Waves of runners make their way down the trail as the Girls on the Run of Northern Arizona 5K begins. 

It is not the run that breaks you down -- it’s the run you’re not prepared for.

Almost all runners have dealt with a running-related injury. There are lots of reasons why running can lead to injury, but you can take specific actions to avoid getting hurt this winter. It’s not about luck -- it’s about leading with your noggin instead of your legs.

A few tips. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. It takes time to build up to and adapt to the stress of running. And building up your mileage gradually can be protective.

When life gets busy, resist the urge to jump into tougher or longer workouts in an attempt to make up for the ones you missed. Easy runs and building a base should be your bread and butter (sprinkling in harder efforts as you progress). It might seem like things are going well, but the acute stress of one big run or workout you’re not prepared for can be just as detrimental as the chronic stress of upping your mileage quickly in just a few weeks. Aim to take a recovery week with less intensity and volume once a month.

Make small changes. Buy a new pair of shoes before the old pair gets worn out. If you are not hurt, don’t drastically change your shoe type. When introducing new shoes, don’t wear them on every run.

If you are introducing hills, uneven terrain, harder surfaces or speed into your routine, allow time for recovery after this new stress or intensity. And remember that what works for others may not work for you. Instead of trying to pack in as much as you can, ask yourself this question: What is the minimal amount of effort required for me to reach my goal?

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And did I mention recovery?

Devote time to perfecting your running skills. Put 20 percent of your effort into working on your cadence, paying attention to your stride length, foot strike, center-body control and drive. Also, work on your muscles outside of running. If you can’t do isolated muscle movements in the gym, it may be hard to use those muscles when you run and especially when you’re tired. If you have weak areas, they can be more susceptible to strain or can compromise your mechanics and efficiency.

Getting behind on sleep and eating poorly are sure-fire ways to burn yourself out. Avoiding illness is just as important as avoiding injury, and preparedness and recovery are two heads of the same coin. It’s OK to train hard, but it’s just as important to train smart. The medium- to long-term payoff is worth it.

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A.J. Gregg is a chiropractor and certified strength and conditioning specialist at Hypo2 Sport Chiropractic and Performance Training in Flagstaff.

Julie Hammonds is coordinating editor for High Country Running. She invites submissions on any aspect of the local running scene. Send columns, tips and ideas to runner@juliehammonds.com or via Twitter @highcountry_run.


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