Picking Up Running: A Useful Guide

Picking Up Running: A Useful Guide

Picking up the hobby of running can be far more challenging than one might think.  Research shows injuries may happen to up to 50% of novice runners. Training errors and issues arising from overuse account for up to 80% of running injuries. Taking these numbers into consideration, it makes sense for beginners to develop good habits from the start to avoid injuries and keep running as enjoyable and sustainable as possible.

Here are a few ways that you can go about making running a life-long rewarding hobby:

1. Single Leg Strengthening

Unlike walking, where impact is relatively low and that you spend approximately 40% of the time supported by both feet, in running you spend proportionately a lot longer balancing on one leg. The impact that your joints encounter is also considerably higher – and this is especially true if you tend to train on hilly terrains.

In order to stay injury free as you build yourself up as a runner, you would want to begin by not only working on the traditional big three – strength, balance and flexibility but also focus on single leg balance and control to prepare you for your functional needs during actual runs. Some sample exercises are high knee to Warrior 3,  split squats, single leg balancing tasks, and knee drive in standing.

High knee to Warrior 3

Split Squats

2. Proper Choice of Gear

Whilst you might not need full on spandex gear for running, clothing made of light, breathable material would allow for more efficient sweat evaporation over a cotton T-shirt which tends to get heavy and adhere to your body over time, making your runs uncomfortable.

More importantly, the proper choice of footwear – taking into account the shape and alignment of your feet – is arguably a key factor to avoiding the development of long-term issues for runners such as plantar fasciitis, knee and ankle pain, etc.

Although minimalist sneakers have been gaining popularity in the runner community, a pair of sneakers with sound cushioning is recommended prior to moving on to the less-cushioned alternatives. Comfort is key but so is protection.

Self-Assessment Technique for Foot Alignment:

    1. Stand on the leg you want to test out.
    2. Squat down until you knee is bent at approximately 30 degrees
    3. Check and see:
    • Whether you tend to put more pressure over the outside, middle, or inside of your foot (note that your foot arch might collapse) as you squat down
    • Additionally, check whether there is a tendency for your stance knee to cave inward or outward during the manoeuvre

    Whilst the lack of ankle mobility, weakness of the gluteal muscles and tightness of thigh and/or calf muscles are common findings, it is important to carry out relevant stretching and strengthening exercises depending on assessment results. 

    Your physiotherapist might also refer you on to a podiatrist for further professional advice or the potential fitting of tailor-made insoles should weight-bearing decifits be found.

3. Load Management

  • The most common mistake that runners make – novice and experienced runners alike –  is that they tend to push themselves too hard, too fast. Whilst the commonly known 10% rule of not increasing your mileage by more than 10% on a weekly basis provides us with some sort of framework, we have to also take into account other factors such as speed, frequency, intensity and terrain, just to name a few. 

    All runners have a threshold upon which they start suffering from injuries. And whilst our bodies are wonderful adapting to changes, the key is to implement new elements gradually. Adaptation requires time and it is well researched that sufficient rest is essential. For example,  tendons take roughly 24 hours to repair after running. 

    The idea of cross training, where two running sessions are interspersed by a session of cardio exercise with less impact such as cycling or swimming, offers a sound means to enable the runner’s body to recover whilst staying fit. Progressive strength and conditioning training are also shown to help increase the above-mentioned ‘threshold of failure’ of runners but again one would need to consider the impact that other exercises may have on running and space out the runs to ensure sufficient rest days in between.

4. Finding What Works for You and Treat Yourself Nicely

Running is a very individualistic activity. In order to incorporate running as part of your weekly routine – a part that you truly enjoy, it would be wise to start out running at a leisurely pace at which you can still hold brief chats. Setting a clear goal for each run (e.g. endurance, pacing) is also a good way to increase self-efficacy as a runner without getting lost in the frustration of trying to achieve too much at once. Knowing your own limits and paying attention to those is also considerably more important than being over-fixated on achieving  a set mileage as when that number is set too high, even experienced runners often fall victim to injuries. You will be able to pick up your pace/mileage eventually so long as you stay injury free. Pay heed to what your body is telling you at all times and this will go a long way.

