5 Tips for Pain Free Running

By Dr. Michael Mulick, DO

I remember wanting to smash my heart rate monitor into pieces and scream.  Another marathon attempt now over.  It had been over 20 years since I was able to run without knee pain.  I ran cross-country and track in high school and college but ever since that first year after college, I just could not run.  Ever since then my best has been about 20-30 minutes.  I always wanted to run a marathon.  Every few years I would gather some courage and get inspired and set up a training calendar and make sure I had some nice shoes.  Each training attempt would then explode leaving me frustrated.

In December of 2015, I was reduced to running 5 minutes and maybe cycling 20 minutes.  I decided to get serious, hire a coach, do physical therapy, strength exercises, ice frequently–basically I did everything I was supposed do.  And 18 months later I completed an Ironman triathlon which included my first marathon.  I ran the whole thing with no pain.  Here is my list of 5 things to do when you get so frustrated about your running pains.

1. Ask for help

It’s not working.  If you have tried the same thing more than once, chances are that it isn’t going to work.  It’s time to ask for help.  I kept going to doctors.  That should have worked.  I was wrong and so were all those doctors.  I recommend getting physical therapy, hiring a coach, getting some books, listening to podcasts, and getting some ART (active release techniques).

2. Change form and strengthen your body.

I bought a book called The Cool Impossible by Eric Orton.  This book taught me how to change to a healthier form.  I now run with a much faster cadence (around 180 steps per minute) and I land on my mid foot instead of landing on my heels.

3. Hire a coach.  I hired a coach who helped me put all the pieces together.  A coach will help you figure out all the things you are doing wrong if you allow yourself to be coached and keep an open mind.  I found out that I was doing so many things wrong that I was completely embarrassed.

4. Slow down.  Most amateur runners are running too fast on their easy days and too slow on their fast days.  You need a heart rate monitor for this.  They should be spending a lot of time in zone 2.  Zone 2 is that slow pace that you can do all day.  When you train 80% of your time in zone 2 you build up the muscles, capillaries, and mitochondria and the joints and ligaments are able to keep up.  If you go too fast, you trash your body and you get injured.  Most people are surprised how slow they have to go.  Yes, it really is that slow.  You can get a lactate step test for the most accurate method to determine your zone 2.  The formulas are not that accurate.  There is a method in The Cool Impossible book.  My quick method: run breathing through your nose only.

5. Don’t run every day.  In fact, don’t run as your sole activity.  It is hard on the body but you can build up to doing it right.  A great way for endurance athletes to build up to running a marathon or ultra marathon is to add swimming and cycling to the mix.  As an example, I would do a swim+run workout to get the benefit of a long workout but without running the whole time.  If you swim for an hour and then immediately run for an hour, you get the chance to run on tired legs without having to bash the legs for 2 hours.

What do you think?  Do you have any tips on how to stay healthy while logging a lot of miles?  Or even just a few miles?