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How to 'run softer' to lessen your risk of injuries and increase speed

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

How to keep the pavement from pounding you back during your run

Confession: I love to run at night. I know it's not the safest option but it just... feels like flying. But the other night I found myself rethinking my habit when I suddenly heard heavy, rapid footfalls right behind me. I turned, my face in the perfect horror-movie expression, to see a man bearing down on me. "Sorry to scare you," he huffed as he ran past me. "I just run loud!"

"Running loud" may have consequences beyond terrifying strangers, however. People who land heavily on their feet when they run are more likely to get injured than those with a softer foot strike, according to a new paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Researchers analyzed the gait, strike and injury rate of 249 recreational but experienced female runners over two years. During that time, 144 had some type of injury. They then looked at those who sought professional help for their injuries and found that those with a "greater vertical impact" — meaning they hit the ground harder — had higher rates of injury than those who reported no injuries.

More: Running in cold weather sucks — these tips make it easier

First things first: nearly 60 percent of experienced runners got injured?! Yikes. (The study also noted that the injured group ran an average of 130 miles per month while the uninjured group only ran about 96 miles per month, which says something important about training frequency and length.)

But the question here is about how so many runners are getting injured. And the high-impact theory makes sense. After all, hitting the ground with more force seems inherently riskier. But, like my late-night running friend, do some of us "just run loud"? Or is there a way to fix it?

Part of the solution may lie in how we strike the ground. For some time now, the research has been suggesting that people who have a mid-foot strike (meaning they land first on the ball of their foot) have fewer injuries and a more efficient stride than people who have a heel strike (meaning they land first on their heel and then roll forward over their foot). While there isn't much research into this exact question — this BJofSM study only looked at heel strikers — the authors still felt confident in recommending switching to a mid-foot strike as a way to "run softer."

More: Arch support shoe inserts may make you a worse runner

Another option to help you stop literally pounding the pavement is to consciously think about landing lighter and adjust your stride accordingly, said Irene Davis, PhD, the Harvard professor who led the study, in an interview with the New York Times.

"One of the runners we studied, a woman who has run multiple marathons and never been hurt, had some of the lowest rates of loading that we’ve ever seen,” she explained. “When you watched her run, it was like seeing an insect running across water. It was beautiful.” She added it might be helpful to imagine running on eggshells or to adjust your running cadence.

A way to pound the pavement and not have it pound back? Sign me up! And, really, who wouldn't want to look like an insect running across water?

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