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Ten ways to avoid running injuries

A runner wears New Balance kit

Official kit by New Balance

Check out the official TCS London Marathon clothing and footwear range from our partner New Balance – it's ideal for both your training runs and the big event itself.

6. Stay strong

The one non-running activity that should be in every runner’s programme is strength training. I’m not talking about lugging heavy weights around the gym, but simple body-weight exercises to build strength and resilience in your muscles and joints and improve core stability – see our top five stretches for runners for a good place to start.

Strength training adds balance to your programme and can help offset the potential damage of the repetitive, one-directional and high-impact nature of distance running. Class-based activities like Pilates, circuit training and Body Pump also fit the bill.

7. Warm up and cool down

Numerous studies have shown that a warm-up reduces the risk of muscle tears and joint injuries – imagine what would happen if you put an elastic band in the freezer and then tried to stretch it. Well, muscles are the same – they move better when they’re warm and pliable.

To warm up effectively, precede each run with a very easy jog or brisk walk, incorporating some gentle moves – such as bringing your knees to your chest, or heels to your bottom, rolling your shoulders, rising up onto your toes – to mobilise your joints. Continue for a few minutes, gradually extending your range of motion and adding some running-specific movements.

Do not stop to stretch before you run – save your stretching regime for afterwards. This helps muscles return to their ‘resting’ length, maintaining range of motion and flexibility. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds at the point where it feels mildly uncomfortable (rather than painful) and aim to breathe freely.

8. Run off-road

Just as variety is essential when it comes to types of training, it’s also important in terms of where you run. On a flat, asphalt road, impact forces are channelled through exactly the same muscles, bones and joints with every step.

Conversely, on a trail there are varying levels of unevenness, gradient and a mix of softer and firmer areas. Every footstrike is subtly different from the last.

Given that many marathons take place on the road, you should log some miles on asphalt, but I recommend running ‘off-road’ at least half the time. That doesn’t have to mean a trip to the countryside – even running on a playing field or gravel path will offer variety. You can also add the treadmill and the athletics track to your terrain ‘menu’.

9. Find the right running shoes

There are more shoe brands and models around than ever before, which can make it tricky to find the right pair for you. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer, so the key is to visit a specialist store with a wide range and try lots of different pairs.

A University of Calgary study saw runners rate shoes from most to least comfortable, then assessed their performance on a treadmill – perhaps unsurprisingly the runners fared best in the shoes they’d ranked most comfortable.

But bear in mind no single shoe is likely to meet all your needs. Having two or more pairs on the go at a time is a good way to vary the stresses of footstrike. You could have a pair for off-road and one for road, or one for heavy mileage and a lightweight pair for speedwork and shorter races, for example.

10. Listen to your body

I can’t promise you’ll never feel sore or achy during marathon training. The key is distinguishing good pain, which shows you worked hard (and successfully overloaded your body), with bad pain, which shows you did something too hard, for too long, or did it badly. That’s why it is so important to listen to your body.

If you have pain that causes a change in your running technique, lingers more than a day or two, or goes away between runs but comes back every time you run, or immediately after, you need to take a couple of days off running (maintain pain-free cross-training). Keep the sore area gently mobile and use ice to help reduce any inflammation.

If there’s no improvement, consult your doctor or, ideally, a sports injuries specialist, such as a physiotherapist or osteopath, for diagnosis and advice. The sooner you know what you’re dealing with, the sooner you can take the necessary steps to heal your injury, prevent it coming back and speed up your return to training.

Sam Murphy has written several books on running and fitness, including Marathon and Half Marathon: From Start to Finish. You can also follow Sam on Twitter: @SamMurphyRuns