At the start of this year, I began to up my miles in prep for RunThrough’s very own Victoria Park half marathon, which unfortunately got cancelled due to the snow. After that, I lost my long distance running mojo a little but continued to practise interval training on the treadmill, probably spending around 30 minutes a session mixing speed, consistency and incline runs to keep it interesting.
Fast forward to April, and I watched my best friend complete the London Marathon just six weeks after a suspected stress fracture to her foot which she endured whilst in training. Seeing her, alongside a few others I am close to both personally and professionally take on the marathon in the heat and with various sporting injuries, definitely re-ignited my running spark but also left me thinking...why do so many people suffer when they up their distance?
Personally, I get at least 1 or 2 people in every run class I teach come forward with a niggle, ache or pain of some sort, so how can we avoid these?
I composed the following article with my thoughts, learnings and experience so far, and then turned to Nick Quinton, co-founder of GoRunRight, for his expertise and opinion….
With running being one of our most natural movements, it’s all very easy to think we can simply lace up and hit the road or treadmill after a quick 5 minute warm up. Of course, your pre-run preparation is essential to limit the potential for injury, but Nick says “even though we are “born to run” we have evolved with modern life and created imbalances and shortenings that inhibit our natural movement. Understanding this concept and how we have handicapped ourselves is essential to rebuilding the runner within”.
So what do we need to do?
1. Assess before you start
Even if we are fairly conditioned and run a lot, over time we form habits or develop a particular running style that may actually be hindering our progression. Anything from hunching our shoulders with tension, to the way we strike and stride can increase the risk of injury.
Before you start training, or upping your miles, book in for a pre-assessment, ask a coach about your technique or even film yourself running to spot any weird and wonderful habits you might have that you’re not aware of and iron out these early on.
2. Don’t neglect flexibility & mobility
It is important to both stretch and mobilise your body. Any repetitive movement can tighten or weaken a muscle and running is no different. Tight calves, hips, hamstrings…the list goes on. Take time outside of your training programme to stretch, lengthen and strengthen anything that feels particularly tight, weak or achy. Calves, quads and hamstrings can take a hammering during hill runs or speed work, and whilst stretching alone will not directly prevent injury, post run stretching will help to decrease any tension that has built up during training.
When we refer to mobility, we are looking at the ability to move a joint through its full range of motion without any limitations. If you have great flexibility but lack mobility in the joints, you may still be susceptible to injury, with some muscles firing and others not, or one side of the body compensating for another during movement. Take some time to actively move your body through various planes to spot any issues with your control and work on improving your range of motion on key joints; hips, knees and ankles.
3. Strength train
Running long distances puts a large demand on the muscles of the lower body so it is important we condition them to be strong and powerful to resist the force of the road.
Nick reminds us “cross training is no longer the domain of the pro athlete and is something we all need to think about. Directly linked to mobility, strength training needs to be a primary tool to combat our imbalances and build the runner we want to be. Proper analysis can highlight what the focus should be for the individual, but I have found that many runners have poor range of movement through the lower back and posterior chain. Focusing on a quality squat movement, ideally with weight, or even better an overhead squat if you are up for a challenge will build strength and mobility.”
You don’t need to be lifting really heavy to do this but looking at targeting major muscle groups such as your glutes, calves, quads, hamstrings, core and muscles surrounding the hip can be especially beneficial. Alongside squats, single leg work like step ups, pistol squats, and lateral lunges are great exercises to spot one weaker side from the other.
4. Build your distance and speed slowly
It’s an obvious one, but it is very easy to have a great training run and think you can dramatically jump up to a much longer distance next time or ignore your planned shorter, slower runs. Plans are there to be followed, and we must remind ourselves that sometimes less equals more when we’re looking to increase running capacity. Build your distance and tempo gradually, respect your plan and listen to your body before you increase more than you’re ready to.
5. Track and Evaluate
Ever felt like you’re running through quicksand? Slower pace than normal? Evaluate the WHY behind each of your runs. You may not associate your run tracker with an injury prevention tool, but by logging each run – when and where you went and for how long you may discover that perhaps those evil hills are playing havoc with your achilles, or that sprint finish took that ankle niggle a little too close to the edge and you can adapt your training from there. Lack of sleep last night and a crap run today? If you don’t track you will never be able to find the common correlations between your lifestyle and your limitations.
There are nearly 15,000 posts tagged on instagram with ‘#runeverydamnday’...Massively underrated, especially in today’s ‘#nodaysoff’ culture. It is easy to feel like we should be doing something to contribute to that PB (personal best) every day. Nick says “rest is always an interesting topic but running is hugely repetitive as a movement and adding miles and miles every day to meet training goals can be counterproductive. It has been a good two decades since marathon coaches have advocated multiple long runs in a standard training week, yet it amazes me how many people are willing to keep piling on the miles regardless of the best advice. I am an advocate of moving everyday but variety is the key”.
The other situation is not actually feeling like you need a rest. If you don’t have any muscle soreness, you had a good night’s sleep and you are full of energy, why shouldn’t you run? When you run (and do other types of training), you’re putting stress on the body, putting the muscles under pressure and also giving your lungs and mental stamina a pretty intense workout. Without proper rest, how can you recover? Give your muscles a break, let your body and mind reset and you’ll come back even stronger on your next run.
To conclude, I feel no tactic alone will prevent injury, but if we can do everything we can to prepare the body for going the distance, we’re decreasing the chance somewhat. In Nick’s opinion, fuel and hydration is key whilst training for endurance. He states, ‘the simplest and most amazing analogy I have come across in the world of the exoteric is, think of food as information. Why? Well, if you think about it, on a cellular level that is exactly what it is, information on how a cell should act and respond. What are you telling your body with the food you are ingesting? Dial in your nutrition and hydration and you will have the most robust system for banishing injuries and feeling fantastic before, during and after every run!”
Did we miss anything? Any other tried and tested injury prevention tactics? Let me know what you think and a huge thank you to Nick for his contribution to my article.