your body time to rest is a lesson I learned the hard way (that and get a good part of running shoes!). Report
Interesting article, I'm a marathon runner. Ran my first full marathon just over a year after starting to run consistently and love it. I definitely believe in being safe and conservative! Thanks for the tips! Report
I like the way you think, Coach Nicole! Thank you for sharing with me that it's ok to NOT train for a full marathon, especially if running 5k or 10k is (as Goldilocks said) "just right." I was sidelined in May with an injury and I still haven't run since. I have been walking, but I know my body needs more vigorous activity than walking. I have been gaining weight and I really miss running! This article has inspired me to get back out there. Thanks again. Report
This is an excellent article for any activity not just running. Slow and steady win the race. Report
Great advice! I have been running for almost a year, and as much as my competitive nature wants to get out there and run longer (more than a 5k) races, I know my body isn't ready for it yet. I do disagree with your advice for very overweight people to hold off running. When I started running, I weighed 245 lbs, but I did not (and still do not) have any knee or other joint issues. I started very slowly, with a learn to run program that alternates walking and running, and now run 3 times a week, averaging 7-8 miles a week. Not a lot of miles, but again, I know my body isn't ready for more. That will come in time. For now, I allow myself to enjoy the slower pace. As more pounds are shed, I'll be able to ask more of my body. Report
as someone new to "running" (i'm beginning my couch to 5k walk/jog program in a couple of days), this article was MOST helpful. thanks coach nicole! Report
Great points in this article. I really believe that one should listen to their body and make their workout fit them individually regardless of what plans they've read. Or trends going on. Report
Thank you for pointing out that running is not for everyone! I have balance problems caused by neurological problems. I walk with pleasure, but after several falls, a broken ankle, a broken hip and a torn meniscus, my gait has been affected and I know that running is not in the picture for me. I've found out the hard way that just because I "can" do something, doesn't mean that I should. I'm challenging my body now with Iyengar yoga and Pilates, and walking is my prefered means of transportation around town. I've found that walking too fast results in days of pain. I know that I can handle distance a lot better than I can handle speed, but even with this knowledge, I'm not willing to attempt a race, even a walk-a-thon, because I know that my competitive nature would lead me to do too much too fast. Thanks for reminding us that even though running is sexy, it may not be a safe choice for everyone. Report
Thanks for the good advice. And congratulations on a year of running. Report
Thank you for this article. It could not have come at a better time when the running stores are promoting their training marathon and half marathon training programs. I have had an injury or two and I have learned from them. Since mid June, I made a schedule not to run more than three times a week and I have stuck to it. I am a little slow on the learning part, and my body has paid the price for it, but I also know the importance of a cool down after my run or strength training workouts. I take the time to read the articles here and it has made a huge difference as to how I see food and exercise.

Thank you

Daphne in Doral (Miami) Report
What a delightful and informative article! I can now raise my head high because, although I have not become a runner, I've known for some time that it's just not for me. I have chosen other aerobic exercises in its place. Report
Great article but you forgot one thing: You are lucky. I am a very conservative runner, just like you advocate. But I have stepped off a curb a little wonky, in perfect weather, on a short run after a rest day and been out for two weeks.

I also agree with you that even though I have run a half marathon, I will not be going for a full. Too hard on my old body! Report
Great article! I used to run for as my main form of exercise years ago and am just getting back into it -- I have to remember once again I have to 'walk before I can run'. Thanks again!! Report
Those are awesome suggestions/guidelines for ANY exercise program. Thanks, Coach. Report
I agree with your advice. I started out running a few years ago and probably did too much too soon as I began having knee problems. I gave up running for almost half a year and started again recently. I have been running 2 mi each run- about 2 to 3 times a week. It feels like nothing compared to what I used to run, or compared to my friend running a half marathon. However, I know running at a slow pace for this smaller distance is good for me because my knees feel great for months (knock on wood!).
Thanks for reminding me what I'm doing is good for me. Report
This was the best read of the day for me, Coach Nicole! Thank you. At 61, I am happy to be able to enjoy 5ks and support the various causes each race benefits. I will continue to do them with proper training and preparation. I am maintaining my weight now and 5ks suit my purpose. My cross training will involve my biking. Thanks again for the great guidance. Report
I'd just like to add that even if you try to do everything right, injuries can come out of nowhere. I ran my first half marathon this spring with no injuries, but added biking to my schedule as "low-impact cross training" and biking combined with running gave me Runner's Knee, which I'm now trying to recover from. So "low impact" activities can still put too much stress on your joints if you start them too quickly.

