Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: How Can I Run Without Injuring Myself?

Q&A Wednesday: How Can I Run Without Injuring Myself?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

In my post detailing how not to train for a race, I mentioned something called “the elephant syndrome,” which is when people who run on treadmills sound like they’re stomping holes through the machine. It’s not a matter of size – which is why I think a person or two was put off by my name for it – it’s simply a matter of how your foot is landing on the treadmill. I’ve stood next to the thinnest of thin mints on a treadmill and listened to them stomp like a herd of elephants was on deck.

…ready to run?

In the comments, though, I’ve been receiving questions about how to train and avoid injuryas well as how to avoid the elephant-esque running gait (Gait is simply another word to say “movement pattern.” Can you tell I’ve been studying my tail off for this exam? Sheesh!) that so many start off with, myself included. I think I can give a quick run down of what causes it, and how to fix it.

In all seriousness, avoiding injury and correcting the elephant-esque gait go hand in hand, because so many injuries come from the unnatural restrictions and unnatural movements that come from running wrong. Plantar fasciitis, torn ACLs, dull and sore knee pain and so many other common leg and foot injuries happen, more often than not, because of what happens when you run incorrectly.

Watch a kid run. An active kid, who has a healthy play schedule, runs almost entirely on the balls of their feet. They catch themselves on the balls of their feet, lower down (activating their quads, or front-of-thigh-area), and then lift back up (using their hamstrings, or back-of-the-thigh). Consider this a mid-foot strike. This kind of run is ideal.

When you land on your foot, the ability to lower and lift yourself is important. If you land on your heel, you no longer have that bounce, and the force is sent up your leg and through to your knee, the next available joint, to take the brunt. Enter knee pain, and joint wear. Try to point your toes. That movement, right there, is a part of running. You can’t really do that when you run by planting your heel. Enter plantar fasciitis. See what I’m getting at, here?

A few months ago, I visited a running store in the city that asked me to jump on some machine to tell me whether or not I overpronate (rotate your foot inward when you walk) or supinate (rotate your foot outward) my feet when I walk or run. Of course, it was tosell me some shoes that would “correct” this for me, but the question I had to ask later on that week – because, trust, it didn’t hit me immediately – was, “why couldn’t I correct it myself?” Even more so, if it’s something worth correcting, what exactly am I doing wrong?

It was really frustrating to learn that I was running all wrong, but it only took a few weeks to feel the benefits. I was finally feeling “it” in the right places, instead of feeling like I needed to spend the evening rotating my ankle, or feeling like I’m going to have difficulty crawling up or down the train steps. There was one side effect to changing my gait that I didn’t expect, though – it made me infinitely slower. By “infinitely,” I mean adding five whole minutes to my mile time. I just wasn’t used to the burn in the right places, nor was I used to not experiencing pain in my legs.

So…how do you run? Simple. This video should show you how to run without inviting injury:

Any questions? Y’all better hurry up and ask ’em before I close this study book and go pick up a pillow and blanket. Shoot, all this studying has me tired!

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Alaina M. October 10, 2012 - 7:34 PM

Oh, this is so relevant to me right now. I’m on week 5 day 2 of the Couch 2 5K program, and my shin splints started acting up! I know I must have over trained, since I jogged with my dog outside for the first time, when I’ve always been on a treadmill. I know my shoes are decent, and this ALWAYS happens to me when I try running. So now I’m going to stick with walking my pup and pilates. It’s so discouraging!

Erika Nicole Kendall October 10, 2012 - 7:41 PM

Honestly, C25K is the program I used to test my new running gait. 30 seconds running with my new gait – focusing on the balls of my feet, aiming towards my middle toes – followed by 4 minutes and 30 seconds of walking is perfect for this kind of re-training. It’s discouraging, but I feel like there’s nothing more valuable than knowing the technical stuff behind why our bodies feel the way they do, and there’s nothing more powerful than knowing that there’s something we can do to change that, you know?

