By JENNY PRUITT CLEVELAND
Did I say without pain? Without the wrong kind of pain, I mean.
Before I changed how I run, I couldn’t run more than about five or six miles without things starting to hurt—mostly my hips and knees. It must just be my body type, I told myself, I’m just not cut out for longer distances.
Then I started researching.
Here are four tips that have helped me go the distance without the wrong kind of pain.
1. Wearing cushie shoes.
On the journey to find what worked, I experimented with a few things that didn’t. I read Born to Run (a great read) and decided I could release my inner, natural runner with the barefoot running philosophy. I ran barefoot in the grass. I bought minimalist running shoes. I sprang from toe-box to toe-box. And I developed a severe case of plantar fasciitis.
I’m not saying that barefoot or minimalist running is wrong, just that it was wrong for me. Maybe I didn’t transition slowly enough. Maybe I didn’t learn to run the specific way minimalist shoes are best for (more forefoot rather than heel striking). Who knows. I only know I’m now content to settle into my maximalist running shoes (ahhh) and run farther.
2. Running at a faster cadence.
My goal is 180 steps or beats per minute (bpm). Many studies indicate: that increasing your stride turnover can help you improve your running form, increase speed, and reduce your injury risk. I’ve found that to be true for me. To transition from my longer, slower stride to a shorter, quicker stride, I started running in sync with music. I wholeheartedly recommend Podrunner, a bi-weekly series of workout-music mixes with tempos from 120 to 185 bpm.
To give you an idea of what 180 bpm feels like, these classics are in the neighborhood:
“I Want It All,” Queen
“Life is a Highway,” Tom Petty
“Jack and Diane,” John Cougar Mellencamp
“Lose Yourself,” Eminem
3. Focusing on getting my knees up and out in front of me.
In my younger years, I didn’t think about how I ran. I just ran. But when pain started keeping me from longer distances, I decided to pay for a professional run analysis. That’s when I learned that instead of reaching forward with my foot, which led to over-striding (and injury), I needed to reach forward and up with my knee so that my foot struck the ground under my knee (not in front of it). I also learned to push up and off the ground behind me. It felt silly to me at first (and still feels silly at times), but it’s kept me mostly injury-free for years now.
4. Stopping to stretch when I feel the wrong kind of pain.
I used to run through the pain (especially the last mile or so). If my training plan said run 8 miles, come hell or high water, I was running 8 miles. Of course, that only caused the pain to return sooner and with more intensity on the next run. Now I hit pause and stretch (dynamic stretches, rather than static), focusing in on whatever joint is causing pain. Then I start again, slowly, focusing on proper form. Usually I’m able to keep going after that stretch break without pain. If not, I call it a day and walk it out.
If you’re running with pain, ease into these or other tips until you find what works for you. You’re worth it.
Jenny Pruitt Cleveland is a Content Creator in Nashville, Tenn. She swims, bikes, and runs a lot. In former lives she’s been a middle school teacher, magazine reporter and editor, cycling tour guide, and underwater photographer.