Running has become popular again. Naturally, it can be a good sport for social distancing. You lace up your sneakers, put on some shorts (or tights depending on what season you’re still in), and head out the front door. And while we may be heading down the path of developing healthier habits, are we also going to see a spike in injuries?

While the running community (myself included) loves when a newcomer decides to add a run to their daily itinerary or even when a long-time runner has accomplished a running achievement, many of us are concerned.

There is a lot of talk online about how to stay safe while running. You’ll find several articles on if you should wear a mask or not, where you should run, and many other tips to stay safe. This is much needed information during this time.

So what’s missing missing piece to running during COVID-19? In my opinion, it’s proper training plans.

Proper training plans are usually designed with a base mileage, rest periods, and plenty of time before a main event race. A training program that is too aggressive increases the risk of a running-related injury.

There are more irresponsible running challenges trending.

With race season cancelled, virtual races and online challenges took over. The one that sparked this post was REI’s run your #TiniestMile challenge. REI has challenged runners to design a tiny-lap, share a photo or video and tag the company.

REI tweets, “Everyone’s tiniest mile will be different, such as running around a mailbox, or running around a table. Your creativity could inspire others!”

What makes this challenge irresponsible is that if you’re running a tiny lap, you’re likely not keeping proper running form. Although, there’s no perfect technique to running, form matters.

This challenge is only a mile so hopefully it’s not long enough to cause injuries. Yet, we’re seeing the same type of mini-lap challenge even with longer distances, like marathons (26.2 miles). Runners are completing many, many laps around their tiny spaces.

Then, there are other endurance challenges that encourages runners to run in the middle of the night or to run long distance multiple days in a row. Like the 4X4X48 challenge (4 miles every 4 hours for 48 hours) or 10X10 (10 miles for 10 days in a row).

These type of viral challenges could be encouraging runners to increase miles too quickly and to forego proper rest periods. Running coaches generally recommend increasing mileage about 10% from week to week with recovery weeks about every four weeks. It’s not an exact number but it’s a good starting point.

Risk of Running Injury

A recent study found that over 60% of male injured runners and over 50% of female injured runners had increased their weekly running distance by >30% between consecutive weeks at least once in the four weeks prior to injury.

Another study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine found strong evidence that running more than 40 miles per week increases men’s risk of lower extremity injuries from as low as 19 percent to as high as 79 percent.

There’s a point at which most runners will hit the top of the benefit curve. More miles brings more harm than good.

Improper changes to training (distance, speed, or frequency of runs), training surface, running gear, shoe type, foot strike, or running form are all frequent causes of running injuries.

Plue, high intensity running or overtraining depresses your immune system. It can make a person MORE susceptible to illness. It’s one of the few negative side-effects of running.

Train smart.

In order to keep running, you have to do the necessary non-running training that makes running possible. If you want to be running in three or four months from now, you have to train smart now. The body is capable of being challenged and pushed to its limits. Yet, it wants that recover time too.

  1. Focus on your own personal training. It can be tempting to sign up for back-to-back virtual races. Make sure you’re factoring in rest and recovery days.
  2. Program different types of runs to create balance. Run at different speeds, terrain, and distances to help build your miles.
  3. Cross-training and active recovery days will help you be a better runner.
  4. Mentally recover from running. It’s important to give your body and your mind this time to heal.
  5. Fuel your body. Don’t forget nutrition plays a critical role in your running performance.

Taking care of your body and getting regular exercise are among the recommendations of ways to protect and care for yourself during the worldwide pandemic. The trick is to find the right balance for you.