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?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


Thank you. Never read this kind of advice; it's sensible. I've had shin splits on and off since running mid-distance track in HS, and each of the times in my life when I've gotten back into it. Now I'm too heavy and older to do more than a minute or two, currently, plus I have, from walking last summer (6 months ago!) a sore achilles tendon, so I'm being extra gentle with my fitness program. Might have prevented those injuries if I'd had this type of coaching. Report
common sense lessons for sure Report
Delicious and nutritious. I will learn to make this dish. http://geometrydash-game.com Report
i strongly agree with the points made in this article !!

I was fortunate to have been given the advice, when I began running at age 45, to spend one year running not more than 30 minutes not more than 3 times a week, to strengthen my joints and tendons. Because typically, one's cardio improves more quickly than one's frame strength and the endorphins and rush of improved cardio makes one feel like dong too much too early.
I also learned about interval running through the Jeff Galloway running method, which interestingly and counter-intuitively is a faster way to run, not to mention a way to also rarely have injuries.
I want to run until I am 100 (a paraphrase of a title of a book by Jeff Galloway)

I can't remember how long ago I made the above comments. I haven't run for a year and a half, but hope to return to running.
I want to add, a less mentioned injury is foot injuries. I was careful with my knees so they are fine. I got morton's neuroma and now am waiting for specialist advice on how to deal with it. I ran with minimalist runners to make my feet stronger and because it was advised in order to reduce knee and hip injuries. This worked well until I hit menopause and the natural fat padding in my extremities, including of course my feet, migrated to my middle. Now that I have less natural cushion in my feet, I am thinking I will need to run in the super padded runners that I avoided previously. Whatever works, right? Report
I started walking a few months ago. Starting to sneak in a few minutes of jogging once or twice a walk. Report
Thanks! Report
Excellent points! Report
good article! I already went the route where I got injured in the past because I was pushing myself too hard to get more distance, too fast. I made my mistakes. Now I'm slowly getting back into running and listening to my body more. Thank you! Report
Always wanted to be a runner. Not there yet Report
Great points Report
I run conservatively (making sure I have an aerobic heart rate, don't increase time or mileage dramatically, take days off, etc) in minimalist sandals and have not had any trouble with hips, knees, ankles, shin splints, etc. I'm also 270+ pounds. I find running is better for me than walking and I've lost some weight and gained a lot of fitness since I started my program last summer. Thank you for your article! Report
Interesting article although it is difficult to go so slowly through training.

I'd also add that I change out my shoes every 300 miles and alternate 2-3 pairs of shoes while training. Report
Great article! Thanks! Report
Great tips, Coach! Thank you! Report
I'm the opposite of the writer when it comes to shoes - I had issues with my right knee off and on for years, always related to running. I even got custom-fit orthotics - all they did was move the problem from my knee to my hip.

When I finally switched to a minimal running shoe (the Minimus), my knee problems got a lot better. I can now run 4+ miles 2 days a week with no issues (on top of biking and swimming), and I'm working on getting up to a 10K for an Olympic triathlon this summer. Report
Great info! Thanks Report
What sensible advice! I've only run small amounts...never more than a couple of minutes at a time. When I got my new Dr approved tennis shoes, for some reason I lost my mind and decided to wear them on a run right out of the box! Result is my knee didnt appreciate it too much! I've spent the last 2 weeks resting it and breaking in my new shoes by walking in them...Thankfully I'm almost 100% again. I'm signed up for my first 5k in a month but I plan to walk most if it...Ill prob run a minute here and there and when I reach the finish line of course. Lol Report
Great information!!! Thank you! Report
Great advice. I Love to walk. I'm prone to falls and I don't want ti injure myself. Report
Thank you Report
Really great advice! I have runner's knee and sporadic pain in my ankles. I think this writer is completely correct and after reading this article I now realize I did everything wrong. I hope to run again, but it is possible I never will -- so if you love running, take this article seriously and be very careful! Report
So i started running in my 20's and my knee bothered me. Dr told me not to run. took up swimming. then stationary bike. then step aerobics. step was getting to easy, then ran/walk for 45 mins 4 days a week. Stopped that for 5 years then ran again, but had ankle injury. do water aerobics and walking now. However, my current dr wants me to do LIGHT jogging because of my hips. Will reach my goal weight first with other types of exercise and healthy foods and do lots of deep water aerobics, step aerobics and spinning classses. I've also continued to do my physical therapy exercises for my ankle. I'll make sure my whole body is strong and LEAN before jogging again. Report
Great advice. Thanks. Report
glad you are doing this and this isnt for me good luck with your running Report
Great post, although I have to disagree on the overweight running thing.

