Road Runners Club of America

Growing the Sport of Running Since 1958

Managing Aches & Pains

Train, don’t strain

You do not have to work “all out” to benefit from running. In fact, doing may bring your running to a quick end. Getting in shape is not effortless, but it shouldn’t be exhausting either. Here’s how you can train, not strain:

  • Take the “talk test”. Runners should be able to talk (but not sing or whistle) while running at training pace. When running faster, such as during a race or a speed session, talking should be an effort but you should not totally winded.
  • Walk when needed. Many beginners feel that walking is “giving up”. Not so! Remind them that the key is to keep moving, even if you walk 90% of the time at first. Consistency is much, much more important than intensity.
  • Take water breaks. Especially in the summer, but all year long, it’s vital to stay hydrated before, during and after running workouts.
  • Take a day off when needed. Beginners should NOT run every day. Every other day (three or four runs a week) is plenty. A day off gives muscles a chance to rest, and encourages runners to try other activities to keep their program varied and interesting.
  • Don’t give up.


Avoiding Aches and Pains

When you first start running you may experience some soreness caused by activity of previously underused muscles. Do not worry about this initial soreness; It should not stick around too long. You should expect a little soreness after your first run, which may be worse on the second day post-run than it was on the first. This second-day soreness is referred to as DOMS or Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness. Do not let that discourage you or keep you from running. Even after you have been running for a while you might have some soreness from running a different route or distance than usual. Muscle soreness is a good thing; pain is not. So how do you know the difference?

Soreness is good pain. It is the feeling of satisfaction after a good run or workout. It is not that feel of crunching joints or sharp pains. If a pain persists or worsens after a few days it might be time to ask yourself a few important questions:

  • Am I trying to go too fast or too far too soon?
  • Have I been running on any unusual or hard surfaces lately (e.g.: concrete sidewalks, slanted sides of roadways, unaccustomed hills or rough uneven paths)?
  • Have I been stretching before and after I run?
  • In what condition are my shoes? Remember that it is important to replace your shoes every 300-500 miles because your shoes will break down. (A good way to keep track of when you need new shoes is to write the date you started wearing them on a mileage log or on the shoes in permanent ink.)
  • Have I been careful to give myself an easy day or two after a hard effort?
  • Have I done anything differently lately?
  • Have I run in a new brand of running shoes?
  • Did I pick up a new sport recently?
  • Have I been under a lot of stress?

If you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions then you should first think about trying to fix the issue yourself.  Be sure you are following the recommendations below to help your body recover from activity.

  • Rehydrate - replenish lost fluids from your run. Weigh before you run and drink enough water to return to same weight pre-run.  If you are running under 60-minutes, you DO NOT need a sugar and salty energy replacement drink.  Water is better for rehydrating if you are exercising 60 minutes or less.
  • Refuel - consume high energy foods such as fruits to restore muscle glycogen within 30 - 60 minutes post run.
  • Relax - post run is the time to relax muscles with gentle stretching and massaging.
  • Refresh - soak feet and legs in cool water after your run.
  • Reward - spend some quiet time off of your feet after running, but avoid consuming excess alcohol. A short walk later in the day promotes circulation and recovery.

There are certain health issues that are common to many runners, including new runners. Some may result from going too far too fast and others can come from underlying problems in running form. Either way, it is important to pay attention to your body and make sure you are not overdoing it.  If you don’t feel better after a week or so you might want to consult a medical professional to seek advice or treatment. Remember, it is important not to try and self-diagnose as this may lead to additional injuries and the need for prolonged time off from running and other activities.  Some common runners’ issues are:

Shin splints

A pain in the front lower part of the leg that seems to originate from the shin. Shin splints will often go away with time as you build up your running, but it is important to pay attention to them and make sure to stretch properly and run on softer surfaces if possible. Shin splints can sometimes lead to stress fractures if they persist through overuse.

Stress fractures

These are slight fractures in the bone that are often cause by overuse, imbalance or a nutrient deficiency. Stress fractures should and can not be ignored. Although there is not much that can be done to improve a stress fracture beyond taking time off to let it heal, it is important to take note of the fact that if you continue to run on a stress fracture you will exacerbate the situation and cause a full fracture. It is better to take a little time off to heal if you have a stress fracture or your doctor thinks one is forming than to wait until you have a total fracture that requires months off from running.

Illiotibial Band Syndrome (IT Band)

this usually is a pain that usually manifests itself in the hip or the side of the knee. It is an overuse injury that is often seen in marathon runners, but it can be caused by a number of things including the surface on which you run. The IT Band runs along the side of the upper leg to the knee and can become inflamed and rub against the bone causing a painful fluid build-up.

Plantar Fasciitis

pain in the arch caused by too tight of a calf muscle or movement unusual to the foot. It can be exacerbated by wearing of shoes without proper arch support. Although it begins in the arch, the pain may travel up the inside of the foot to the ankle.

Blisters

these are caused by a rubbing of the skin on a surface, which usually occurs due to friction and/or dampness. The rubbing can cause a bubble of fluid to build up. Although the fluid will drain when the blister is “popped,” the raw skin area can still cause discomfort. Blisters usually occur on a runner’s feet.

Chaffing

this is caused by the continuous rubbing together of two surfaces, usually skin such as that of the inner thighs. Chaffing results in creation of a raw, red area of skin that may resemble rugburn or a rash. The effects of chaffing will usually go away within a few days, but there will be initial discomfort before the skin heals.

Muscle tightness and pulls

these can originate from either a lack of stretching or overuse. Make sure to incorporate stretching, a warm-up and a cool-down into all of your runs and workouts. These important components will improve recovery time and efficiency.

Dehydration

this issue is caused by not drinking enough fluid and/or water. It is important to remember to not only drink water while running, but also to drink before and after you run as well as throughout the day. Failing to hydrate properly can lead to a host of other problems, including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue and even kidney problems. Remember that being thirsty is a sign that you should have been drinking already.

Increased hunger

although not a problem, it is important, especially for new runners, to realize that just as with any other increase in physical activity, running will most likely increase your hunger. You need to be smart about the hunger increase or you might end up gaining unexpected weight because of overindulgence in sweets or other calorie-dense foods. Instead of giving into your sweet tooth to silence this unexpected hunger you should try to go for healthier nutrient-dense foods, including fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Just make sure to pay attention to when you are actually hungry so you don’t overeat.

There is a great deal of information available on treating these common runner related issues. Consult with your physician if you experience any of the above symptoms​.

Energy Balance

Nutrition plays an important role in running. If you do not pay attention to what and how much you are eating you might end up with some unwanted fatigue or even some extra weight. Food is a source of fuel for the body, but too much fuel and too little use of it can be bad for the body. That’s where the energy balance equation comes in. The energy balance equation says that energy balance = energy in - energy out. The “energy in” is all the food that you eat. The “energy out” is all the energy (or calories) used up during the day from any form of activity and functions of living, not just exercise. If you take in more energy than you use or put out then you will have extra energy leftover (which can turn to unwanted weight). If you put out more energy than you take in then you will lose weight. However, if you maintain that balance between in and out then your weight will stay about the same.

In addition to eating well, you need to make sure you are always hydrated. You don’t necessarily need to drink sports drinks with electrolyte replacement, but you need to make sure you take in enough water or other type of fluid that will maintain hydration. Staying hydrated actually helps your body function and helps make sure that your body is able to perform all the necessary functions it needs to keep working as a well-oiled machine.

One great resource for helpful nutritional information is the USDA. You can find facts and suggestions, including Food Pyramid and food log information on its website.

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