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You can run injury-free.

As the original 1970s running boom soared into the ’80s, ’90s and beyond, running 26.2 miles and being able to wear the marathon finisher’s T-shirt became a more accessible idea. The marathon boom kept booming. Some 25,000 runners finished a marathon on U.S. soil in 1976. In 1980, the number climbed to 143,000. The upward trend continued to a record of 550,000 marathon finishers in 2014. And that was a paltry figure compared to the number of half-marathon finishers in 2014: 2 million.

One thing that hasn’t kept up with those trends until more recently is a smart, aggressive approach to running recovery. Embedded in the rise of long-distance running numbers is also data that suggests two or three out of every four runners suffers an injury each year—the kind of injury that keeps them on the proverbial sidelines.

The common advice offered to runners went along the lines of three or four tips: Follow your hard or long running days with days of easy running. Drink a lot of Gatorade, and do some easy stretching. Buy new running shoes often.

But that advice hasn’t worked. In the past 10 years, we’ve also begun to reject the idea that runners are simply doomed to bad knees, sore tendons, and inflamed nerves in the hips and back.

If we truly are born to run, how do we not mess it up? And if we have messed it up, what can we do about it?

Plenty, as it turns out. Here are some of the key ideas that have gained traction in dealing with the root cause of chronic running injuries, as well as optimized recovery from hard bouts of training.

1. Routine maintenance. Runners have the responsibility and ability to perform routine maintenance on their bodies on a daily basis. It doesn’t have to be a two-hour physical therapy routine. We’ve found that as little as five or 10 minutes a day of simple mobility exercises can heal and restore tissues and sliding surfaces between tissues, improve the positions we rely on and the mechanics of how we move between those positions, and ultimately can prevent injuries well before they begin to sizzle below the surface. You can find a daily follow-along mobility practice at www.mobilitywod.com.

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2. Hydration, sleep and an anti-inflammatory diet. How we live our lives has a great impact on the quality and degree of recovery. Do you put in an hour of running each day and then spend the rest of the day eating nutrition-poor food, cutting out sleep, sitting at a desk and failing to hydrate? The math will work against you if you spend the other 23 hours of the day interfering with your body’s metabolic and hormonal processes.

3. Warm-up and warm-down. One thing we’ve found is attention to your body and its tissues will have a significant effect on your recovery. If you adhere to the mind-over-body mantra and hammer the pavement when you run, willing your tissues to cooperate even though they are sending out pain signals—the so-called “running through your injury” badge of honor—there’s an inevitable end to your enjoyment of running. Fortunately, there’s a new attitude about paying attention and respecting all pain signals and immediately dealing with them, as well as ritualistically warming up your tissues before you begin running and warming them down after a run. Warm-ups and warm-downs help the body’s blood and lymphatic systems do their Formula 1–style work to prevent injury and enhance recovery.

4. Spend time barefoot. Let your feet be feet—let your toes spread and arch exercises flex their amazing functionality. When you do wear shoes, wear flat shoes so that you aren’t compromising the tissues and the lower leg by shortening them.

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5. Invest in compression. Compression socks and tights are easy to use, and they give the lymphatic system an assist in moving waste products out of tissues and moving in nutrient-rich blood. And you can do the Superman thing and wear compression underneath your office attire. No one will ever know but you.

Photo credit: astrosystem, Adobe Stock

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