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Safety and Injury Prevention for Runners
Running is an excellent way to stay fit, relieve stress, and spend time outdoors. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned strider, these guidelines will help keep you safe and healthy for many miles to come.
The majority of running injuries occur from training too much, overuse, and improper stretching. These tips can help you to avoid injuries:
- Warm up with a jog before starting your run.
- Alternate hard days and easy days, and plan 1-2 days per week for rest or cross training.
- Do not add miles too fast. Experts recommend increasing your total weekly mileage by no more than 10% per week.
- Ease into speed workouts by throwing a few short distance surges or uphill sprints into your normal runs. Once this becomes routine, slowly progress to track workouts.
- Replace your running shoes every 300-400 miles. Over time, your shoes lose their ability to absorb shock.
- Try running on different, softer surfaces for some of your runs.
Should you stretch before running? This is actually a controversial issue. Some fitness experts do recommend stretching, while others say that the evidence is not there to support the idea that stretching reduces injury. If you are interested in stretching, make sure that you learn the proper form for each stretch. A fitness trainer can teach you how to stretch your muscles.
Regardless of the temperature, you need to replace fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Drink early and drink often—a few ounces every 15-20 minutes. By the time you feel thirsty, you are already on the way to dehydration.
- For workouts lasting 60 minutes or less, plain water is all you need. For longer workouts, add a sports drink, which provides fluid as well as some carbohydrates and electrolytes.
Prepare yourself for various obstacles out on the streets:
- Wear light, bright-colored, and/or reflective clothing.
- Run against the direction of traffic.
- If you run in the city, pay close attention to streetlights, pedestrians, and traffic. Many drivers do not expect runners to be in the city and may not be looking out for you.
- Do not run with headphones. It prevents you from hearing approaching people or cars.
- Always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back.
- Carry some kind of identification or write your name and phone number on your running shoes. If you have a health condition, wear a medical alert bracelet or ID tag with pertinent information.
Do Not Be an Easy Target
Many people enjoy the solitude of running. If you are one of them, take a few extra safety precautions:
- Be aware of your surroundings and stay in an area that you're familiar with.
- Do not run in secluded areas.
- Use discretion in acknowledging strangers. Look directly at others and be observant, but keep your distance and keep moving.
- Vary your runs, both time and route.
- Find a buddy to run with—a friend, a dog, or a running club.
- Carry a whistle or shrill alarm to call for help, if needed.
- Do not run too close to bushes or parked cars where someone could hide.
- Do not wear jewelry.
- Be careful if anyone in a car asks you for directions. If you answer, keep at least a full arm's length from the car.
- If you think you are being followed, change direction and head for open stores, groups of people, or a lighted house.
Dress Appropriately for the Temperature
Don't let weather keep you from an outdoor run. Just be sure you're prepared to face the elements.
In cold weather :
- Dress in layers. The innermost should be a wicking fabric, such as polypropylene, and the outer layer should be of wind-resistant and breathable material, such as Gore-Tex.
- Avoid overdressing. It is better to feel a bit underdressed and chilly as you start out. As you run, your body temperature will rise.
- Wear a hat and gloves. You can take them off as you heat up and pull them back on when needed. The best material for your hat is wool or synthetic material.
- Wear absorbent socks, such as polypropylene or acrylic.
- Consider wearing traction cleats when running on icy surfaces.
- When running on wet or icy surfaces, shorten your stride and run slower than usual. If you have the choice of running on snow or ice, choose snow because it offers better traction and is softer.
- On windy days, run out against the wind and return with the wind at your back. This will lessen the chilling effect of the wind on your body after you have perspired, and make the return trip easier.
In hot weather:
- Try to miss the hottest times of the day by running early in the morning or late in the evening.
- Wear sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
- Wear lightweight clothing.
- Stay hydrated before, during, and after your runs.
Stay Safe When Traveling, Too
The beauty of running is that you can do it anywhere. When you are traveling, follow these guidelines:
- Ask the hotel staff or concierge for safe routes to run.
- Check out your course on a map before you start and bring the map along with you. You may also want to consider doing a simple out-and-back route.
- Remember the street address of the hotel. Carry a card with your hotel address along with your personal ID.
- Leave your room key with the front desk.
- Follow your usual safety rules.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Road Runners Club of America
Running Room Online
Cold weather running tips. Road Runners Club of America website. Available at: http://www.rrca.org/education-advocacy/cold-weather-running-tips. Accessed March 25, 2015.
Hot weather running tips. Road Runners Club of America website. Available at: http://www.rrca.org/education-advocacy/hot-weather-running-tips. Accessed March 25, 2015.
How much fluid should I drink during endurance events? Association of International Marathons and Distance Races website. Available at: http://aimsworldrunning.org/guidelines%5Ffluid%5Freplacement.htm. Published May 6, 2006. Accessed March 25, 2015.
Pereles D. Stretching before a run does not prevent injury. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.aaos-annualmeeting-presskit.org/2011/clinicalpressreleases/Stretching%5FBefore.html. Published February 17, 2011. Accessed March 25, 2015.
RRCA general running safety tips. Road Runners Club of America website. Available at: http://www.rrca.org/education-advocacy/rrca-general-running-safety-tips. Accessed March 25, 2015.
Running injury prevention. McKinley Health Center website. Available at: http://www.mckinley.illinois.edu/handouts/running%5Finjury%5Fprevent/running%5Finjury%5Fprevent.html. Accessed March 25, 2015.
Running shoe life. Net Wellness website. Available at: http://www.netwellness.uc.edu/healthtopics/healthyweight/Runningshoelife.cfm. Updated July 23, 2014. Accessed March 25, 2015.
Selecting and effectively using sports drinks, carbohydrate gels, and energy bars. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/selecting-and-effectively-using-sports-drinks-carbohydrate-gels-and-energy-bars.pdf. Published 2011. Accessed March 25, 2015.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media-resources/stats-and-facts/prevention-and-care/sunscreens. Accessed March 25, 2015.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 03/2015
- Update Date: 03/25/2015