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I heard that running can be stressful for the body (the knees for instance) if done in excess, and that some people even have accidents.

What is the recommended length of time for running if one wants to keep away from problems ?

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IMO there is no reasonable way to answer this question as posed. –  Dave Newton Jun 12 '12 at 19:08

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As a commenter notes there is probably no way to really answer this question.

What you can say is that it more than just length of distance or time.

For example it depends on how your training has been going. And of course your personal physiology.

Obviously going out for 26.2 Miles on your first run is stupid, and could potentially kill you. But if you trained running shorter amounts for a couple of years, then slowly worked up to it, a marathon would probably not hurt you at all. (Though I am hearing on the news that there is some heart issues being reported by long term exercise).

Of course there are people out there running 125 mile races (Marahon Des Sables across the Sahara desert over 7 days) or other ultra distances. But none of those folk started with that distance on day one.

So there is no absolute max, it depends on so many other variables.

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As long as you can run without getting bored. If you're bored, your mind starts to wander, you pay less attention and twist your ankle in a pothole or trip over a root.

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For safe running, it's not just a matter of length. There are other things that you need to keep in mind. Here's a few from the top of my head:

  • Form. If you have bad form, you put more stress on the body than necessary. As you run longer and longer, it will add up and could lead to pain/injury. Here's a video on Natural Running which exhibits proper form.
  • Equipment. This means your running sneakers. There are different philosophies out there such as barefoot running, natural running, etc. Whichever you go with, make sure that you have the proper sneakers for your own running style. I would recommend going to a specialized running store where they will analyze your gait and propose the proper shoe type.
  • Plan. Don't just go out and run. Have some kind of plan which builds up your endurance. If you start too fast or too long, you may get injured. You can search for various plans on the web depending on your goal. Of course, you can also discuss with your physician.
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