Common Issues for Runners (and how to solve them)
Author: Stephanie Ford & Danae Baggs Date Posted: 28 October 2020
Chafing, black toenails, rainy weather, cramps...running isn't always the simple sport that you might think! But all these problems are more are solvable. Here’s our list of common issues runners encounter and how to fix them.
I love talking to my non-running friends about running. In particular, I love the priceless look of complete incomprehension when I explain that vomiting, the dreaded runner’s runs, lost toenails, and getting out in unseasonable weather are all par for the course.
In the interest of your comfort, we've compiled some handy tips to help you conquer those pesky problems you'll most likely end up facing at some point or another as a runner.
Nipples, underarms, lower back, between your cheeks, between your thighs... it can seem like no part of your body is immune to chafing. And when those tender spots get wet in your post-run shower, you might consider quitting on the spot. Ouch!
So, how do you prevent chafing while running? A happy combination of well-chosen apparel and lube.
- Bodyglide Anti-Chafe Balm - my saviour! I lube up using BodyGlide before each and every run. I’m fortunate enough to only really suffer between my thighs on shorter runs, but need to use it between my cheeks too on longer runs and under my arms if I switch to a singlet while wearing a backpack. Your hotspots might be a bit different. Just know, wherever you need to lube - you’re not alone! BodyGlide is especially great because it's non-greasy, sweat-proof and easily removed with a little soap and water in the shower.
- Choose apparel for longer runs wisely - I’ve found that wearing longer, tighter-fitting gear is my best defence against chafing. In long winter tights, I can skip the BodyGlide altogether. Wearing my Icebreaker Half Zip, I can avoid back and underarm chafing year-round. As for shorts, avoid anything with protruding seams between your legs - or opt for running skirts and couple that with plenty of lube. Always wear your new gear on a shorter run before tackling something long to reduce the risk of chafing. Pro tip: invest in some sports-specific underwear like Runderwear or Exofficio.
- Protect your nipples - because they're likely to chafe raw and even bleed. Use anti-chafe cream, bandaids, a sports bra, whatever - just be sure to do something!
When heat, moisture and friction builds up in your shoes (as they will over long or frequent runs), it often results in painful blisters on your feet. But don't worry, you're in luck: we have a whole article on preventing and treating blisters!
Muscle cramps are both painful and annoying - they're one of the biggest reasons people fail to complete races or marathons. They're caused by dehydration (imbalanced electrolyte levels), poor stretching and/or insufficient carbohydrates.
- Stretch and warm up properly - keep your muscles limber by spending around 10 minutes stretching out (at the minimum) your calves, hamstrings and quadriceps before a run
- Drink enough water - you lose a lot of water by exercising intensely, so carry a handheld bottle or wear a running vest with a bottle or bladder to keep yourself hydrated.
- SaltStick electrolyte replacement- SaltStick electrolyte salts, which come in capsule, fastchews or liquid form, are formulated to replace the electrolyte profile lost in sweat during exercise. You can pop a powder chock-full of electrolytes like Endura Rehydration Low Carb Fuel in your post-run shake.
- Cramp-Solv - this fast-acting homeopathic formula can ease muscular cramps and spasms, plus it comes in a small pump-action bottle so you can pop it in a pocket and take it with you on races.
- Strapping tape and kinesiology tape - strapping tape supports your muscles, decreasing pain and cramping. Kinesiology tape (k-tape) goes a step further by decompressing the tissue immediately below the skin, which can likewise decrease pain, improve blood flow, reduce swelling and even delay fatigue.
- Compression clothing - compression gear purports many benefits, and one is that it can help reduce or alleviate leg cramps. Try compression-specific apparel like M2O compression socks, calf guards or calf sleeves, and compression leggings or shorts.
- Massage your muscles - regular sports massages can promote better blood flow to your muscles and keep them stretched and flexible. Consider investing in your own personal percussive therapy (massage) devices, like one from Theragun or Flow Sports.
Experiencing stomach cramps or side stitches instead of muscle cramps? Imbalanced electrolytes can still contribute, but these tips may help too:
- Check your breathing - beginner runners can be prone to shallow breathing when they should be breathing deeping, from the lower lung. If you get nerves before a race, you may be breathing more rapidly than usual, which is a gateway to shallow breathing. So, practice breathing from your diaphragm stat!
- Don't overeat or overdrink - unique to stomach cramping, eating or drinking too much can prevent you from getting a large enough breath (see the point above).
Hunger & Hitting the Wall
When you "hit the wall" or "bonk", your body falters and starts to shut down in the middle of intense, prolonged exercise (like a marathon). Why?
Eventually, without replenishing your stores, you will deplete your body of its stored glycogen (carbohydrate stored in the liver and muscles for energy). In this state, your brain wants to shut down in preservation, which sparks the overwhelming feelings of fatigue and negativity that accompany bonking. Your body is smart enough to essentially make glucose out of things that aren't glycogen (like fat stores or, less effectively, proteins) - a process called gluconeogenesis - but it's not as effective.
The best way to keep on fighting is to manage your nutrition well. Here's how:
- Train properly for high mileages - proper training allows your body (and mind!) to adapt to longer distances, especially because it helps your body more efficiently use the fat metabolic pathway.