And please knock on wood about the "no injuries" from running. This April I smugly congratulated myself on having no injuries after a year of running, and now I'm starting physical therapy. Report
I started running again regularly about 7 weeks ago and I agree with the idea of cross-training and working your way up slowly. I went from barely 2 miles to almost 2.5 in 30 min and see nothing wrong with my progress. I am intrigued about barefoot running though, and I'd like to see an article dedicated to the pros and cons of that. This article gave me a refresher course on how to monitor myself to prevent injury. Afterall, what good is exercising for the long-term if I burn myself out at 25? Report
I never had an injury until age 45 and then they just compounded each other. I would knock on wood when you say this. With regard to the minimalist running trend, you need to pick up the book Chi Running by Danny Dreyer. You ARE doing damage to your body when you wear shoes with padding that encourage a heel-toe foot strike. You can't just put on the shoes and go, you have to take a class on how to modify your form. My podiatrist and orthopedic surgeon both agreed that flat foot running is better. Report
I need to comment on this post. I worked out for 18 months, worked up very slowly to 15 minutes of running on the treadmill. I decided to run outdoors for the first time. I walked for a mile and then jogged for a mile. I injured my knee and it has never been the same. I do not believe running is for everyone. Running is a high-risk/high-impact exercise that is tremendously hard on joints. I think it's a great exercise for people who have always been active, but a terrible exercise to take up later in life. Report
Excellent post! I needed to hear this! Report
Excellent article!! I am a new runner. I did the Sparkpeople 5k program and gradually worked my way up and did my first 5k race two weeks ago. Due to the fact that I am taking up running in my early 40's, I am very conscious of not overdoing it and injuring my knees. I usually just run 2-3 times a week and almost never run two days in a row. I also bike and do Zumba. I am also in agreement with your view on not running if you are considerably overweight. I tried to run when I was first losing the weight and couldn't. I was always hurting myself in one joint or another. Now that I have lost nearly 50 pounds, I am finally able to run without stress on my joints. I may eventually add on more miles, but I am very happy now being able to run 5k without having to take more than one short walking break. :) Report
Coach Nicole, this was a great article. I also completed my first half marathon this last spring, but I started training last fall. I've never been a runner, and got started when I decided I wanted to do a triathlon - which I really enjoy. I'm not very competitive, and definitely run at my own pace. I think that's another reason I've never had an injury from running. Thanks for sharing! Report
There's a great adage for runners, "Never run too fast, too far, too soon, even if you think you can!" Obey those tenets, and you'll tally up lots of happy miles... That is how I've run, injury-free, for seven years, and is at the heart of what Coach Nicole states in this article. I also think that it's important to learn proper running form before ever lacing up a pair of running shoes. It makes a huge difference in your enjoyment of the sport and in preventing injuries if you avoid the pitfalls I see on the trails, such as flailing arms and hunched-over postures!

As for marathons... I admire marathoners. It takes strength, endurance and mind-over-matter to accomplish the feat of running 26.2 miles. It takes great discipline to train both body and mind for such a lofty goal. But, I think we've become obsessed with marathons to the point that people think anyone can run one. That's unhealthy and dangerous! Running is something I do for fitness and I like to keep it fun. The thought of turning it into a "job" to run (or even WALK) a marathon, would take all the joy out of it for me. Report
Thank you for this article! I've been debating whether or not to start running, and have recently decided to spend a few more months just walking more intensely and greater distances first, after all, if fast walking can get my heart rate up into (and sometimes above) the target zone, why increase my risk of injury? Plus waiting a few more months will take a little more weight off me, and then my body will be put under less stress when I do pick it up. Also I've decided to move very slowly in my training when I do begin. Report
Great article! I would love to run a marathon at some point, but I really want to run for life, so this feedback is very useful. I was a cross country runner in high school, but they didn't teach us the best tactics for avoiding injury (almost everyone got injured to some degree). So as I look forward to ramping up my running program, I've saved your article and will keep its counsel in mind! Report
"Just Because You CAN Do Something Doesn't Mean You Should"

Amen. Everybody is capable of a lot of things with the proper training, but that doesn't mean their body is built for it. I can run a 5k. I could probably run a 10k. I might be able to do 13.1. But I won't, because my body is build for building muscle, not speed.

