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SHOES, STRETCHES, SENSIBLE PACE CAN HELP RUNNERS AVOID INJURY

SHARE SHOES, STRETCHES, SENSIBLE PACE CAN HELP RUNNERS AVOID INJURY

Question: I have a history of getting some type of injury when I begin to increase my running distance. Are there some guidelines that could help me alleviate this problem? I enjoy your column.

Answer: Last fall, Runner's World magazine asked five of the best "sports physicians" to discuss how avid exercisers can avoid injury. I will summarize their answers below:

1. Running shoes. They all had a comment about shoes. The most common advice: Invest in a good pair of shoes and replace them on a regular basis - about every 300 miles or so. One doctor said to check the midsoles for deterioration. During their final days, midsoles begin to crinkle - a sign the material is breaking down and is less able to cushion your foot properly.

2. Stretching. Most of the doctors mentioned staying flexible. One advised a stretching program for the entire body, not just the hamstrings. Make sure you stretch the quads (muscles on the front of the thigh), Achilles tendon (that attaches to the heel), hamstrings (on the back of the leg), and the lower back (do this by lying on your back and pulling the legs to your body). Stretches should be short (about 20 seconds each) and painless. Do them before you run to loosen your muscles and afterward to relieve muscle tension.

3. Running surfaces and hills. Run no more than 2 miles at a time the first time you try a new running surface, whether it is a path or pavement. If you begin training on hills, begin carefully and progress slowly. Progressing from flat to very hilly terrain overnight may cause excessive stress on the knee. Don't spend more than about 5 minutes running on hills during your first workout, and add only a minute or so of uphill running with each successive workout. Be careful running down hills, too. Stay relaxed and practice running with a gentle bounce rather than stiff jolts.

4. Train sensibly. If you increase your weekly mileage, do it gradually. Cross-train to relieve the stress of running and to prevent overtraining. The pounding and hard knocks you take while running can be countered with cycling, swimming and cross-country skiing. These activities can alleviate the tired, burned-out feeling you get when you put in lots of mileage. Plan three cross-training sessions of moderate duration each week to complement your running.

Other advice included warming up and cooling down before and after each workout; resting, by taking a day off after a particularly hard run to avoid overtraining; consulting a physician quickly when you first notice an injury (rather than running for three or four weeks in pain); and listening to your body so that you don't work out hard when your body says to take it easy.

Don't run when you hurt. Pain is nature's way of telling you to back off and you may need to cut back or stop if you experience pain when running.