- Keep your carbs up - you've got to have some carbs present to enable your body to use your fat stores! Make sure you eat breakfast before a race and eat as if you were training leading up to the race, even if your training tapers off in preparation. On your long runs, try ingesting carbs every 45 to 60 minutes and then tweak to find when refuelling best suits your body. Try not to wait until you're depleted before stocking up on carbs - it's way harder to pull yourself back up than to keep your body topped up.
- Don't try anything new on race day - there's a lot going on in your guts during intense exercise like long distance runs. It needs training too, so it can handle the drinks, gels, powders or bars while you're going hard. Experiment with different nutrition types and brands, then stick to your tried and true options.
- Eat after a long run or race - your muscles need nutrition to repair themselves: providing it via carbs and protein soon after a long run will help you avoid sore muscles and injuries. Try to eat a snack 30-45 minutes after your run and a full meal around 2 hours after the run, complete with healthy carbs, lean protein, good fats and fresh produce.
Here are the main types of fuel you can use to keep yourself going:
- Gels - these are easy to store and carry and easy to suck down. They can get a bit sticky though and often need a drink to wash them all the way down. Some runners may find them difficult to digest since they're so concentrated, but if you enjoy them they provide an amazing jolt of energy.
- Powders and drinks - possibly the easiest to ingest, since you can prepare your sports drink before your run and sip as you go. Drinks also restore fluids and electrolytes (salts) that you sweat out. Plus, no chewing (read: choking)! Make sure you don't over-drink though, in case you need an unplanned bathroom break.
- Bars and cookies - solid food can provide great texture and taste for fussy runners, but chewing and swallowing can be challenging on the run. Make sure your chosen food is small and easily digestible.
- Capsules and tablets - if you're not drinking an electrolyte drink on the go, consider popping an electrolyte capsule.
Ah, injuries: the bane of every athlete's existence. We could write a full article for each and every injury with the amount of info out there on how to spot, treat and prevent these pesky problems. For now, here are some of the most common runner's injuries:
- Runner's knee - pain or tenderness under/around the kneecap, usually caused by overuse
- Plantar fasciitis - pain along your arch or heel like a bruise or burning, caused by small tears and inflammation of the foot's tendons and ligaments
- Achilles tendonitis - tightened, irritated Achilles tendon, resulting in pain in the back of the foot
- Stress fractures - pain down the shins when running that can develop into hairline cracks around your shinbone
- ITB (iliotibial band syndrome) - pain along the outside of the knee, caused by the band that connects your hip to knee and shin
- Hamstring injuries - usually caused by inflexible or weak hamstring muscles
- Ankle sprain - overstretching the ligament between your leg and ankle by landing on the outer part of your foot and accidentally rolling your ankle over.
So what can you use to prevent or help such injuries? Rest the area, ice or compress swelling, and see a doctor if you're worried or the pain increases or is severe. Otherwise, you can check out:
- Foam rollers - rolling a foam massager along tight areas performs myofascial release, which relieves muscle and joint pain, improves flexibility and increases circulation. The Nike Recovery Roller Bar, ProTec Roller Massager or RockTape RockBalls Infinity are great options. Try the Theragun Wave Roller for a truly next-level experience that pairs foam rolling with deep tissue massaging. Use a spot of RockRub to smooth the way for any massaging-type treatments.
- Massage balls - use these on sore and tired feet, like if you have plantar fasciitis.
- Braces and supports - this range of knee, ankle and foot supports can help prevent, manage or rehabilitate injuries.
- Sports tape - strapping tape supports your muscles, decreasing pain by holding muscles in place.
- Heat creams - topical heat creams provide strong heating sensations to provide a soothing effect on sore muscles and tissues.
Toenails may blacken, blister, become ingrown or just drop off from running. It happens when your toes hit the end of your shoe - particularly while you descend. These mini-incidents add up over time, leading to toenail loss. To help prevent these toenail troubles:
- Size up half a size - our feet swell up over longer distances and in warmer temperatures, so this half-size buffer minimises how often your toes hit the end of the shoe.
- Trim your toenails - this one's a no-brainer: longer toenails = more chance of hitting the end of your shoes
- Readjust your lacing - tighter lacing prevents your feet from sliding around in your shoes, while special lacing techniques can hold your midfoot in place while letting your toes splay without hitting the front of the shoe.
- Wear moisture-wicking socks - keeping your feet and toes dry is key to preventing any fungal problems. Look out for the words "moisture wicking" on a running sock's product description.
- Don't wear nail polish - your toes need to breathe too! Nail polish suffocates your nails.
Needing the Bathroom
We've all been there: you're halfway through a backcountry run with no civilisation in sight, and all of a sudden the urge hits. What do you do?! We have the answers.
- Carry an FUD - Female urination devices (FUDs) or stand to pee devices (STPs) allow you to pee standing up, which is perfect for women struggling to find a bathroom outdoors. Shewee, GoGirl and pStyle are great brands that save you from getting tangled up in your pants.
- Use a shovel or trowel - when you have to go, you have to go. Keep it clean by burying solid waste with a shovel or spade. Many lightweight options even have a hollow handle where you can keep a small roll of toilet paper!
- Use soap leaves - nobody wants to carry a bottle of liquid soap with them on a run, but this soap sheet pack is so small and light you won't even notice it's there until you need it. Just peel one off and use a bit of water to stay hygienic - plus the soap is biodegradable, so you can safely use it on the trail!