We’ve all heard it:

75% of runners get injured each year.

Let’s think about that … 3 out of 4 runners get injured each year.

It’s an incredible statistic. Blows me away every time I really think about it.

That means more people get injured running than they do playing football, rugby, and even hockey. Now it’s important to note that a shin splint is a lot less life threatening than a concussion, but even the smallest running injury can bust up the best training cycles.

A devastating reality to 3/4s of our community.

Injuries have become so common that they’re written off as just a part of being a runner.

Crazy, right?

Can you imagine if a home builder said there was no need to worry about fire prevention because fires are just a part of living in a home?

Or if your doctor said to eat whatever you want, because disease and heart problems are just a part of life?

You’d throw your arms up in the air in outrage.

But that’s what we’re told all the time:

Injuries are just another hurtle in your training, and you can deal with them when they arrive. Exactly why the shoe and running industry makes a boat load of money off products that help you recover from injuries, instead of helping you prevent them.

Because injuries have become such a problem for runners — I know, because it was one of your biggest frustrations in a recent survey –I’ve decided to dedicate an entire week at Rock Creek Runner to injury prevention. And we’re going to kick things off by tackling the biggest injury myth of them all.

You’ve Been Lied to This Whole Time

Well, I hate to break it to you, but you’ve been lied to this whole time. Bamboozled, in fact.

Injuries aren’t just another part of being a runner. That’s a myth.

A myth reinforced by every out of shape non-runner who yells things like, “You won’t be doing that at my age!” or “You wouldn’t do that if you knew what’s good for you!” as you fly past them down the trail.

Let me explain:

While it’s true that running injuries are caused by running, it’s not true that running inherently causes injuries.

In other words, you can be a runner and go years, decades, maybe even your entire running life, without getting injured. You just have to be smart about your training. I call it smart running.

“Smart running” is a pretty vague term, I know. It gets thrown around a lot with no further explanation. But when it comes to smart running and injury prevention, the principles are simple.

The Conversation That Changed Everything

You can run injury free without doing much work. Just writing that makes me feel like a cheesy internet sales person.

Don’t worry, no internet tricks or unattainable guarantees here. Just what’s worked for me, and what’s working for others.

My last running injury was in 2010, while training for my second marathon. It was a classic case of runner’s knee, caused by my own stupidity.

After months of no running at all, I tried to jump back into an intermediate training plan. I pushed too hard, too fast, without any concern of injury. Sure enough, the injury came and I was sidelined for a few weeks.

Which put me behind schedule only 1/3rd of the way into my training.

It was because of that experience that I had a conversation with an old runner roommate, where he said something I’ll never forget:

“You can’t just push the body out of nowhere, and expect it to be happy. You have to prepare the entire body, and keep taking care of it throughout your entire training.”

It makes perfect sense. You wouldn’t take a rundown car on a cross-country road trip without fixing it up first, would you? And once out on the road, you’d make sure to maintain it properly, right?

The same goes for us runners.

How I’ve Stayed Injury Free for the past 5 Years

Because of that conversation, I started taking care of myself as a runner. I keep up with oil changes, and repair things before they become an issue, if you will.

And over the past 5 years, I’ve remained running injury free, even after a 442 day run streak, 13 ultramarathons, multiple marathons and shorter distance races, and countless miles.

And I credit that all to 4 “smart running” principles:

1) Consistency

Let’s start with the one that people struggle with the most, but is almost certainly the most important area of injury prevention: Consistency.

Sporadic, inconsistent running over stresses your body, and never allows for proper building or recovery of muscles. It was the main cause of my last running injury, and can probably be linked to most of yours.

Before you jump into a training plan, begin building a consistent running routine to jumpstart the habit and build up your base. Depending on your personal running history, that process may be quick, or prove to take awhile. Be patient with yourself and your training to avoid jumping in over your head.