Besides, that pup might actually give you the same look that MY puppy gave me, like “Um… aren’t we being a little lazy today? Where’s the running?!” LOL!

jennifer edwards October 10, 2012 - 8:55 PM

hi i was wondering, will learning how to run correctly fix my shin splits cause they are a bitch and i love to run and get discouraged when they flare up…#sadness:(

Erika Nicole Kendall October 12, 2012 - 8:30 AM

It can, but it depends on what has caused your splints. If you overpronate, then changing your gait will definitely help. It just depends on the specifics of your case. Have you visited a doctor? Do you know whether or not it’s really a stress fracture? Lots of people who run wrong develop stress fractures, too. 🙁

irene March 26, 2013 - 1:50 PM

Hey erika! What should I do for exercise since I am 4’11 280lbs and I have a bad,knee and ankle? I can take the pain of not being fit and trying to work out but if I cant physically put alot of weight or pressure on it. Just confused don’t know what to do

Erika Nicole Kendall March 26, 2013 - 9:47 PM

If I were you, I would focus more on walking, and making sure your daily food intake was on point. As you lose, it’ll get easier on your foot and ankle – which is likely causing the knee pain – and you can reinforce your ankles with ace bandages for now to try to help.

irene March 27, 2013 - 1:29 PM

Thanks for replying back. Just one more question you said to.worry about my eating and begin walking. If I am walking slow like slowww is it still beneficial for me?

Erika Nicole Kendall March 27, 2013 - 1:36 PM

Absolutely, and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

Jennifer January 9, 2013 - 12:00 PM

One of my problems with running has been pain on the side of my right knee and hip. Upon visiting a physical therapist, I was instructed to strengthen my IT band (the band of muscle running from the hip to the knee on both sides of the body) and a way to do it is by doing foam roller exercises. I had never heard of a foam roller before and many friends that I have talked to have not either. Are you familiar, and if so, can you talk about foam rollers, exercises you can do, and any pros and cons?

Erika Nicole Kendall January 9, 2013 - 2:14 PM

A little bit. Start here. 🙂

Jennifer January 9, 2013 - 4:05 PM

Perfect! Thanks 🙂

Jasna March 25, 2013 - 4:27 PM

The way we bring up kids around here means they spend their childhood running around barefoot no matter what the surface and you still wear no shoes around the house or the yard if it’s warm outside no matter how old you get. That this whole idea of walking softly instead of trumping around on heels has to be actively taught to people is mind boggling.

Tiffany April 17, 2013 - 9:40 AM

I am a participant in the Susan G Komen Race for the Cure this year. I don’t even know the right type of sneakers to wear. Do you have a training schedule or something for me?

Erika Nicole Kendall April 17, 2013 - 4:45 PM
Tysehia September 4, 2013 - 9:38 AM

I also believe weight training and proper stretching is important, I learned that the hard way.

Tuggi July 7, 2014 - 11:49 PM

First, I love your blog! I was searching your site to see if you had any advice or experience with plantar fasciitis. I was able to come across this blog where you discuss it briefly. I was wondering if you had any advice on how to still work out with it. I wasn’t a runner but I was hoping to become one. I started walking and had worked my way up to 3- 4 miles a day over several months (I thought I was naturally increase my amount but maybe I still moved too fast). I was thinking maybe just sticking to recumbent bike until it gets better but didn’t know if you had any suggestions… Thanks for all you do and sharing your story! It’s very motivating to me who is and has struggled with weight loss and healthy lifestyle change for what seems like my entire life.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 11, 2014 - 11:16 PM

See, the thing about PF is that working out on it only makes it worse. You really shouldn’t, especially because it compromises your ability to successfully and safely complete your workout without compromised form, you know?

It takes maybe a few days to heal. Roll your foot on top of a tennis ball or something a few days in a row, for an few minutes at a time a couple times a day, and get back at it once your foot feels better. And, when you come back into training, take it easy and slow. Start with couch to 5k so your body – mainly the muscles in your feet – can get accustomed to the training – and then slowly increase your mileage. You should be just fine before you know it. 🙂

Tuggi July 17, 2014 - 8:49 AM

Thanks! I will try that

Kelly July 9, 2014 - 8:25 AM

When you say you taught yourself how to run properly, did you use a program like chirunning? Or is this video sufficient. Will staying off your heels be sufficient to counteract the effects of over pronating?

I’m 233 lbs. should I stick with walking until I lose more weight?

My right knee sometimes gets tight; when it does, I fall back to the elliptical. I don’t want to always use the elliptical because I do want to utilize weight bearing exercise.


Erika Nicole Kendall July 17, 2014 - 8:45 AM

When you say you taught yourself how to run properly, did you use a program like chirunning?

I went to a running store and had them do a gait analysis, which let me know I was overpronating, mainly because my inner thigh fat was affecting how closely I could plant my feet mid-stride. The video will help you, but you have to be really mindful while you’re moving, otherwise you might slip back into your old stride. Staying off your heels won’t completely combat it – it’s more about ensuring that both sides of your foot land properly. If you can do that at your current built (are you 233 at 6′ or 5′? makes a huge difference!), then go forth! SLOWLY. LOL You’ll get the hang of it!

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