Over the years, I’ve learned valuable running lessons by making mistakes and knowing to do things differently the next time. Here are some rules to keep in mind to avoid potentially painful consequences and make you spend more time on the roads and less time in rehab.

Increase Your kilometers Gradually

Overuse injuries are the result of running too often, too fast and too soon. Your body needs time to adapt to the higher training loads. If you rush that process, you break down rather than excel.

The common rule of thumb is to increase your weekly kilometers by a maximum of 10% every week. So if you run 10 kilometers the first week, run 11 kilometers the second week and so on.

If you are new to running or been away for a long time, don’t increase your kilometers every week. Keep it the same for 3-4 weeks at a time to allow your body to adjust. When you’re comfortable you can add more.

Once your body is comfortable in your favoured kilometer, it is very easy to keep it up week after week with a minimized risk.

Another key to building base kilometers safely is to give your body a “down week.” In the same way that you shouldn’t run hard every day, you shouldn’t try to up your kilometers every week. A good strategy is to increase kilometers for three weeks, and then go back to your former length for a week and allow the body to feel your improvement.

Developing and maintaining consistency in your running is really important. Any type of change on the body—including kilometers—causes stress on your body. That is why most injuries happen during the buildup phases.

Once your body is comfortable in your favoured kilometers it is very easy to keep it up week after week with a minimized risk.

Always listen to your body

We all have an inbuilt warning system. The signals are there, but we tend to ignore them a lot. If you have a cold, are in pain or just need to rest – listen to your body, it’s not laziness, it is injury prevention. One day missed will not make any significant difference to your running, but using the override switch to often you’ll risk to be away for weeks. 

Most running related injuries are the result of overuse. Other factors like improper fitting running shoes can make the injuries worse. By paying attention to your body and adding a few simple rules into your training routine, you can avoid the overuse injuries.

Your brain has an intricate system to signal your body when to run, when to stop, when to rest and when to recover. Learn to differentiate the signals. If you have a gut feeling that today is not the day for that long run, -listen to your gut! Signs of an overuse injury often start as a whisper. Tune in on your body and muscles and ask yourself: “How does my body feel, today? If you start to feel a niggling pain, take a step back and assess where it could be coming from and adjust your plan.

Never miss a rest day

Never feel guilty having rest days. These are a vital part of your training schedule and just as important as your mid-week tempo run or long, slow Sunday run. Your muscles need time to recover, time to re-build and strengthen for your next run.

As much as the focus on your kilometers and speed, what you do outside running is equally important to becoming stronger and more resilient in the future.

Do something else

Cross training can be as important as running itself. It allows for better overall fitness and prevent injury by exercising muscles that are neglected during your regular running routine. By using your muscles in other ways than running, you strengthen your muscles and smooth out imbalances. Some alternatives that you can introduce to your training program are:

  •   Hiking- can help improve your cardio fitness and muscle strength.
  •   Swimming- engages your core and helps work your upper body, all while giving your joints a rest.
  •   walking- uses the same muscle groups as running, but a lower intensity that will help in active recovery.
  •   Elliptical- using the elliptical is a great option for low impact aerobic activity that engages both the upper and lower body.
  •   Cycling- is a great way to give your wight muscles an aerobic workout without the impact that comes with running.

Win the long run

My final tip. It is the most important one because it encompasses everything else I’ve mentioned. The goal of your run shouldn’t be to just survive it. Your goal should be to get fit enough to feel strong even when you’re done -and excited to take on the next challenge. 

By having the mindset of winning the long game, you’ll change the way you look at your training. You will see that it is far better to have a balanced, holistic training plan and develop a healthy versatile body than just force yourself to run a certain number of kilometers each week.

If you push yourself too hard, not only will you end up injured and sore, you’ll set yourself back and have more issues in the long term. So, listen to your body and train smart. Give yourself time to adapt, adjust and get strong enough to handle any physical challenge that comes your way!

Good Luck!