Did you know that the average runner misses 5-10% of their workouts every year due to injury?
Most runners can relate. There’s nothing worse than feeling a twinge mid-run. Or waking up in the morning with shooting pain in your heel. Or hobbling down the stairs because your knee hurts.
The good news is that there are steps runners can take to minimize the chance of injury. These aren’t foolproof – because even the most careful runner can still get hurt. But they can go a long way towards preventing injuries from occurring in the first place.
What Causes Running Injuries
The two most common sources of running injuries are overtraining and incorrect running form.
Overtraining is the leading factor to what’s referred to as an overuse injury. Overuse injuries are what they sound like – putting too much stress and pressure on joints and muscles by using them too much. The most frequent overuse injury is runner’s knee but shin splints and Achilles tendinitis are also common.
For runners, overuse injuries usually happen when too much mileage is increased in too short of a time perod.
New runners often experience big gains relatively quickly. Then they “catch the bug” and start running more miles, faster and faster. The body can’t take all this new stress so quickly – then, boom, injury hits.
Another common scenario are marathoners. Mileage tends to increase quickly during marathon training. And even if you are following a training plan, the added miles can be too much. Weeks out from the race, often after a long run, marathoners feel a dull pain. Next day you’re walking with a limp. No more marathon…
The other major source of a running injury is inefficient running form. Running is the only form of exercise that doesn’t require lessons. And because we’ve been running and walking our whole lives, we think we know how to do it. So we just start running.
And while some people are blessed with naturally good running form, many others need to make small changes to run more efficiently.
Most runners are heel strikers, meaning they land on their heel while running. But this puts undue pressure on your knees and hips. This added stress can ultimately lead to injury.
If you find yourself chronically injured, running form could be the issue.
How Do We Correct This?
There are different ways to fix these two issues. The most obvious way to stop overuse injuries is to run less (duh!). But how much do you need to cut back? And we want every run to count, so how do you balance running long and hard with staying healthy and upright?
It’s a challenge and why many people opt to hire a running coach who can help determine the right balance. Of course, a coach is costly and sometimes hard to find a good match.
Improving running form requires changing your running gait. It takes practice and an awareness while running to continuously change your form and build new habits.
Running efficiently means taking short, quick strides and landing on your toes or the ball of your feet. You should have a slight lean forward and keep your arms pumping back and forth in the direction your running, not across your body.
Form drills are the best way to train your body to run efficiently (hint: get some free form drills down here). Practice these before your runs or after an easy run, then work on shortening your stride and landing on your forefoot as you run.
While you run, be aware of your posture, where your foot strikes the ground, and the length of your stride.
There are several features built into Garmin’s GPS watches that help runners from overtraining and correct running form. A couple functions are built into every watch, although you will need to upload your workouts to Garmin Connect to see some of this data. The other features are available on Garmin’s higher-end watches.
Track Your Miles with Garmin Connect
The simplest thing runners can do is periodically check total running mileage. Once you sync your watch to Garmin Connect, you can view your mileage in weekly, 4 week, or 12 month increments.
A good rule of thumb is to make sure your weekly mileage never increases by more than 10-15% per week. Doing more (like what happens to a lot of first time marathoners) is a recipe to get hurt. Ideally, the 4th week of your training should be a recovery week with a noticeable mileage decrease than in prior weeks.
If you are following a training plan, the weekly mileage should naturally fall into this pattern.
This leads us to another Garmin tool. Built into Garmin Connect are a variety of training plans for the most common running distances (5k to Marathon plus a few for building general fitness). These come in different degrees of difficulty for all levels of runners.
You select the day you want to start the program (or the day you need it to finish if you are training for a specific race) and Garmin creates a daily calendar with each workout listed for the duration of the program. Even cooler, on some Garmins you can download the day’s workout right onto the watch.
On Garmin’s higher-end watches, there is a list of features collectively called Running Dynamics. As part of this package, Garmin has one function called Recovery Time.
This is the amount of time Garmin estimates you need before another workout. Recovery Time is calculated with heart rate data along with your overall fitness score (also determined as part of the Running Dynamics package) and the last run’s difficultly.
Because this score is based on an algorithm, you might feel like ignoring its advice. And to some extent, we might agree. Instead, use this number as a baseline factor to judge whether you are overtraining or not. If the watch continuously recommends taking a longer recovery time than you are, then consider cutting back on mileage or intensity.
Training Load is presented as a number along with a graph detailing whether you are training optimally, too much, or not enough. Ideally, you are pushing yourself to improve – but not doing too much that you’re susceptible to injury.
Like Recovery Time, Training Load is calculated with heart rate data and fitness level. You’ll need to wear a heart rate monitor or ensure your watch has wrist heart rate.
Cadence and Stride Length
When it comes to running form, the best measurement to track your improvement is by looking at cadence and stride length. These are metrics found on all but the oldest Garmin watches.
Cadence is the number of foot strikes per minute. Most people run around 130-150 steps per minute. A general goal is to reach 170-180 steps per minute.
This ensures you are taking short, quick strides. With short strides and a faster turnover, you are naturally going to land on your toes and not heel strike.
Stride length is another piece of data to help with running form. While there is no general goal for stride length – it varies by height and leg length for each person – instead use this information to see if your stride length decreases over time.
Find your current stride length and use that as a baseline. Aim to slowly reduce that number as your turnover and cadence improve.
Ground Contact Time & Balance
Back to Running Dynamics, there are additional metrics Garmin tracks that change as your running form improves.
Like with Recovery Time and Training Load, you need one of Garmin’s higher-end watches. You also need to wear either the Running Dynamics Pod or the HRM-Run heart rate monitor. These two accessories track torso movement that the watch alone can’t measure.
Ground Contact Time is the amount of time each foot touches the ground. A longer stride with a slower cadence results in each foot spending more time touching the ground. As that improves, ground contact time is reduced.
Think of it like pressing a piano key. Poor running form is like hitting and holding down a piano note. Proper running form with a fast turnover is like tapping on a piano key at a quick, even rate.
Similarly, Ground Contact Balance measures ground contact for each individual foot. It tells you if you are favoring one leg over another. Ideally, ground contact balance is even for both feet. If it’s off, it means you’re favoring one side which throws your form off.
Like Ground Contact, Vertical Oscillation is found on higher end Garmins and requires the Pod or HRM-Run.
Unlike Ground Contact or Stride Length, Vertical Oscillation measures how much your torso bobs up and down. A lot of up and down movement indicates a longer stride and slow cadence. As cadence, stride, and ground contact are improved, the amount of bobbing up and down is reduced as well.
So like stride length, there is no hard and fast number to aim for. Instead, this is a good metric to track as a baseline and look for improvements over time.
For more on Ground Contact and Vertical Oscillation, check out this article.
Nagging running injuries can derail your training, produce bad running habits – and they hurt, too! Using your Garmin to help monitoring your running load and improve form can go a long way towards reducing the chance of injury.