Running can have adverse health effects – here's how to do it safely

Last Sunday, an estimated 40,000 participants stood at the starting line of the Virgin Money London Marathon.

It’s a far cry from the 7,000 people who gathered in Greenwich Park back in 1981 when the first ever event took place.

This year, runners could also compete from their homes, doubling the number of those taking part in the 26.2-mile event to an estimated 80,000 people.

So, if you’re one of the people suffering from serious aches and pains this week, you might be wondering where you went wrong. Or, if you’ve been inspired by the marathon hype and are planning to start pushing your distances up, it’s worth knowing how to avoid common running injuries.

‘Running a marathon is a really serious undertaking and runners need to respect the dangers they could face,’ says Alex Parren, a personal trainer, nutritionist, and running coach for lifestyle brand Sundried.

‘Back in 2018, one London Marathon runner fell into a coma at the finish line suffering from hyponatremia. This happened because she didn’t replenish her sodium or electrolytes during her race and drank only water. A marathon puts a lot of stress on the body and there are considerations all runners need to make before lacing up and getting out there.’

Because running is so accessible, a lot of people forget that it’s about more than just grabbing your trainers and putting one foot in front of the other.

‘Many beginners end up injured or ill due to doing too much too soon, so it’s important they monitor their heart rate to ensure they’re not pushing themselves too hard. For pro runners, they are likely to run anaerobically, which affects the way the body uses up its glycogen stores, so make sure you have a fuelling strategy,’ Alex says.

The main thing to think about for both beginners and pro runners is form.

‘Ensure you incorporate lots of strength and conditioning into your training and be mindful of imbalances and weakness in the body,’ adds Alex.

‘The body is a chain and if a muscle or joint is weak, imbalanced or out of alignment at the top of the chain, it affects every part of the body right down to the shins and feet.’

With this in mind Alex, who is also a keen ultra-runner, details four of the most common injuries and how to prevent them.

Runner’s knee

‘This can include several injuries, all of which present as pain in the knee, such as IT band syndrome, anterior knee pain syndrome, or patellofemoral malalignment. Your IT band (iliotibial band) runs along the outside of your upper leg from your hip to your knee and IT band syndrome is the most common injury – this is tenderness in the outside of the knee and can be very painful to put pressure on.’

Prevent it by: ‘As this is an overuse injury, the best way to prevent it is to increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10%. It’s also very important to maintain strong, active glutes as these affect the IT band, which in turn affects the knee, so incorporate a resistance band into your weekly strength and conditioning work.’

Achilles tendonitis

‘The Achilles is the tendon that connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. Symptoms include a mild ache in the back of the leg or heel, due to the Achilles being inflamed. The tendon weakens with age, so older runners will be particularly susceptible to this injury.’

Prevent it by: ‘Eating a healthy diet and taking joint supplements. Plus support your feet properly when running as a flat arch can put extra strain on the Achilles. Stability shoes can give extra cushioning and avoid orthotic inserts as these can encourage the arch to become even weaker.’

Shin splints

‘Presenting as a burning pain in the shins when you run, this can also feel like tenderness in the shin when you’re not moving. Thankfully, this is one of the least serious injuries and a common cause is poor running form.’

Prevent it by: ‘Actively work on your running form and trying to improve it. Ensuring you do plenty of strength and conditioning training will also help to strengthen imbalances or weaknesses, and stretching and foam rolling will see to any tightness.’

Plantar fasciitis

‘This presents as pain along the bottom of the foot, mostly around the heel or the arch. It tends to feel worse in the morning and means you can’t raise your toes off the floor without any pain. It’s caused when the tendons that run along the bottoms of the foot are strained or inflamed.’

Prevent it by: ‘Wearing supportive running shoes which cushion the bottom of your feet and mitigate the stress of pounding the pavement. It’s also important to stretch and foam roll between running sessions to keep your muscles supple and flexible.’

Suffering from any of these? Or more importantly, want to make sure you avoid them?

Here are five running essentials to try…

CEP Run Compression Sock

Support calf muscles and give ankles stability with CEP Run Compression Socks. The graduated compression increases blood flow to the muscles during long runs.

Buy it for £44.95 from CEP

Saalt Menstrual Cup

A Saalt Menstrual Cup can be worn for up to 12 hours, so you can run freely without needing to worry about leaks, tampon strings or bathroom breaks.

Made from medical-grade silicone, you just empty, rinse and reinsert.

Buy it for £25 from Saalt

Freetrain V1 running vest

The Freetrain V1 running vest has a centrally located phone pouch designed to give you seamless access to change song, check maps or even answer calls. It eliminates bouncing and uneven weight distribution that you get with an armband.

Buy it for £29.99 from Freetrain

Calendula and Marshmallow Balm

Calendula and Marshmallow Balm is made with calendula, marshmallow root, babassu oil, borage oil, avocado oil, rosehip oil and beeswax. Use on chapped lips and chafing.

Buy it for £10.95 from Lyonsleaf

Ultimate Blister Plasters

Ultimate Blister Plasters can stop blisters in their tracks. Once applied, the hydrocoloid plaster provides immediate relief and cushions the area to prevent further rubbing.

Buy it for £3.99 from 1000 Mile

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on purchases made through one of these links but this never influences our experts’ opinions. Products are tested and reviewed independently of commercial initiatives.

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