Be the Tortoise, not the Hare. Increase your weekly and monthly running totals gradually. Use the 10-percent rule as a general guideline, but realize that it might be too aggressive for you--especially if you are injury-prone. A five-percent or three-percent increase might be more appropriate. In addition to following a hard-day/easy-day approach, or more likely a hard/easy/easy pattern, many top runners use a system where they scale back their weekly mileage by 20 to 40 percent on a regular basis, maybe once a month. And remember that mileage isn't the only issue. Experts point out that an overly aggressive approach to hill running, intervals, trail running--indeed, any change in your training habits--can produce problems. Keeping a detailed training log can help you gauge your personal training threshold. Record your weekly mileage and how you feel after your runs. Look for patterns. For instance, you may notice that your knees ache only when you're logging more than 40 miles a week.
Another major bugaboo: You used to run 30 miles a week, you got injured, now you want to get back to your old routine as quickly as possible. Don't. Take your time. The same applies to that upcoming race--if you missed some training time, don't accelerate the pace and distance of your remaining workouts in an effort to "catch up." Instead, adjust your goals as needed.
2. Listen to Your Body
This is perhaps the oldest and most-widely-repeated advice for avoiding injuries, and still the best: If you don't run through pain, you can nip injuries in the bud. Most running injuries don't erupt from nowhere and blindside you. They produce signals--aches, soreness, persistent pain--but it's up to you to not dismiss them and take appropriate (in)action. "Runners can be crazy the way they'll run through pain," Ferber says. "They need to pay more attention to pain and get to the root of what's causing it."
Related: 6 Benefits of Running
At the first sign of an atypical pain (discomfort that worsens during a run or causes you to alter your gait), take three days off. Substitute light walking, water training, or bicycling if you want. On the fourth day, run half your normal easy-day amount at a much slower pace than usual. If you typically run four miles at nine minutes per mile, do just two miles at 11-minute pace. Success? Excellent. Reward yourself with another day off, and then run three miles at 10-minute pace. If you're pain-free, continue easing back into your normal routine. If not, take another three days off, then repeat the process to see if it works the second time around. If not, you've got two obvious options: Take more time off, and/or schedule an appointment with a sports-medicine specialist.
3. Consider Shortening Your Stride
This comes as a bit of a surprise because it's not discussed much in running circles. Nonetheless, more than half the experts I interviewed mentioned it. And a December 2009 study reports that runners who shorten their stride by 10 percent could reduce risk of tibial stress fracture by three to six percent. The basic idea: Overstriding is a common mistake that can lead to decreased efficiency and increased injury risk. If you shorten your stride, you'll land "softer" with each footfall, incurring lower impact forces. "A shorter stride will usually lower the impact force, which should reduce injuries," says biomechanist Alan Hreljac, Ph.D., a retired researcher from California State University-Sacramento.
For the last decade, Davis has been researching runners' abilities to change their stride. Previously, experts believed that your stride was as immutable as your fingerprint, but Davis has used biofeedback equipment to disprove the old view. "We have shown that running and walking gait can be altered in such a way as to reduce pain, improve function, and reduce injury risk," she says.
If you've had frequent running injuries, you might want to experiment running with your normal stride, just slightly shorter--about 10 percent. "This will help reduce your stride so you have more turnover," Davis says. "The number of footstrikes or repetitions trumps having a longer stride because it reduces your impact load." Start with a short
distance, like a quarter mile, when making this change. If you have an injury that's related to your gait, see a physical therapist.