The past decade has seen an explosive rate of people take up running, many for health and fitness goals. A large proportion of new runners will join the sport with the hope to complete a race. I think it’s a huge accomplishment to run any race no matter what distance it is and what your background is.
I believe there is a connection with the massive spike in injuries and the rate at which people initially get into the sport and race for the first time. This happened to me. I went from being a lazy artist to running a half marathon in a matter of months. The body can’t adapt that quickly to changes in fitness and the products we wear on our feet. No wonder we get injured. No wonder why I got injured trying to train for a marathon. My body wasn’t ready, and the shoes I wore were wrong for my feet.
The body is a remarkable machine and can adapt to anything if you give it the support and time. Humans naturally developed the ability to run so they could hunt, but with the rise of modern technology, that natural ability was lost in the western world. That is until it became familiar again as a sport and hobby (jogging).
The problems arise when you get someone who’s never grown up running and lace them up with a pair of shoes. Born to Run is a great book and I would recommend anyone to give it a read. The book goes into more depth surrounding our running origins and the influence of running shoes versus barefoot running. Barefoot running isn’t something any of us can naturally do anymore as our feet have adapted to wearing shoes. I wouldn’t advise anyone to try and run a long distance event for the first time in a pair of barefoot shoes or barefoot altogether!
I noticed when I started to run that it was my shoes that were wrong for my feet and they began giving me shin splints. I gave it some time and tried various kinds of shoes with different support for my collapsing arch. Eventually, I found the right fit. I have gradually strengthened my feet and changed my shoes over the years to adapt to a more neutral shoe. I wouldn’t go with a barefoot approach, but I have been able to reduce the amount of support I need in a shoe and go more minimal. The second problem, combined with running shoes, is the prolonged time we spend pounding on pavement. The very linear and repetitive movement when running on a hard surface can have a serious toll on our joints and bones that can lead to injury from over usage. The heavyweight of our body is slamming down on our joints with no real give compared to a naturally cushioned surface. I’ve found that the longer I go on the pavement, I require more cushion in a shoe and need to replace them more often. Trails have the benefit of being softer and uneven that forces us to move in more than just the forward direction. I would also say that trail running doesn’t require the same foot support as road running since each foot impact is different.
Our cadence and foot strike are two factors that contribute to injury and something you should try to develop. You should try to land in the mid or forefoot directly below your body. The way to change this is by shifting your weight and centre of mass, so you are standing tall with a slight forward bend. By lifting your knees higher and your feet angled down you will help to land in the correct way. Increasing your cadence and reducing your stride length will improve this foot strike too. You should try not to overreach with your foot as this tends to lead to a heel strike that is the equivalent of a stopping force and has a lot of impact on your knees.
I would recommend having a professional analysis performed if you are looking for new shoes or a better understanding of your biomechanics. Take the time to have your running assessed so a professional can see how your feet land and advise you on the correct style of shoe and if any changes to your body position are needed. You can then be more specific on the shoe choice rather than going for the one that looks nice! You could also invest in a supportive insole, such as Superfeet, which can improve your balance and feel on the ground.
It’s so important to keep an open mind when looking for the right shoe as the way your feet land can have a domino effect on the rest of your leg, which can lead to shin splints, IT band issues, and knee problems.
From my own experience, choosing a supported shoe is only a short-term solution and it is best to gradually increase your foot strength and arch with various exercises. This then allows you to run in a neutral shoe. I have found that continuously changing my shoe type can also help adapt and strengthen your feet. I have roughly eight shoes that I mix up and choose from depending on the conditions and trail type that I will be running on.
I would say a lot of my own injury prevention has come from adding strength training into my regime that works on a lot of leg and muscular support around joints.
Another thing to consider is choosing trails for longer running to remove the repetitive pounding on hard surfaces.