Prevent running injuries from sidelining your training with these tips from a physical therapist.

Beware These Common Running Mistakes

As a physical therapist, Brian Soo says there are certain mistakes he sees people make over and over when training for a big event.

Pushing Yourself Too Hard When You Start Training

People will often injure themselves when they begin to train for a race, says Soo. “They might feel great for the first few weeks after they start running, get excited, and then push too hard. The next thing you know, they experience pain in their hips, knees, or back.” How to avoid that scenario? Be aware that it takes a long time to increase your endurance; your bones and other structures need to get stronger and that happens slowly. Stick with three-mile runs until that feels relatively easy before bumping up to five miles. Get comfortable with five before going to seven, and so on. Don’t jump from five to ten, like I’ve seen many people do. It may be easier for you to train by keeping track of how much time you run. Start with 20 minutes and don’t go to 30 until that’s consistently easy.

Running Too Slowly

Gait is really important when you’re running, and surprisingly it’s harder to have the correct gait at slow speeds than when you’re going faster. Remember jogging? People pounding down the sidewalk in slow motion? That’s the opposite of what you want to do. Run at a pace that’s comfortable for you in terms of breathing and heart rate, but that’s not so slow that you’re coming down hard. If you find yourself shying away from pavement and preferring to run on a track or treadmill, the problem may be your gait, not the surface. It’s basic physics. Even though the track is softer, your gait has a bigger effect. The more you push into the ground, the more it pushes back. And you’re going to be on pavement when you run the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon.

Only Stretching Before a Run

Most people don’t realize it’s bad for you to do one big set of stretches. You can stretch and feel great, but then the next day you’re sore and even tighter. Instead, try stretching for a few minutes at a time throughout the entire day. Also, everyone’s different when it comes to muscle tightness. If you have one area that’s really tight, like your hamstrings or hips, stretch that area little by little starting first thing in the morning and ending with it the last thing at night.

Starting Up Too Intensively after a Break

When you return to training after a break, you feel as if you should be at the same level you were before. It’s easy to be discouraged when you realize you’re not, but it better to take it easy than to push yourself too hard. If you drop back a bit and build your endurance for a few runs you’ll be back to where you left off. This is timely now for those who may skip running because of holiday travel, a busy schedule, or illness. Just be patient with yourself and don’t overdo it when you get back on schedule.

Brian Soo is a senior physical therapist at the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center who works inpatient, outpatient, and in sports medicine.  A recreational runner for many years, Brian also bicycles, plays racquetball, and most importantly, paddles on a 20-person Dragon Boat team that competes internationally and practices three times a week. He also enjoys active video games and believes they can be an excellent complement to an overall fitness regime.