You're really into speed walking, and maybe you've started some light jogging. Now, you're thinking of training for your first 5K. But are you prepared for potential injuries? They're pretty common. Between 37 and 56% of long-distance runners are injured each year, notes the journal Sports Health (November 2012).

New or experienced runners can tear up their tendons or grind down their knees. As wonderful as a good run can feel, your legs get pounded with a force 2 to 3 times your bodyweight, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. This repetitive motion can cause pain, inflammation, and even fractures especially in new runners, notes a July 2014 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

As always, talk to your physician before you launch into any new exercise or running regimen. She'll help you get started safely. That said, here are 3 tips to propel you to the 5K finish line without limping home.

Tip #1: Start Slowly, Especially If You Have Extra Weight, Previous Injuries, Or Are Over 45. A May 2013 study in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine found that for novice runners, the highest risk factors for injury included:

  • Obesity
  • Age between 45 and 65 years
  • Previous injuries

Running a 5K is a terrific goal. But ease into it if you fall into one of the above groups, and mix up your exercise. The National Institutes of Health recommends a well-rounded exercise regimen that builds:

  • Endurance
  • Balance
  • Strength
  • Flexibility

Tip #2: Don't Expect To Hit 5K Overnight. Slow and steady wins the race. The Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy (October 2014) notes that novice runners who boosted their running distance by 30% over a two-week period had a higher risk for injuries than runners who increased their distance more modestly (by less than 10% in two weeks). The new runners who pushed themselves too far, too fast, suffered from distance-related running injuries, including:

  • Runner's knee pain around the kneecap or in the front of the knee
  • Shin splints inflammation of the bone tissue, muscles, and tendons in the front of the lower leg
  • Hip inflammation involving the muscles, tendons, or bursa (a fluid-filled sac located on the outer hip bone)

If you pump up your running regimen too quickly, you can also suffer a stress fracture, notes the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. This can sideline you for six to eight weeks. Talk to your physician to build a training program that will work well for you. If you do get injured, see him again right away. He can suggest many potential treatments and preventative strategies, the American Chiropractic Association Rehab Council says. These include:

  • Stretching, strength training, and flexibility exercises
  • Better running shoes
  • A change in your running technique
  • A different running surface
  • Rest and ice therapy

He might also recommend medication, splints, orthotics (shoe inserts), or physical therapy, the JAMA says. Once you're running again, your physician might encourage a couple of “rest days” each week while you're cross-training with another type of exercise.

To prevent running injuries, avoid the terrible too's: Too much, too soon, too fast, too often.

Tip #3: Make A Training Plan, And Mix It Up. Consider working with a trainer or sports medicine resource (like a respected runner's journal or website) to create your training plan and develop the correct running technique. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) says a 5K training program should start with six weeks of strength training and aerobic exercise. Here is one 5K training program the NSCA recommends:

  • First 3 weeks: Run at least 4 days per week, 30 minutes at a time, at a moderate pace. Do cross-training like swimming or cycling 2 or 3 days a week. Add strength training up to 4 days a week.
  • Next 3 weeks: Run 5 to 6 days a week. One of your runs should be a low-intensity, longer-distance run (but don't push further than 25% of your total weekly distance). Continue with your strength training, and reduce your cross training to 1 or 2 days.
  • Weeks 7 to 12: Raise your intensity. Do hard workouts 2 to 3 days a week. Increase your total distance, but not more than 10% every 3 weeks. Make sure you include recovery time.
  • Weeks 13 through 18: Run for longer periods. In the last 2 days before your 5K, do easy runs.

Select the right running shoe for your feet. Low arches: Support designed for motion control and stability. Normal arches: Equal amounts of stability and cushioning. High arches: Cushioning, a softer midsole, and more flexibility.

With the right guidance from your physician and the right training plan, you can push your way to success in the 5K. Just don't forget to take care of your body and have fun.

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