Archive for the ‘Runners – Injuries and exercises’ Category

Judging other parents is like flatulence: we all do it, but none of us will admit to it. So let’s just be honest, every parent judges every other parent. Parenting is something most of us experience, and even if we don’t experience it directly, we observe it. We all believe we’re experts at it, but in reality we’re very unsure about how to do it properly. parental judgementBefore I had my children, I certainly had my own idea of the brand of parent I would be; and now that I am one, the reality couldn’t be further removed. We only held out on a soother for 3 weeks, I do let them watch TV to get a half hour of quietness, I do bribe them with sugar and we eat very little organic food. Whether it is on a big or small level, there’s a myriad of parenting decisions that other parents (and even non-parents) feel obligated to judge.

One of the recent decisions we faced was whether or not to allow our “nearly” 6 year old daughter Molly to walk to the shop nearby our house to buy milk. Now, to put this in context the shop is around a 1 minute walk away, but it does involve negotiating a reasonably busy road within our housing estate.  It’s a big decision (for us, not her) but it’s been on the cards for a while. We’ve traipsed up and down the route with her countless times and now we have a determined five year old girl who wants to throw off the stifling shackles of parental protection and walk on her own. In Germany, Denmark and Japan this tendency of youth to strive for independence and autonomy is not only encouraged, it is an expectation. German parents don’t hover around they children in playgrounds, they huddle together, drinking coffee, not paying attention to their children who hang off a wooden pole 20 feet above a sand pit. They aren’t ignoring their children; they just trust them. In Japan, on the first day of playschool, kids walk or take public transport to school and in Denmark it is common for children to start walking or taking the bus to school alone at around age six. These countries continue to support children’s autonomy whereas here in Ireland a trend towards greater caution seems to be spreading. So when molly asked to come running with me, one of my concerns was the reaction of other parents. They would inevitably make judgements and presume I was putting her at (perceived) risk. Well meaning parents would whisper their concerns that I was putting her health, not to mention her athletic ability at risk because kids can’t run long distances; it’s too dangerous?  Or is it….. The scientific community provides little guidance on the subject. There is no evidence to suggest how much running is good or bad for kids. In fact children have been running marathons since the 1970s. Wesley Paul not only ran the 1977 New York city marathon he completed it in 3 hours and 31 seconds at 8 years of age!!!! He then went on to break the 3 hour barrier at age 9, a time most adult runners can only dream of. His motivation – “ I just wanted to run with my father”. More recently Keelan Glass, age 6, became the youngest girl on record to complete a half marathon. Her time 2:47:30 also earned her a single-age world record, according to the Association of Road Racing Statisticians. She was pushed in a stroller by her parents while they trained for triathlons. Eventually they let her ride her bike alongside them before finally allowing her to start running.

If running long distances isn’t harmful to young children, what is generating this fear amongst parents? The reality is that many adults find running difficult, dutiful and sore. They see it as a punishment and they don’t want to impose this on kids. But is it fair to project our societal bias on kids, who, if given the right context, will run for hours at play with the natural fun and freedom. So molly now brings me for a run a few times a week – whenever we have time and her busy schedule can fit me in – and we trot at her pace and she chats and sometimes stops. The last day we covered just less than 2 miles and who knows when she’ll want to go again but I’ll be happy to be her running partner. We’ve taken one small step, we have let her pop to the shop by herself. The first time she did this, she came back beaming, proudly handing me the milk she bought herself. So I decided there was no need to tell her that her mother was out on road hiding behind parked cars and trees, watching her the whole time.

We walk, drive, bus or train the same route to get to work, we pick up “the usual” coffee en- route, we arrive to work at the same time every day, sit at the same desk, take our breaks and lunch at the same time every day with or without the same people and usually in the same spot. daily-routineMost of us do the same things every day, we crave and embrace routines, and they are comforting. While routine is tremendously beneficial for organizing all the areas in your life, it does so with it a level of boredom and monotony

A routine is something that is done so often that it is automatic, we don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s something that’s moulded into our lives, it creates structure and order and a feeling of calm. But doing the same things every day creates a feeling of frustration and stagnation, even if the tolerance for routine is quite high. It may be worth getting rid of some of these routines, and replacing them with experiences that can really enhance the areas of life that have become too ordinary and boring. But remember not all routines are bad – brushing teeth, eating breakfast are good healthy routines and for me a nice morning coffee is lovely routine that I have no intention of changing. But running too can become too habitual, It can grow to be overly repetitive, and repetitive training causes recurring stress and as a result – injuries. The reality is the sport that we enjoy is very repetitive; It’s the same movement a thousand – or tens of thousands – of times, with the result that the risk of overuse injuries skyrockets. To make it worse: most recreational runners wear the same shoes, run at the same pace over the same distance on the same routes every day – we can be slow to vary or change our routine. All of these factors increases the stresses experienced by the body when running, but all of these risks can be manipulated.

