If you’re entering Week Three of quarantine as a new member of the Jogging Community, please take some time to read about bloody nipples and all the scams that will soon flood your Instagram feed. If you’re already a member of the community but have been running more than usual, you’re not alone. In light of gyms being closed, and, you know, not being able to do anything else outside, longtime runners and new runners alike are pounding the pavement more than ever before.
But while those additional miles do help in clearing your mind from the onslaught of dreadful news, don’t lose sight of your body — the last thing anybody wants is to be physically locked inside because of quarantine and injury.
According to Paul Ronto, director of digital content at RunRepeat.com and an avid marathoner, there are several precautions you should take as you hit the road for the first time, or consider adding extra mileage.
First, for new runners, get used to being sore. Even if you were a serious gym-goer before being quarantined, Ronto says there are many muscles and tendons you use in running that you don’t really use in other exercises. “This is why new runners tend to be sore in new places like knees, hips, shins or lower back when they first get into the sport,” he says. “They still need to build up these muscles.”
If you’ve gotten through the sore muscles stage of running and you’re still feeling it in your knees or hips, check your form. Like any other sport, Ronto says running takes practice to get right, particularly if you want to run long distances and avoid injury. “Start slow and focus on your gait, balance, posture, what your arms are doing and the impact your feet have on the ground.” Proper technique is running with your chest out, shoulders back and chin parallel with the ground (not tucked down). Meanwhile, your arms should be loose and swinging backwards and forwards, not side to side in front of you.
Most importantly, your big dumb feet shouldn’t be flopping all over the place. This is often referred to as “impact,” or “foot strike,” and correcting it can often make the biggest difference. “Your goal is to run ‘quiet,’” Ronto says. “Your feet shouldn’t be smacking the ground as you go, which means getting a bit more forward lean in your foot strike and landing on the balls of your feet rather than on your heels. The quieter and smoother you are, the less impact your knees, hips and back are taking.”
If you’ve calibrated (or re-calibrated) your form and still can’t shake the achy knees, take a look at your shoes. “Shoes are a big part of this equation, and if your shoe’s soles are completely worn down, it may be time for a new pair,” Ronto says, adding that what the bottom of your shoes look like can inform what kind of shoes you should buy next.
The wear-and-tear typically falls into one of three categories: medial wear, neutral wear or lateral wear. “Medial wear will be seen on the inside portions of your shoes, under your big toe and on the inside of your heel,” Ronto explains. “This is caused by runners who overpronate or those whose ankles naturally roll inward. It can lead to foot and ankle issues, knee pain, hip pain, plantar fasciitis and other running-related injuries.” If this is what the bottom of your shoes look like, trade them in for a pair with a stiffer heel and better arch support that will guide you away from overpronation.
On the opposite end of the pronating spectrum is lateral wear, which Ronto says is “wear on the outside of your foot that’s caused by under-pronating.” It can also lead to bone and joint injuries, because your footstrike isn’t properly absorbing the impact of your body hitting the ground. And so, you need more cushioning to absorb that impact until you fix your form.
Finally, Ronto explains, “Neutral wear is wear in the middle of your shoes, normally on the ball and heel areas,” Ronto says. The good news is, if you fall into this category, it indicates that you’ve got a decent running form, so you shouldn’t have to look too far for new shoes. “Most running shoes on the market today are built for neutral runners with slight medial arch support and plenty of midsole cushioning,” Ronto continues. (If new shoes aren’t currently in your budget, Ronto says specially-designed insoles can help with any of the above issues too.)
Now, if you just want to fucking be outside and run and not worry about anything else without your knees paying for it afterward, your best shot is a short warm-up and cool down. “Stretch lightly, walk a bit and get your muscles loose before you run,” Ronto says. “And before you sit back down in front of that computer, walk around the block and stretch a bit after as well,” which can go a long way in preventing your muscles from getting stiff and keeping your joints and ligaments from wearing down.
In short, “before you order hundreds of dollars of joint-pain supplements and meds,” Ronto concludes, “consider looking at the bottoms of your shoes and watching a few videos about correcting your form. Ultimately, this is the best course of action for long-term running success.”
Not to mention, of course, keeping six feet between yourself and everyone else in your path.