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Going the Distance: How Much Running is Too Much?

Apr. 20, 2019

We know running is good exercise. We also know that too much of a good thing can backfire. So how much running is too much?

How much running is too much?

The Queen City has its share of running fanatics. Cincinnati runners turn out in full force for 5Ks, 10Ks and marathons – especially for the Flying Pig Marathon which garners approximately 40,000 participants each year.

“From a health standpoint, there’s no true definition of what constitutes a long distance run — after all, one person’s mile is another person’s marathon,” says Brian Grawe, MD, a UC Health orthopaedics and sports medicine specialist at West Chester Hospital and assistant professor of orthopaedics and sports medicine for the UC College of Medicine. “However, common injuries can crop up with an avid running lifestyle.”

Dr. Grawe often treats endurance athletes, and many patients come into the practice with lower extremity injuries, including:

  • Anterior (near the front) knee pain.

  • Plantar fasciitis (heel pain).

  • Achilles tendinitis (pain in the band of tissue that connects calf muscles at the back of the lower leg to the heel bone).

  • Shin splints (pain along the inner edge of the shinbone).

In most cases, rest is the best medicine. “If you run through muscle pain and joint aches, inflammation can become significant and make it harder to recover,” says Dr. Grawe. “You need to listen to your body and know when enough is enough.”

To combat inflammation, Dr. Grawe recommends long-distance runners take low-dose ibuprofen before a run.

Dr. Grawe also notes that dynamic stretching is a large part of preventing injuries. Dynamic stretching (stretching in motion) has been shown to prevent injury and to improve range of motion and overall performance.

“Warming up in motion improves muscle performance and power. Previous generations believed that static stretching –sitting down and stretching each muscle for 10 to 12 seconds– was best, but that’s not the case,” says Dr. Grawe.

Listening to your body is the most important factor for a healthy running lifestyle. As far as health benefits go, running is exceptionally healthy for the entire body and specifically good for heart health.

Weight-bearing exercises like running –as opposed to non-weight bearing exercises like swimming– also aid in bone metabolism and can prevent osteoporosis.

Additionally, distance running builds muscle endurance, which can help mitigate small injuries that can occur on a day-to-day basis or catch up with you over time.

Dr. Grawe also points out that long-distance running builds endurance both physically and mentally. “Endurance runners that I provide care to seem to be able to bolster their coping mechanisms and center themselves mentally.”

Call 513-298-DOCS (3627) for the name of an orthopaedic and sports medicine specialist near you.

Run for Your Life: Quick Tips for Running Safety 

  • Dynamic stretching. Begin your run with a warm-up that includes exercises like walking, side lunges, lateral leg swings, and single-leg deadlifts. Make dynamic stretching part of your running routine to stave off injury.

  • Resistance training. Strength training also helps prevent injuries. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that adults perform resistance exercises for each of the major muscle groups two or more times per week. Strong muscles are better equipped to absorb the high impact of repetitive foot strikes that comes along with running.

  • Shoe selection. According to the ACSM, a running shoe should protect the feet against injury, but should not do the work of the foot by providing excessive cushioning and lots of extra support in the arch.

  • Dress for the weather. We all know how fickle Cincinnati weather can be. Make sure to wear appropriate clothing and to protect yourself from the elements. Layered, moisture-wicking clothes are best.

  • Fuel your body. Bring a small pack for water and snacks during your run, and make sure to hydrate adequately after running.

  • Be aware of your surroundings. If you’re running on the road, always use extreme caution. Wear high-visibility clothing. Make sure you’re seen by traffic, and also make sure to face traffic–it’s easier to see and react to oncoming cars.

  • Rest and recover. Give your body adequate rest, plenty of water, and if you have particularly sore areas, apply ice and take low dose ibuprofen.

(Source: American College of Sports Medicine)