When you set out for a big long run, motivated like never before, it can be kind of soul-destroying when your body betrays you with a debilitating ailment. We're not talking the big guns here, like pulled muscles, ITB syndrome or runner's knee; we're talking about seemingly innocuous pains in the backside (quite literally) that irritate more than they do hurt, but restrict your workout all the same. Got a stitch that won't quit, or an ankle that feels like it might give way? There might be a simple explanation (and solution!), so keep reading to see if you can remedy your running problems.
The problem: Dodgy ankles or knees
If you've never had issues before but suddenly feel like your knees or ankles could give way, there's a chance you've overworked your legs. Have you just gotten back into fitness after a long break? It's likely that you've put a lot of pressure on the muscles and joints too quickly, and they're struggling to keep up. Your shoes could also be to blame. If they weren't fitted to your foot properly, it's likely your foot is not falling correctly. With every step you take you could be landing awkwardly on sensitive joints, thus jarring it and causing prolonged pain.
The solution: Take it easy
Have a break from running for a few days. If the symptoms of your pain haven't subsided, it's a good idea to see an expert to assess if your issue is a long-term one. If the pain/weakness comes back once you take up running again, it's likely down to your shoes. Head to a store that can find the perfect shoe for you - it's one of the most important things to do before you embark on an exercise regime. Also make sure you're running correctly. Where you land on your foot - and how it effects your ankles and knees - can make or break your workout. See this breakdown of running styles for more info.
The problem: Sore (or just tight) calves
While they don't make you feel like you need to stop running, sore calves do make the work you're doing feel twice as hard. Your legs feel like lead, and there's no recovery even if you stop for a few minutes - but there is a simple explanation for it. While pulled calf muscles are quite common, it's highly unlikely that's your issue. Chances are, you've just overworked those muscles, or you're lacking in calf strength and flexibility.
The solution: Work those muscles!
If you're a beginner, it makes sense that your calves should ache as they get used to running. It simply means they aren't prepared for the exercise. Ramp up your stretches - be sure to stretch your calves before and after your run - and on the days that you don't go for a run, work on strengthening exercises like calf raises (three reps of 12 on each leg is a good start).
The problem: Cramps
You know the terrible feeling - a muscle in your legs suddenly seizes in a big way, and the only thing you think to do in that split second of pain is to kick your leg, shake it, stomp on it ... anything to break the hold of the cramp. Scientists have long tried to come up with a concrete explanation for cramps (theories have included dehydration and having too much sodium in the system) but evidence is inconclusive. Sodium is proven to cause muscle restriction, though, so for excessive levels of it to cause cramp doesn't seem like too much of a stretch. Lack of fitness and physical fatique have also been blamed for the painful contractions.
The solution: Rest up, and avoid too much sodium
Since cramp more commonly occurs in tired and overworked muscles, the obvious solution is to ease up on your workouts and take it easier. When you feel a muscle start to cramp, you'll involuntarily kick out to release the muscle. This will ease the cramp immediately, but you may be left with an ache. If so, treat the affected area with an ice pack, and prepare yourself for next time. Ensure you allow adequate recovery time before your next run, and try to increase strength in the areas that cramp most often. The weaker a muscle, the more prone it is to cramping. Of course, it's a good idea to pay attention to the sodium and dehydration theories by making sure your water intake is up, salt intake down.