Marathon maintenance: How to prevent running injuries

Heat stroke isn't the only thing that can take down a runner. How about an injury that could have been prevented? Experts explain how to stay healthy while training.
NYC Running
(Photo: AP)

This time of year, heat stroke isn’t the only thing that can take down a runner. How about an injury that could have been prevented?

With the New York City Marathon training season in full swing, runners focused on hitting their 26.2 miles in record time might forget the role injury prevention plays in getting to starting line, let alone the finish, says Dr. Mark Klion, a NYC orthopedic surgeon (and triathlete).

Dr. Klion, who specializes in sports medicine, says that this time of year his practice sees a huge increase in patients with running injuries.

The most common? Those caused by muscle overuse, such as IT (Illiotibilal) Band Syndrome, Patellofemoral Syndrome (runner’s knee), stress fractures, and Plantar Fascitis. And first-time marathoners tend to be the most susceptible.

“Even going from 2 to 5 miles is a deviation away from what the body is used to,” says Dr. Klion. “Runners with years of training are able to withstand fluctuations better than a first-time athlete.”

Matt McCulloch
Matt McCulloch (Photo: Lululemon)

That doesn’t mean first-timers need to worry. You should just put some injury prevention into your training program.

Take a lead from Matt McCulloch, master Pilates instructor and co-founder of Kinected, who, inspired by his own knee injury that resulted in surgeries, specializes in helping others avoid his same fate.

Here are McCulloch’s three key tips for steering clear of running injuries:

1. Focus on the core. McCulloch says that it’s hard for runners to engage their abs while running, but a strong core—plus low back and hips—is key to keeping the rest of your body in balance. “The lumbopelvic region stabilizes everything,” he says. “If it’s strong, then you have a better shot at injury prevention.” Tip: Try incorporating some pre- or post-run planks into your routine.

2. Don’t ignore the treadmill. When the weather gets warm, New Yorkers abandon the gym for the pavement, but that’s not always the best strategy. Running on city streets “is almost a full contact sport,” says McCulloch. If you occasionally switch to the controlled environment of the treadmill, you can focus on technique, address interval pacing better, simulate inclines, and correct postural problems by watching yourself in the mirror.

3. Bone up on lower-body strength and flexibility. Weak or tight muscles from your core down to the soles of your feet can contribute to all of the most common running injuries. To improve strength, try simple leg lifts or balance with one leg raised, the knee slightly bent. For flexibility, loosen your quads and your IT band with a foam roller. Give your feet some love by rolling a golf ball under the arch (for flexibility) or strengthen the ankle joint by alternately flexing and pointing while holding a resistance band around the bottom of the foot. —Lisa Elaine Held

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