Walking doesn't do much for me. Additionally, I generally don't lose weight; I put on muscle very quickly when I exercise. Running challenges me aerobically where walking never will.

I have had foot injuries, but I've learned from them. I've learned not to push myself too much, but I've also learned to stop at the first feeling that I might be pushing my foot too much. The last time I hurt my foot, I think, was not a result of running, but as a result of walking too much in shoes that did not have enough cushioning for my feet, and then pushing myself for a long time after the initial injury. Report
Great advice. And new to sparkpeople, hope to learn more here :D Report
Thanks for the tips, Nicole! I LOVE your voice of reason!! :-) Report
Great article. I've taken the plunge and decided to run my first marathon in April. When I first read the article I did feel like I had made maybe the "wrong" choice, but the advice you give actually corresponds with my running history-been running for 5 years I have completed 3 half marathons-I think I am "ready". I doubt I will do more than this one, but I just want to be able to say that at least I tried! Report
Now the trick is patience. I got injured because I wanted to run so badly. I had so much desire and stamina. I didn't do research like this ahead of time. I only ran a few days a week, typically every other day. I did C25K so it wasn't running the whole time. Now I am nursing injuries back to health and it feels like it will never heal. Report
Honestly I think it depends on the individual. I definitely think one can do 5ks and 10ks, maybe 15ks for life, and do other activities as well, and not have the injuries. For me, I could see doing triathlons or doing a rowing race, or a swimming race. Report
Great article, but quite a few people can and do run everyday without injury. Sometimes not running for some of may cause some injury. Depends on bone strength, muscle memory, and things of that nature. Report
Lots of great info here. Thanks a bunch!!! Report
Great article...I am 60 years old and started running at 48.I started out with 5ks,gradually increased to 10ks and have done 3 half marathons spread out over 7 years.I always run only 3 times a week even when training and other than falling and hurting my shoulder have had no injuries.I have tried the barefoot running(took a short course on a winter holiday in Arizona last year)but save my barefoot running shoes for cruise ships because they are easy to pack and the track is more forgiving than my asphalt trails.I run a lot slower than I used to but at this pace I hope to keep running well into my eighties!I walk briskly on off days and take yoga a couple of times a week.I often think I should want to run a marathon but agree that it would not be the best thing for my body plus I am just not prepared to put in the time as I have a new passion...my grandson! Report
Ahhh, you are a voice of reason, Coach Nicole. Your sensible approach is SO refreshing! Report
Thank you for writing this article. There is so much information out there for beginner runners and it can get very confusing. I just completed week 3 of Spark's rookie running program. I'd like to be able to run the 5k for the Trick or Treat Trot virtual race, but if I can't run it all I'll finish it with walking. I'm going to listen to my body. Thanks for the advice! I really appreciate it. Report
Thank you! While I don't want to give the impression that I would use your advice as a reason to not run, my gut feeling is that running is not for me. There is so much pressure out there to run, but it just doesn't feel natural for me. On the other hand, I can walk 5 miles at a fairly quick pace and even more miles at a slower pace. Your blog allows me to give myself credit for that and to find ways to be fit that feel right for me! Report
What i have learned to avoid injury. I learned this after I irritated my IT band for the SECOND time and boy did it hurt!

1) Stay well hydrated. Do not skimp on the fluids.
2) Especially on longer runs, take along nutrition. Stay nourished!! I follow the instructions on the gels closer than I do the ones on the sunblock bottles. I take a gel 15 minutes before I run, then every 45 minutes, I have another. I particularly like to take my own concoction of 1:1 peanut butter & honey. Once I got careful about nourishment, I had fewer problems.

It means I wear a pouch belt with bottles attached, and I don't look so cool, but tough.

I also like to be seen so I wear a reflective vest and two head lamps, the one in back is red. Report
You have such a great, common sense approach to fitness. Thanks for sharing your experience(s) & view points.

Keep up the good work! Report
Great article! I'm very prone to injury and have had some trouble with over-training leading to injury. I hope I've learned my lesson, and am trying to train to run/walk a half marathon in the fall without injury. I know that I can do it. My goal is to get to the starting line without injury - and to the finish line.