2) Trail Running

It may come as a surprise to non-trail runners, but you’re actually less likely to get injured from trail running than road running. Of course I’m talking about running injuries, and not tripping over a rock, but even if you included those, I bet that trail running would still win out.

Running injuries are caused by repetitive strain. The repetitive act of each stride stresses a small set of muscles over and over. If those muscles are weak or overused, it will cause an injury. Or, if the weak muscles around the heavily used muscles are over worked because say, you change to a new shoe, or run a particularly hilly route when you’re not used to it, those muscles will get injured.

Trail running introduces variety into the repetitiveness.

The uneven terrain, constant changes in elevation, softer surface, and slightly reduced pace mean each stride is different, reducing injury-causing repetition. And on top of that, runners automatically become more aware of running form on the trail, in an effort to avoid obstacles.

Even for road runners, introducing trail miles into your routine can significantly reduce the risk of injury.

3) Variety

In some ways this one is similar to trail running, but here I’m talking about variety in my actual workouts.

Runners often only have one gear, and they run all their workouts in that same gear. The key to well-balanced training is variety in your runs and workouts.

Speed work, easy runs, long runs, tempo runs, they all play an integral part in smart running. As does cross-training.

Just like consistency, this can take discipline. It’s tough to run easy if you feel like running hard, and most people rarely want to do serious speed work.

But they’re all important.

4) Drills, Exercises, and the Infamous Strength Running Sandwich

The fourth and final ingredient that works for me has nothing to do with my actual runs. It’s what I do around my runs.

My buddy Jason over at Strength Running calls it the sandwich. And who doesn’t love a good sandwich?

In this case, it’s a proper dynamic warm-up before the run, and a short core strength workout and recovery drill after. Like 2 slices of homemade bread for your delicious gourmet running sub.

Drills, exercises, and recovery practices are intimidating for a lot of runners, and they were for me as well. When you like to run, anything else feels complicated and unnecessary.

But I’m not talking about complex exercises that take up all your spare time. I’m talking about just a few minutes of simple movements before and after each run to build strength, facilitate recovery, and of course, prevent injuries.

The Time to Act is Now … Before Your Next Injury

It’s so much easier to deal with something when it’s an actual problem, isn’t it?

But by the time a running injury becomes a problem, it’s too late.

You have to take precautions now by running and training smart, not when the pain starts, in order to stay healthy and strong.

The good news is that it isn’t as time consuming and burdensome as most runners fear. In fact, it’s pretty simple. I know this, and so does Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running.

Through helping hundreds of runners, he’s developed an injury prevention system runners of all levels use every single day.

It’s call Injury Prevention for Runners, and having used it myself, I know how effective his system can be.

Since it’s Injury Prevention week here at Rock Creek Runner, Jason and I have paired up to offer something special to Rock Creek Runner readers.

Purchase Injury Prevention for Runners before Friday, October 2nd, and you’ll receive a bonus 45+ minute Injury Prevention interview I did with Jason for the Trail Runner’s System, plus a 20 minute Yoga for Runners video with my wife Katie Hay, E-RYT 200, RYT 500.

That’s an additional hour + of injury prevention videos, on top of all the incredible material already included in the Injury Prevention for Runners system.

Just forward me your receipt, and I’ll send over those bonus videos.

As runners injury prevention should be one of our top focuses.

Forget speed, heat, and race day nutrition. If an injury keeps you from training, none of that stuff even matters.

The time to take care of an injury is now, before it’s too late, and your training will never be the same again.


Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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2 thoughts on “The Great Running Injury Myth, Debunked

  1. Thank you Doug. I deal with shin splints from time to time. They always go away when I slow down and add variety back into my training. This article is a great reminder.

  2. Good article. I’d also add that people injure themselves through all types of exercise. I go back and forth between running and lifting weights, and I’m just as likely to have to skip a weight workout because I tweaked my lower back or my shoulder is bother me as I am to miss a running workout from a sore knee or hamstring.

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