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Using Trails

Trail Moments | Running for Good Health and a Good Cause

By: Guy Monteleone
July 5, 2023

Trail run along West Virginia's Mon River Trail | Photo by Guy Monteleone
Trail run along West Virginia's Mon River Trail | Photo by Guy Monteleone

This article is part of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Trail Moments initiative—to elevate new and tried-and-true trail voices around the country, and how trails impact the lives of Americans. Learn more at and #TrailMoments on social media. Share your story, or view a collection of trail moments stories.

Although I’m old and slow, I’m running the Chicago Marathon this October in support of the Ronald McDonald House Charities, a fantastic cause and one we have right here in Morgantown, West Virginia. I’m a family physician who specializes in sports medicine, but I am a patient just like all of us. I want to eat better, exercise and sleep well—a primary treatment for most medical issues.

I used to exercise predominantly with weights, which worked well when I was a teen, but as I graduated residency and then fellowship, I found that work and family obligations just did not leave time for me to maintain or improve my health. My resulting obesity was not sending a good message to my patients. I wanted to practice what I preached, so I walked off my first 40 pounds using rail-trails, which provided me with an excellent outdoor gym. Come rain, shine, sleet or snow, I was out there exercising. Ultimately, I lost 70 pounds through running, biking and walking.

I run slowly. Really slowly. But I still get out there for my health and well-being—and have a good time. The trails in Morgantown allow for training many miles, and I run different parts of the trail system for variability. Unfortunately, runners can get injured for a variety of reasons—as I have learned from experience. To reduce this from happening for others, I wanted to share what I’ve learned from my education and from my own running journey.

Training Plan

West Virginia's Mon River Trail | Photo by Guy Monteleone
West Virginia’s Mon River Trail | Photo by Guy Monteleone

Over the course of several weeks, follow a training plan that allows you to gradually increase your mileage while getting ready for your race. It’s common to train over a period of 12–26 weeks depending on the duration of your race. Adjusting your training plan as follows will reduce your risk for injury.

80:20 rule of intensity: Runners should run 80% of their weekly mileage at an easy (conversational) pace—even if they are training for a race. The goal is to get aerobically fit, learn to use your blood and muscle sugars, and mentally prepare for longer distances.

Run the remaining 20% of your weekly mileage at a higher intensity. Some experts break this down further into 10% at a moderate pace (meaning you can run at this pace for about 30 minutes or can talk in short answers only while running) and 10% at high intensity (where you cannot talk much while running); most runners can only run at this intensity for a few minutes before stopping. Note that with endurance training, there is no such thing as a sprint, especially at the end of a run as that increases the risk of injury.

Current research indicates that most runners run in a 40:60 ratio, with 40% easy miles each week and 60% at higher intensity. This will increase your injury risk and reduce your ability to recover before your next run. Micro injuries can worsen into full-blown injuries if this happens.

On an individual run, allow for a gradual progression from a warm-up period to slowly increasing your intensity during the run and then gradually decreasing in intensity for a cool-down period.

Gradual progression of mileage: During your training months, gradually increase your mileage. Start with a lower number of miles to build a solid foundation of easy fitness. By gradually increasing your miles over a longer period of time, you allow your body to acclimate to more work. Most experts suggest that a reasonable increase in weekly mileage is 10–15%. For example, if you run 10 miles one week, you’ll run 10.1 miles the next week.

Hard/easy rule: Follow every hard-day workout with an easy day to give your body time to recover. Do not run hills one day, then speed intervals the next.

During the Run

West Virginia's Mon River Trail | Photo by Guy Monteleone
West Virginia’s Mon River Trail | Photo by Guy Monteleone

During your run, there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk of injury.

Better mechanics: Most of us have some flaw while running—our foot toes out, our arms swing past midline, etc. Rather than trying to correct for every one of these individual flaws, try instead to shorten your stride and increase your cadence. Cadence is the number of times each foot hits the ground during a minute of running, and perhaps unintuitively, an increased cadence brings about a reduced risk for injury.

Muscles and tendons get injured when our feet are on the ground and the muscle is elongated. By shortening our stride, we shorten the amount our running muscles are required to stretch out. Most experts suggest a minimum cadence of 180 strides per minute. (Note that cadence is not the same as pace, or how quickly you cover a given distance, although they are, of course, related.) Smart watches can keep track of your cadence, or you can set a 60-second timer and count the number of footfalls in that time. Simply by amping up your cadence and decreasing your stride length, you may automatically correct your running mechanics!

Warm up and cool down: Always do this for each run. Some suggest reducing your planned distance by 1 mile and incorporating a warm-up and cool-down routine in the time you would have spent running that mile.

Additional Tips

Shoes: As a general rule of thumb, change shoes every 350 miles, or more frequently if you have feet or knee issues. The best shoes should feel good right away without a need to break them in.

Weather: Pay attention to weather. If it’s hot and/or humid, slow your pace by 1–2 minutes per mile. Also know that runners feel 15–20 degrees warmer than while at rest. I try to dress so that I feel just a little cool at the start of a run, so I’m dressed appropriately for later in the run. Or, dress in layers that you can discard as you run.  

Better recovery: Be sure to stay hydrated and get enough sleep. This is critical. If you train, the best recovery occurs when you are resting or sleeping!

There is so much more to discuss, but I hope these ideas reduce your chance of injury and set you up for success in running.

Guy Monteleone
Guy Monteleone

Guy Monteleone, MD, works in the Department of Family Medicine for the West Virginia University School of Medicine and is the director of its Sports Medicine Division.

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