If you’ve started running at a later stage in life, you would have been told a gazillion times that you will injure yourself. The fact is that we must become even more active as we age. Running is probably the best hobby you could have ever picked: It’s poor running form, not running, that is going to hurt you. And improving your form and focusing on exercise can greatly reduce those injuries.
Pain in the knee, shin and heel is the most common problem that you will face when you start running late. It is important, however, not to focus on the pain alone. Think about the underlying cause. You’ll be surprised to know that there are, almost always, similar causes for most running injuries. The pain is only a symptom; taking painkillers and resting are important but these just mask it. You need to think long term.
Knee pain is the commonest problem both new and seasoned runners face. The more common areas of pain are the outer aspect of the knee, just above the knee joint itself or in the front. Most doctors will blame running and diagnose this as knee osteoarthritis. Yes, there will be some wear and tear in the knee joint when you run, but it will be even worse if you are inactive.
The primary reason for most knee pain amongst runners and non-runners is muscular imbalance. And, almost invariably, the reason is attempting too much running too soon, running long distances at a very fast pace, sprinting very short distances at speeds you really aren’t used to, wearing the wrong shoes, running on too hard a surface and finally, to make matters worse, entering every possible race.
Knee pains are closely followed by complaints of shin and heel pains. Besides the reasons mentioned, low vitamin D levels can be a factor. Every runner should get vitamin D3 levels checked every year, and if it is low, take a weekly dose, or whatever a doctor suggests.
As a runner, you should be doing strength training three-four times a week, focusing on the whole body. There are enough body-weight exercises, and you don’t need to go to the gym for these. Increase running distances gradually. I would suggest a 10-15% increase in distance from week to week, both for the longest distance of the week as well as the cumulative weekly distance. A lot of people start doing sprints earlier than they should because they are not able to run for long durations and want to prove to themselves that they can keep up with seasoned runners.
The problem is that when you aren’t experienced at running, your running form goes for a toss when you increase speed for very short durations. You land very heavy on your heel, your ankle rolls in excessively, followed by the knee and hip rolling in too. This can lead to all kinds of injuries. In any case, running super quick for very short distances like 100-200m is not suggestive of how good you would be at longer distances like 10km. You should train three-four months for a race, build up your running gradually, and then go enjoy yourself. At the end of the day, running should be for you.
As for a walking-running schedule this week, start with a 3-minute gentle walk as warm-up. Follow this with a 7-minute run alternating with a 30-second walk. Repeat four-six times. Do this four-six days a week.
This is the seventh in an eight-part series to motivate people to take up running in the correct way. Click here for the complete series.
Rajat Chauhan is a sports exercise and musculoskeletal medicine physician and race director of La Ultra—The High held in Ladakh. He has authored The Pain Handbook: A Non-Surgical Way To Managing Back, Neck And Knee Pain.