How to Train for a 5K (and Stay Safe!)

A potential injury risk that accompanies running—on a trail, track, or even treadmill—is heel pain.

Now, running can be a tough physical activity, but it shouldn’t be a painful one.

If you have either sharp or dull pain anywhere in a foot, heel, or ankle, it is a symptom of a medical issue.

The good news about heel pain is that you can come see us here at Premier Podiatry Group and we can create a treatment plan for you.

The bad news about foot and ankle injuries from running is that they even happen in the first place.

man training for a 5k marathon

Why is foot pain so common for runners?

There are two major reasons for this. One, you place a lot of physical force on the landing foot when you run (or even when you walk).

Sure, our bodies are naturally able to handle this to a certain degree, but overuse pushes the boundaries of what they can handle. (We are, after all, only human!)

Second, there are several injuries and medical conditions that can cause heel pain – which is one of the more common lower limb problems for runners. These include:

  • Plantar fasciitis – In this condition, the fibrous band of tissue running along the bottom of the foot—the plantar fascia—becomes inflamed on account of overuse. You will certainly recognize this injury when you wake up and experience sharp, shooting pain in your heel that accompanies the first steps of the day.
  • Heel bursitis – Bursae are tiny, fluid-filled sacs that act as protection in various areas of your body where muscles or tendons move, including joints. You also have them in the heel area and when they become inflamed, often on account of overuse or extend periods of pressure, it can be quite painful.
  • Achilles tendinitis – The Achilles tendon is the largest, strongest tendon in the body, but that doesn’t mean it is exempt from injury. On the contrary, Achilles tendinitis—inflammation of this particular tendon—is rather common. Much like plantar fasciitis and heel bursitis, it is caused by overuse, but also when physical activity levels are increased too rapidly.
  • Sever’s disease – Heel pain is not just for older patients. When adolescents, especially ones who are physically active, experience this, it is often Sever’s disease. In this condition, the calcaneus (heel bone) grows faster than supporting tendons, ligaments, and muscles, which forces them to stretch excessively and become painful.

If you are thinking about participating in any of our local 5k races, it’s important to take the appropriate precautions to reduce your risk of those kinds of injuries.

These preventative measures include:

Ease into it. If you are new to running, you may need to start with a walk/jog (or run) mix before you are ready to jump into a full-fledged running program.

Doing so enables your body to adjust to the additional stress you are going to be placing on it.

Here’s a plan you may wish to follow:

  • In the first week, walk at four minutes and then jog for one (and repeat the patter for however long you are planning.
  • In the second week, change the times to three minutes of walking and two minutes of jogging.
  • In the third week, walk two minutes for every three minutes of jogging.
  • In the fourth week, walk one minute for every four minutes of jogging.
  • In the fifth week, jog the entire time. Then, start to increase your speed a little (no more than 10%) every week thereafter.

Warm up and stretch first. No matter if you are training or racing, you need to prepare your body ahead of time. Take 5-10 minutes and walk briskly or jog lightly and do some dynamic stretches before you run.

Make sure you’re wearing proper running shoes. Don’t just order your footwear online! Actually go to a physical, “brick and mortar” store. Why? So you can see how your shoes actually fit. Additionally, going to a store that caters to runners will enable you to ask questions from a professional who knows about which shoes are best for which types of pronation patterns.

Consult with medical professionals. Been awhile since you were last physically active on a regular basis? Started your running program and now you have foot or ankle pain? Come see us! We can assess your lower limbs before you begin training and identify potential risks, and we provide effective treatment for a wide range of foot and ankle problems – including sports injuries.

woman stretching foot before run

There are going to be times when you need professional treatment—and it’s always a smart idea to come see us for an accurate diagnosis—but certain home care for heel pain will be able to help until your appointment. Some of these include:

  • Rest. Your body is amazingly capable of resolving injuries, but it needs time to do so. If you continue to perform normal tasks, you impede its ability to heal.
  • Stretch. A lot of people who have heel pain do so because of tightness in either their plantar fascia or Achilles tendon. Both of these essential connective tissues anchor to the heel bone, so this makes complete sense. With that being the case, you can start to relieve tension from tight tissue by keeping them limber with an appropriate stretching regimen. Our office will provide instructions on how to stretch for optimal healing.
  • Medication. Always check with our office for proper dosages and then pick up any recommended pain medications. We may suggest nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine to alleviate pain.
  • Ice. Cover an ice pack with a thin towel—to prevent damaging your skin—and apply to the pained heel three or four times during the course of the day for 15 to 20 minutes per session.
  • Wear appropriate, well-fitting shoes. Too many foot and ankle issues, especially those that cause heel pain, stem from footwear that either isn’t right for the activity being performed or flat out don’t fit properly. Your shoes should cradle your heels snuggly, have room for toes to wiggle, and offer cushioning and arch support. Further, they simply must fit properly (not too big, not too small).

Our hope is that your condition is not terribly severe and can be resolved with conservative treatment options like these. In many cases, they can. Sometimes, however, patients need more aggressive or advanced care.

The best way for you to know what is right for you is to see our doctors.

In the event you do find yourself experiencing pain while training or participating in a race, come see us at Premier Podiatry Group.

We will provide a professional diagnosis and then create an appropriate treatment plan to address it for you.

Contact our Ebensburg office today for more information or to request an appointment by calling (814) 472-2660.

If you’d prefer, take a moment right now and fill out our online form to connect with us and get started on your path to foot and ankle health!