Whilst there is no conclusive evidence that warming up with dynamic drills and cooling down with static stretches can help prevent injuries, they do make your body more comfortable during and after runs. It would not hurt to incorporate those into your routine.

Another suggestion is to vary your running routes which allows you to enjoy different sceneries which tends to keep runs less mundane. You may also consider running on different surfaces rather than constantly running on road or pavement to reduce the likelihood of injuries through repetitive strain exerted over your legs running on hard surfaces.

Hong Kong has many scenic spots for running including along the iconic Victoria Harbour

5. Running in Hong Kong

Running in Hong Kong can be quite tricky depending on the time of the year as seasonal changes mean runners will have to deal with a wide range of weather conditions. 

Summers in Hong Kong, for instance, are often hot and humid which render sweat evaporation difficult and a higher likelihood of overheating and heat cramps. Staying hydrated by taking small sips i.e. between 100-200ml of water every 20 minutes or so is key. Runners should also seek to replenish every kilogram of body weight lost by approximately 1 liter of water after training. Whilst it might be wise to run in the early mornings or evenings to avoid the midday sun, the use of sunscreen and a cap of light, breathable material is also essential for protection of the face and skin from getting sunburnt. Choosing well-shaded running paths is also important for runners to stay cool. 

When running in the rain, a light-weight jacket with a hat is advised to keep your face and hair dry. As skin chafing can very often happen when running with wet clothing, application of Vaseline over your feet, inner thigh, inside of arms, and nipples as necessary is highly recommended. Wearing a fluorescent or light-colored jacket also enables runners to be easily spotted by drivers as general visibility may be diminished in the rain. However, if it starts thundering during your run, it is best to wait for the storm to pass whilst taking cover under the nearest building. 

During winters, although runners might have to endure a relatively cooler initial 10 to 15 minutes, the body eventually warms up so it is unlikely that runners would require a lot more than a light windproof jacket, leggings, a long-sleeved top and perhaps a pair of gloves. After running in cold weather, it is important to take a warm shower or put on warm clothing shortly after the run as body temperatures tend to drop once the runners stop moving. Also important to note is that as the inhalation of cold air is likely to trigger chest discomfort or asthma, runners that are prone to such symptoms may be better off running indoors. 

Trail running has been gaining popularity in Hong Kong but has its own unique requirements as compared to road running

As trail running has been gaining popularity over recent years, it is fairly common that runners would have to grapple with the dilemma of choosing between trail running or road running. It is important to note that as each of these forms of running have its own specific requirements of the runner’s bodily attributes with the former requiring more activation of the core and stabilizers in response to environmental obstacles and the latter calls for the maintenance of a steady gait pattern, cross training might indeed be the most beneficial to overall enhancement of the runners. 

Below are articles on some of the most popular destinations for road and trail runners in Hong Kong: 

7 best Hong Kong running routes from SCMP 

Best Running Trails in Hong Kong by RunSociety 

6. Design A Program That Works for You

As running is a high impact sport which can be harsh on your hips, knees, ankles and feet, be sure to screen out pre-existing injuries with a trained professional before hitting the roads. Your physiotherapist can tailor-make a training program suitable for your fitness and goals. We typically follow this process:

Initial assessment: One-on-one consultation to understand your current level of fitness, lifestyle, needs and goals, followed by in-depth assessment of your physical status (e.g. posture, alignment, soft tissue flexibility, joint mobility, strength testing etc.)

Running Assessment: A comprehensive evaluation of the biomechanical components and parameters essential to running injury free by means of video analysis.

Training program planning and review: A regular review to assess your progress and fine tuning of your training plan based on your body’s condition and training goals.

Want more information about running?

Here are two articles from The Running Physio with plenty of interesting information which you may find useful 

  1. Advice for new runners 
  2. How to avoid injury through training error- 8 top tips 

Written by

Franklin Lam

Master in Physiotherapy | Registered Physiotherapist, MPT (HKPU)

Stationed at our Wellington Street Branch, Franklin is an experienced physiotherapist and keen fitness enthusiast. He actively workouts in the gym and often goes on long runs around Hong Kong during the weekends. Franklin’s special interest is working with athletes to help them recover and enhance their performance. Read more about Franklin on his bio.

Get more personalised advice by booking a session and a running assessment with Franklin.