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What to know as you race to the finish line

Running is significantly different for women than it is for men. Women’s bodies are shaped differently, which means they don’t have the same flexibility, stride, endurance, heart size, and pacing.

However, women love to participate in running marathons. Female runners make up 57-percent (approximately 10.7 million) of marathon runners in the United States. Every year, the number of women runners increases, surpassing the number of male runners.

In order to run comfortably, there are several tips for women runners to optimize their performance. So, ladies, write down some notes. Lace up your sneakers, grab a sports bra (it provides more support) and get ready to race toward the finish line.

About your flexibility

Women have wider hips and their hormones allow their tendons to stretch (in preparation for potential childbirth). Because of this, they tend to be more flexible than men, which is generally a blessing for runners.

Flexibility helps your body move slightly different with each stride. You’re not putting the same load of pressure on all of your joints, and it can also help prevent injuries. According to Dr. D.S. Blaise Williams, director of the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Run Lab, “With more flexibility, you’re not going to load the tissues in exactly the same way every time.”

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To improve your flexibility, yoga is the best exercise to focus on lengthening your muscles. In addition, always stretch before running. Static stretching, in which you hold a stretch, improves the range of movement in your joints. Rotational lunges prepare your body to move. Finally, Pilates improves your flexibility everywhere from your inner thighs and hips to your upper back and neck.

Improve your stride

Women tend to strike their heels while running, which is believed to cause a higher impact than landing near the middle or front of the foot. Unfortunately, this causes more injuries. Luckily, there are ways to safely improve your stride so you’re not always striking your heel while running.

Try to make a soft landing by landing closer to the midfoot. Runners naturally land more lightly if they don’t lead with their heel.

In addition, increase your cadence. In other words, increase the number of steps you take per minute. This tends to reduce the pounding on your feet with each stride. You can also imagine that you’re running over eggshells or walking on water. This helps you try to move gracefully and weightlessly, hopefully causing fewer injuries.

How to get stronger

In order to compete in a marathon, you need strong muscles. Women tend to have weaker hips and core muscles, but there are significant exercises to improve these crucial parts of the body.

For your hips, try helpful floor exercises. This includes clamshells, which strengthen the major muscles in your posterior, as well as the side leg lift that strengthens the gluteus medius muscle outside your pelvis.

To strengthen your core (abdominals and leg muscles), try planking for one-minute intervals. This strengthens your abdominals, gluteus maximus, and shoulders. In addition, you can try an abdominal bracing or bridge exercise.

Run on a trail

One final strategy for strengthening your body for running is to try running on a trail. The uneven hiking trails and terrain forces your body to stabilize itself. You engage your hips and core, thus forcing you to take smaller strides.

You’re bound to slow down your pacing while running over rocks, tree roots, and logs. Thanks to nature, you won’t be able to run too hard or too fast, limiting your risk of injuries.

If you feel comfortable running on a trail, you can participate in competitive trail races. These types of races need more women participants, with only 40-percent of women choosing to run in the high-energy, fun races. Lace up your sneakers, grab a water bottle, and start running right along with the men. Leave them behind as you race ahead.

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