Don't let poor preparation shelve your running goals. ,Don't let poor preparation shelve your running goals.

5 ways to stay injury-free as a runner

Crossing the finish line – both in the figurative and literal sense of the term – is a truly inspiring accomplishment. With Ukrop's Monument Avenue 10K approaching, the thousands of participants in this year's running will use that imagery – raising their hands in victory – as fuel to keep going when their energy dial reaches "E."

When you already have the willpower, the only thing that can get in the way of your race to the finish line is an injury – an unfortunate side effect that every runner faces on the track or treadmill.

Ask any running professional and they'll tell you that 9 times out of 10, injuries are preventable. While some people may be more prone to shin splints, sprains, and the like than others, poor preparation is usually the culprit when aching muscles twinge and hamstrings pull.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to ensure that you remain limber whenever the track is calling your name.

Here are a few tools of the trade that can keep your feet on the ground and your head in the game:

Limber up by warming up

The body's largest muscles are in the legs. Because they're so large, entering a run "cold" – where the muscles haven't had an opportunity to adjust – can not only diminish performance, but set you up for an injury. Some of the best stretches include walking lunges, leg swings, and standing calf presses. Also, be sure to stretch both before your run and afterward, ideally for 10 minutes.

You gain when you strength train

Weight training can get a bum rap sometimes. Those who are unfamiliar with it worry that they'll get too bulky, making for clunky, herky-jerky movements when the "wheels" are in motion. In reality, strength training helps to keep the body's muscles limber and more pliant, diminishing the risk of injury that can stem from overuse. The key is to do the right types of exercises and in the proper amounts. For instance, instead of doing a lot of weight and only a few repetitions – recommended for those wanting to put on mass – low weights and high repetitions are best. The ideal is four sets and between 8-12 repetitions. Runners World Magazine has a few suggestions of what exercises you should be doing when you're new to weight training.

Rest is often best

Whoever said "No pain, no gain," apparently didn't get the memo. While there's no denying that running can be uncomfortable, it shouldn't be painful. Nor should you run when your body is telling you to rest. Listen to what your muscles and your body are telling you. If you had an intense run yesterday, take it slower today. Not only will this help your body recover quicker, but you'll perform better the next time you try to take seconds off your pace.

Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of water is absolutely crucial to running, particularly when it comes to injury avoidance. If you've ever experienced a cramp while running, that's usually due to being dehydrated. Exercise scientists recommend having between 16 and 20 ounces of water prior to your run and then 6 to 8 ounces after every 15 or 20 minutes. In short, as soon as you feel thirsty, grab that water bottle.

Get your gait evaluated

Several sports stores today have trained professionals who customize the sneaker selection experience. This can make each run more comfortable and high-performance. But if you really want to lengthen your stride, consider having your form evaluated.

Just as a swimmer needs good form in the water, a runner needs the same on the track. A professional can analyze how your feet hit the ground as well as ensuring your upper torso aligns with your legs. They may also be able to identify whether your form is increasing your risk of injury and what you need to do to prevent that from happening.

With these steps as your guide, you're well on your way to an injury-free "photo finish" – both at Ukrop's 10K and your forthcoming jogging activities. For more running tips and information around the Ukrop's Monument Avenue 10k, check out Elephant's helpful webpage.