Introducing more variety into training can and reduce the stress of repetition. Wearing two to three pairs of running shoes in rotation throughout the week can lower your risk of injury (Malisoux et al., 2015). Multiple-shoe wearers may have a 39% lower risk of injury than the single-shoe wearers. It is thought that different shoes may distribute the impact forces of running differently, thereby lessening the strain on any given tissue and preventing lower limb fatigue and injury. Again Supporting this idea of reducing injury risk by varying tissue loads, is the finding that runners who cross-train have a lower incidence of injury (Malisoux et al., 2015).

Apparently running on the grass is better than running on hard roads, because softer ground protects the body from injuries……. Or does it? Whilst there is evidence that running on harder surfaces increases the impact force when the foot hits the ground (Kerdok et al., 2002), there are no comprehensive scientific studies that show a link between the hardness of a surface athletes train on and injury rates (Marti et al., 1988; Taunton et al., 2003; van Gent et al., 2007) Road running has long been vilified, and described as brutal, resulting in joggers being left on the scrap heap requiring joint replacements early in life. So why do so many think a soft surface is more forgiving on limbs.  Is it another example of trusting the accepted norm rather than questioning conventional wisdom? It seems obvious that the impact of running on hard concrete is greater than running on grass, but why are injury rates not affected? The reason has been proven time and time again, the body automatically adapts to changes in running surface. Rapid adjustment in leg stiffness facilitates the smooth transition between surfaces of different firmness. The body anticipates the stiffness of the running surface and adjusts how strongly the leg muscles contract in preparation for impact. This allows the body to pre-tune the legs differently when stepping from concrete onto grass. Strangely when running on a hard surface the legs are less stiff than they are on a soft surface (Ferris et al., 1999). Both high and low leg stiffness caused by running on the different surfaces has been linked to increasing the risk of injury (Nigg, 2001; Butler et al., 2003). So with no evidence that running on softer surfaces prevents injuries, Is it possible that the issue isn’t the hardness of the surface but rather the unremitting “same-ness” of the surface? Most recreational runners run on and paved paths and roads. But on unvarying surfaces, the body is subjected to exactly the same forces with every strike of the foot. The biomechanics of each step are identical, meaning that the same muscles and tissues are under pressure – possibly leading to injury.

So if running paved hill repeats in your asics yesterday caused pain in your foot? Then today wear a different shoe and run on trails, keeping the terrain flat. These subtle differences may change how the foot strikes the ground, how the impact is distributed through your legs and therefore the running pattern. Often these small variations are all that is needed to avoid a little niggle from developing into a serious injury. I will continue the routine of buying a nice morning coffee, because I enjoy it. But I will always look out for new shops and types of coffee, because variety is the spice of life!



Butler RJ, Crowell HP, 3rd & Davis IM. (2003). Lower extremity stiffness: implications for performance and injury. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon) 18, 511-517.


Ferris DP, Liang K & Farley CT. (1999). Runners adjust leg stiffness for their first step on a new running surface. J Biomech 32, 787-794.


Kerdok AE, Biewener AA, McMahon TA, Weyand PG & Herr HM. (2002). Energetics and mechanics of human running on surfaces of different stiffnesses. J Appl Physiol (1985) 92, 469-478.


Malisoux L, Ramesh J, Mann R, Seil R, Urhausen A & Theisen D. (2015). Can parallel use of different running shoes decrease running-related injury risk? Scand J Med Sci Sports 25, 110-115.


Marti B, Vader JP, Minder CE & Abelin T. (1988). On the epidemiology of running injuries. The 1984 Bern Grand-Prix study. Am J Sports Med 16, 285-294.


Nigg BM. (2001). The role of impact forces and foot pronation: a new paradigm. Clin J Sport Med 11, 2-9.


Taunton JE, Ryan MB, Clement DB, McKenzie DC, Lloyd-Smith DR & Zumbo BD. (2003). A prospective study of running injuries: the Vancouver Sun Run “In Training” clinics. Br J Sports Med 37, 239-244.


van Gent RN, Siem D, van Middelkoop M, van Os AG, Bierma-Zeinstra SM & Koes BW. (2007). Incidence and determinants of lower extremity running injuries in long distance runners: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med 41, 469-480; discussion 480.