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Running safety: The road less traveled may have a reason

U.S. Air Force Airmen participate in a physical fitness assessment on the track outside the Aderholt Fitness Center at Hurlburt Field, Fla., July 19, 2011. Knowing which types of surfaces to run on is an important factor to consider when conducting physical training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Hayden K. Hyatt)

U.S. Air Force Airmen participate in a physical fitness assessment on the track outside the Aderholt Fitness Center at Hurlburt Field, Fla., July 19, 2011. Knowing which types of surfaces to run on is an important factor to consider when conducting physical training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Hayden K. Hyatt)

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- It's not unusual to see several Air Commandos conduct physical training on Hurlburt Field's streets, trails and shores throughout the day. The tall trees along the woods and the breeze from the Sound may be an attractive change of scenery for some who get tired of a fixed treadmill.

But just as shoes are important to running, so are other factors like where you run, what level of intensity you choose, and how you react to potential injuries. Knowing which methods to employ and what kind of areas to run on can build on the success of Air Commandos and their families' exercise routines.

"When you run, you have four times your body weight striking the ground with every stride," said Brent Cowen, Hurlburt Field Health and Wellness Center exercise physiologist. "It's a great exercise but it's also a lot of wear-and-tear on your joints."

After selecting new shoes, you may want to break them in on the track, a treadmill or somewhere outdoors. Despite where your interest in running make take you and all of the beautiful, relaxing sights that may accompany them, each has potential hazards.
  • Concrete (Sidewalk): While this is the hardest and most unforgiving surface, it's also the most level. There are more cases of overuse injuries like shin-splints, but less traumatic injuries like sprained or twisted ankles.
  • Asphalt (Streets): This provides more shock absorption, is fairly flat and has a rounded, crowned surface that allows water to roll off it. Runners should run on the right side of the road on the way out as well as running back to keep their feet level while running equal distances. Your feet may be slightly off-balance going one way, but it will be level coming back.
  • Trails: These are a much softer surface that has less overuse injuries, but higher traumatic injuries like tripping because you may not see a tree root or rock.
  • Grass: One of the softest surfaces to run on and is very minimal in overuse injuries due to cushioning. But the traumatic injury rate is higher, because you may not be able to see tripping hazards like rocks, holes and tree stumps. Should you slip or step on the wrong spot, you might end up in a cast.
  • Sand: The sandy shores of the Emerald Coast may be ideal for sandcastles and beachcombers, but running in the sand is not without its challenges. Try to run in shoes as your feet alone will conform to the sand and can cause a lot of pain.
Adverse weather can also play a role in your running routine. Running on slippery surfaces during or after rain is a potential risk that can be avoided. According to the Lance Armstrong Foundation's website, the safest approach is to wait until the track or surface is completely dry before resuming running.

Regardless of where and when you run, Cowen said runners should build up their program in increments. He also recommends runners who are just getting started run only three days a week with cross-training or bike-riding on alternating days.

A good example of proper pacing is the 10 percent rule: runners should not increase the amount of the time, distance and repetitions of their exercises by more than 10 percent each week.

"You should do cardiovascular workouts five days a week, but not running every day," he said. "Build yourself up first."

Perhaps the most important part has to do with what runners should do if they feel something stronger than fatigue or soreness. The popular notion of "no pain, no gain," meaning that the rewards of pain translate to gains in your workout routine, is an idea Cowen said as false.

If you feel pain, stop exercising immediately. Apply ice to inflamed joints and gradually return to running.

"If there's pain, it's there for a reason," Cowen said. "Joint pain, shin splints and back pain can feel like taking a sharp object and poking yourself with it. It doesn't mean if you don't push harder, you're being a wimp. It means there is something going on."

Just like the services they offer for selecting the right shoes, HAWC personnel offer a free running clinic to help Air Commandos and their families ensure they are putting their best foot forward.

"This is what we're here to do and want to do," Cowen said. "If you have questions, comments or concerns, call us for an appointment. We're glad to help you take advantage of the resources the Air Force is providing to you."

For more information about the HAWC's running clinic, call 884-4292.