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11 Training Tips for Runners to Get You to the Finish Line Injury-Free

I’m hosting a 12-week online half marathon training group that kicks off on Monday, August 22. I have over 325 runners committed and it’s been so interesting and eye-opening to read the registration emails that have hit my inbox. I asked everyone to send me an email in order to join the group that included a brief overview of their running history and goals.

I have such a broad range of participants from beginner runners at a 3 mile base who have never run a race before all the way up to experienced marathoners who have run many races in the past. But everyone shares a common goal…to cross the finish line injury-free.

11 Training Tips for Runners to Get You to the Finish Line Injury-Free

I struggled A LOT with injuries when I first started distance running a little over 10 years ago. There were quite a few races that I never made it to the start of due to injury and I ultimately took a 4 year hiatus from distance running due to frustration with injury. Since starting back in 2014, I’ve been able to stay pretty healthy and happy and have set quite a few new PRs in the process.

Today I wanted to share some of my top tips for helping you to get to the finish line injury-free and with a smile on your face!

11 Training Tips for Runners to Get You to the Finish Line Injury-Free

Set realistic goals.

Get real with yourself and set realistic, attainable goals. If it’s your first race, don’t put pressure on yourself to meet time goals. Instead, make it your goal to finish, stay healthy and have fun. When it comes to time goals, if your current PR is a 2:30 half marathon, training to go sub 1:50 might be too much.

I’m a big fan of setting a goal that I would be totally happy with (example, I want to run the November half and have fun with my training and get to the finish injury-free) as well as a stretch goal (example, all of those things + a sub 1:50 finish with negative splits).

Run less.

This is probably my #1 tip. I know it seems counter-intuitive but I’m all about quality over quantity. Some people’s body mechanics allow them to run every single day and 40+ miles per week. Not mine! After I accepted this and adjusted my running and training accordingly, I saw a huge boost in my performance.

Read this post where I discuss How to Balance Running with Yoga and Cross Training without Losing Speed and Endurance.

Strength Training for Runners

Don’t skip strength.

I think that every single runner should include strength as part of their training program. I think that strengthening the muscles surrounding our ligaments and joints helps support them better and allows you not only to avoid injury but also to run faster. Stronger muscles = stronger performance!

View over 20 of my strength workouts. 

Wake up your glutes!

Glute activation is key for runners. It can help prevent injuries caused by muscle imbalance. You want to make sure your glutes are firing correctly to help keep you healthy as your mileage increases.

How To and Why Single Leg Deadlift
5 Best Glute Activation Exercises
Simple Unilateral Circuit

Foam Rolling and Mobility for Runners

Become best friends with a lacrosse ball and a foam roller.

Mobility, mobility, mobility! If you don’t own a foam roller and a lacrosse ball, they should be the first thing you purchase if you’re planning on training for a race. I find that spending 15-20 minutes on mobility after runs (ESPECIALLY my long run) results in faster recovery and makes my body feel about a million times better.

I’ll be sharing a mobility series on my blog throughout the course of half marathon training so stay tuned for that!

Invest in bodywork.

While the work you do with your foam roller and lacrosse ball is super important and helpful, sometimes you need to take it to the next level. The peak of your training is the perfect time to schedule a few massages, see your chiropractor or to have other bodywork done like active release therapy, dry needling, acupuncture, etc.

I get massages every other week and it’s been 100% worth the investment. Do your homework and find a therapist who is experienced in sports/deep tissue massage. Ask around for recommendations.

3 Yoga Poses Every Runner Should Be Doing

Learn to love yoga.

Hot on the heels of bodywork and mobility work comes yoga and stretching. It’s imperative that you stretch the muscles that you are also working to strengthen and yoga is one of the best ways to do that. It also addresses muscle imbalances, improves flexibility, enhances coordination and benefits balance. Even if you can only fit one yoga session in a week, make it a priority!

No time to make it to the studio? Check out this article I wrote for the Charlotte Five about Three Yoga Poses Every Runner Should Be Doing.