Thanks for writing this article, Coach Nicole. I think some people need to take a closer look at the "why"s of what they're doing. Report
Thank you - I really appreciate reading this. It DOES feel like EVERYONE is out there running great distances... so for a slow and short-distance runner (or runner-in-training), it can be SO FRUSTRATING, even for the most patient person (which I do not claim to be.) I wish I could say the same - no running injuries - but going forward, your post will ring in the back of my head not to feel inadequate for it not "being enough". Report
AWESOME blog, Nicole! So helpful, honest, and tactful. I like that you point out that you don't need to (and probably SHOULDN'T) run every single day to be a legitimate runner. I feel like a "wuss" sometimes when my body is sore from XT and I don't follow through with as long of a run as intended (like yesterday-- went 4.27 miles instead of 5, because my legs and glutes were just KILLING me!). But it's nice to know that it's not necessarily "wussy"-- more "safe than sorry". Thanks for the great tips!! Report
this is such EXCELLENT advice. I wish more people would take it to heart! I can't count the number of people I've seen come and go from running just because they can't be their own person and run the amount that's right for them. While running with a group can be motivating it can be detrimental too if you get caught up in what everyone else is doing. Don't forget they may have been running for 10 years and you've been running for 10 weeks! Huge difference!! Report
Good article! I followed many of these things the first year of running and was injury free as well. I applied the same practices to my 2nd year (and even lighter than I was the first year)...and I have been dealing with recurring problems since my 3rd half. You are fortunate! Report
Great article. I would also add that cross training and stretching are just as important as the actual runs are. Report
Thanks Coach Nicole! I felt like a big baby and not a real runner because I don't run everyday. I am afraid of hurting myself and having to stop something that I'm really starting to enjoy. Now, not only can I think of myself as a real runner, but also a real smart runner! Report
I like your point that running probably isn't the best start for extremely overweight people. I think the couch to marathon programs are unrealistic and your column aside, Sparkpeople over promotes running as a exercise anyone can jump right into. I'm 5'2" and I could not get comfortable running until I dropped from 148 to 135. I primarily used biking, martial arts and walking to lose my initial weight. Report
Love the article Coach Nicole! I do the Jeff Galloway training & have run injury free for my 1st 1/2 marathon. Report
Finally!!!! I've read and read about running and have been doing it since the end of September 2010. But I thought I was the slowest progressing runner in the whole world! I never run back to back days and have come to cherish my rest days! I listen to my body and sometimes I have to push a little, but I never push too hard. It's just great to hear that I'm not the only conservative runner and not the only one who hasn't done a HM after having run for almost a year! Thanks!!!!!!!

One point that was not quite accurate for me was to NOT run if you have joint pain or problems. I don't have any injuries to my joints, but I was having a lot of joint pain, which is why I started running and joined SPARK. I believe because my joints are extremely loose, running has actually made them feel so much better than they were. I have never been a runner and started at the age of 43. I have lost a bit of weight on spark, but my ultimate goal was to get my body feeling better So that I could enjoy my almost empty nest with my hubbie and running and lifting weights has done that for me! Report
Thank you for these rules! I follow these rues, generally speaking. I ran my 1st half a year after I started running but I had a decent fitness base. I also have a nice case of arthritis in my left knee, which means I don't run fast but I finish. I run because I am related to 2 doctors (dad and sister) and they never said stop. Not did my primary care doctor or the orthopedic doctor. Report
Thank you sooooo much for your words. I think most people, including myself, go out of the starting blocks full speed ahead and get derailed for just these reasons. There is usually an injury involved or it's just too much to schedule into a day and they give up all together. I appreciate hearing that I don't have to push my body every single day to the max to "get there". Report
I originally started running when I was 30 after my third baby (to lose weight). I ran for a few years with no problems, then stopped for a couple of years. I started back at around 38 and totally overdid it, which resulted in knee problems that left me barely able to climb stairs. I had to stop running altogether for a couple of months. When I started running again, I took a much more cautious approach and was OK. Then I stopped again. Recently, at the age of 53, I decided to run again. I used the 5k Your Way challenge. Sometimes I did a level for two weeks instead of one - no problems! In fact, due to weight loss and strenth training, my knees and joints feel better! This was a great article. Report
Wonderful article! Great common sense! Report
Great article, it has made me think about the way I have been exercising. I am recovering from plantar faciitis and have been nordic walking since I got back on the spark track on 7th july. However, I think I may have set my goals too high and it is becoming hard to sustain. It is the exercise every day that I need to look at because I have been walking 5k a day for more than 2 weeks now, but my feet are begining to give me trouble so I will take the pressure down a little. I will find something else to do and give my feet time to recover properly. Report
Great article Coach Nicole! And as someone who is mid 40's and running for just one year, I am totally on board with your recommendations. My age has made me cautious, not to mention i am totally terrified of screwing up a knee...I have run 2 5K's and most recently ran an 8K. Take your time and enjoy the ride! Report