One other recommendation I would add to your list is that runners do strength training that targets body parts that play a big role in running. I do exercises for my core, my hip flexors, glutes and legs, including stability exercises for my ankles and knees and stretching/strengthening exercises for my shins. Report
Thank you so much for this. Just because you can doesn't mean its right for you. I trained for a half marathon with an organization to raise money for a wonderful cause and I raised WAY over my amount. YEAHHHH But was worried about training and told my coach before I ever signed up. Needless to say I was pulled from the training 2 weeks prior to race day due to a hip flexor tear. It was 1 degree away from needing surgery. OUCH!! Yes I was in pain and noticed the further I trained the slower I got due to the pain of course. That was in 2006 and I am still not able to walk nearly as far I used to. But getting stronger everyday!! Report
Well, the thing is ANYONE who has joint or knee problems probably shouldn't run, why single out fat people? I run, and I weigh 220 lbs. I haven't had adverse affects but I know people who are normal weight or even skinny, who can't run due to knee problems, or osteoarthritis, or whatever. We get singled out everyday, I'm surprised you would do it here. Are fat people more PRONE to injury? Maybe, but so are older people, people who have never been active, pregnant women, handicapped people and many other groups. Singling out fat people is just rude. I do appreciate the safety and smart tips though. Report
It took guts to state that you do not believe that extremely overweight should run. I just wanted to thank you for explaining your viewpoint and not simply telling us overweight folks that we can't. I especially enjoy that you put that bullet in the listen to your body section. No matter what size you are, if running is causing pain...stop and re-evaluate the situation. Nice post! Report
Great advice!!!! I really enjoyed reading this as I am prepping for a half marathon. I may consider the 10K option since this is my first run. Of course I am not counting the runs I did while in my 20-yr Army career. Thank you and I am making this a fave of mine!! Report
Appreciated your thoughts on the barefoot running as well as acclimating to running. I have been at it since I was 12 and got hooked. I recently got very curious about the barefoot craze, and briefly considered giving it a try. The very wise runner who sold me my shoes in a great running store said the same thing- if you haven't had problems for this long, don't go making changes....if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
I remember over the years so many people told me that I shouldn't run so much...that I'd blow my knees out, etc. I've run a couple of marathons, multiple half-marathons, and tons of 10-K's and various other distance races. I'm more of a tortoise than a hare(9-10 minute pace ), but I just love how running makes me feel.Actually, barring an episode with severe plantar faciitis a couple of years ago (for which I actually got playing tennis, not running!), I have never had any running injuries in 32 years of running! It is my sanity keeper and it has made my body healthy and strong, and I intend to keep doing it as long as I can keep putting one foot in front of the other! Report
This really is great advice. I've been running for about 34 years and have yet to try a marathon, although I've done a few half marathons. I can't imagine running a full marathon without several months of training. I know some people do this but it is truly an invitation for an injury. In addition to utilizing a training plan that lasts several months, a person should have a couple of years of regular running under his or her belt before attempting a marathon. A solid base is very helpful. Report
I've never had a running injury either. We have some things in common...I too built up my running very slowly, interspersing it with a variety of other types of exercise. However, two things are different about us: one, I don't race. I did a handful of 5Ks and 10Ks when I first started getting super enthusiastic about running a few years ago, but they made me so nervous and stressed that I stopped. I now run whenever I want, for however long I want, and at any speed that feels right - absolutely no pressure, and I LOVE it! And two, after I read _Born to Run_ I didn't go out and buy Vibrams, but I also haven't been replacing my worn-out sneakers either. I have been running in the same shoes now for a long time (maybe a year?? I can't honestly remember) and they definitely have that worn-out look, but both for financial reasons and due to some ideas from McDougall's book that suggest that worn-out shoes might actually be BETTER for running (okay, and also laziness) I haven't bought new ones! Report
I've always secretly wanted to be a "runner". who knows....maybe I really CAN do it?!
I particularly agree with your comments about building a solid base of running before moving to longer distance events. I'm always shocked at 1/2 and full marathons when people talk about their preparation - many are woefully under-trained.

Minimalist shoes do work well for many people - I resolved a long-standing issue with ankle and knee tendons by using minimalist shoes to change my stride. The key there is to switch over very slowly - again, the 'don't jump into it too fast' process. It took me 3 months to work up to 3 miles in the minimalist shoes, but the results were great.

For older runners especially I'd endorse "the rule of two"... no more than two days of running in a row - and no more than two days off in a row either! Works very well. Report
Very great article, I love this. It's inspirational to every body like myself. I love to share this to my friends on facebook. Very informative article. Report