Don’t run more than your training plan prescribes.

There is a method to the madness behind your training plan. Trust it. Adding in extra runs will not benefit you. If you’re feeling the itch to do more, cross train. Go for a swim, hit the gym for some weights or visit the yoga studio.

11 Training Tips for Runners to Get You to the Finish Line Injury-Free

Don’t run faster than your training plan prescribes.

Along the same lines of not running more than your plan prescribes is not running faster than your plan prescribes. Trust your training paces. This is especially important on long runs. I know it’s a mind game to run slow on your long runs and you feel like running your race pace would be more beneficial but it’s not! Get that time on your feet and take it slow and steady. Save your speed for tempo runs and speed work.

Don’t run through pain.

If something hurts, rest. Your body’s ability to recover is highest right at the onset of a potential injury. Don’t keep running on it and exacerbating the issue. Your training will not go to crap if you miss one run or even one week of training. Back off immediately if you feel pain. Schedule a bodywork appointment and amp up your cross training. Be patient with your body.

Make rest and sleep a priority.

Did you know that your body doesn’t become stronger when you’re running or working out but rather when you’re resting? All the work of building back stronger comes when you rest. When you’re in an active training mode, it’s more important than ever to make sure that you are taking adequate rest days and getting enough sleep.

Overtraining is real and you don’t want to go there!

To wrap it up…have fun, listen to your body and treat it well!

Do you have any tips to share for running healthy and injury-free? What works for you? 

What do you struggle with when it comes to training? 

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Dana star August 17, 2016, 12:02 pm

    Thank you for this!! I needed to hear the message about backing off. I need to (better) learn to respect my body and its voice.

  • Nikki August 17, 2016, 12:07 pm

    Great post, Jen! You are always so encouraging and offer so many excellent tips in whatever the subject of your posts. Thank you for being open to share with others!

  • Rebecca August 17, 2016, 1:52 pm

    Great info! I agree with all of the above! My running coach would also tell us to be careful about what you put in your body. He is a believer in very limited (if any) alcohol consumption during training. Maybe one of these days I’ll listen to him, haha!

    I would also say to mix up your running surfaces! I recover so much better when I run on soft trails once a week rather than pavement.

  • Tara August 18, 2016, 12:23 pm

    this is truly a fantastic post. yes to everything ! i struggle most with fitting it all in. close to that is a struggle with when to know when to push it vs back off. when am i just sore vs hurt. when am i just having a bad day and the run will be good for me vs i need to take the day off. those types of things. im generally a push through person and it has served me well in the past (i can always do more than i think i can). but…im sitting here now with a hamstring “injury” regretting some recent push through.

  • Amanda August 18, 2016, 1:42 pm

    This is such a great post. I’ve run two half marathons in my life and trained differently for both. The first one included regimented running of shorter distances throughout the week along with strength training and interval work. The second training was much more focused on running and distances. While I finished the second race 4 minutes faster, I felt 100 times better training and running the first race. Strength training makes a huge difference!

  • Sherri August 18, 2016, 2:07 pm

    I would love to see recommendations for yoga at home (you tube, websites, etc.). A yoga membership isn’t in the cards right now and I know there are good options out there!

  • Kara August 18, 2016, 2:42 pm

    Sherri, I am in the same boat, and SarahBeth Yoga on YouTube has changed my life! I love her teaching style/flows, and her videos really helped me ease into it. They are generally only 15-30 minutes–it was a huge lesson for me to learn that even 15 minutes a couple of times a week could make a huge difference in how I felt. You may have more experience than I do, but I also appreciated her video explaining the different styles of yoga, so now I know more about what to look for when I’m searching for videos.

    Now, I sometimes look for longer/different videos, and I’ve really liked Yoga with Kassandra, and more recently Five Parks Yoga (she has a really solid leg workout that has helped my running). Yoga with Adriene seems really popular, but I have to be in the right mood for her because she talks more than the others. 🙂

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