Your Running Recipe
Sometimes it might feel like running injures come out of nowhere...
One minute you're running 20 miles, and the next minute you're riddled with pain and can barely walk, let alone run. More often than not, there are warning signs that we ignore (because we think we are tougher than niggles), but other times it feels completely out of the blue. We talk a lot about the "running injury threshold" - the point at which your body is able to sustain load before an injury (Nielsen et al, 2012). Your breaking point, or threshold, will be individual to your building blocks of your anatomy, alignment, physiology, flexibility, strength, and training.
To explain this better, let me give you a personal example...
Last weekend, I finished my first marathon in Abingdon, Oxfordshire - injury free I should add. Although it was not my first attempt at a marathon, it was the first time I have made it to the start line. The very first marathon I signed up for I developed a stress fracture in my foot, barely a week into training as a result of running too much. Fast forward two years, training for the Brighton Marathon, I developed progressive lateral knee pain during a 3 hour run (a whole 4 months before my race i'd like to add - not advisable) which left me unable to run for the next 18 months. However, this year, not only did I complete the marathon faster than I had anticipated (3 hours 17 minutes), I also ran an ultra-marathon 3 months previously - no injuries. So what changed?
Throughout my many years of running, I have learned from previous mistakes and figured out MY ideal running recipe. Hopefully, this will help you to start to questions some of the things you do, and possibly improve some of your running training strategies. Here are some of the examples of strategies I have learned to help me reduce my injury risk.
1.) Know your limits
Despite my desire to run for hours on end, my ability to recover and sustain that load doesn't add up. Therefore my mileage stays low at about 30-40 miles per week (even when training for a marathon) - over 3-4 runs per week. Someone else might be able to run 80 miles per week with no consequences, but others even lower.
2.) Quality runs are key
If you can't sustain high levels of loading, or your ability to recover is slower, make sure the runs you ARE doing are worth it. I'll be the first to admit, I'm a plodder in my training runs. But I race hard. Therefore, I have to incorporate some shorter, more intense, faster sessions to improve my speed and keep my loading at an optimal level. Fartleks, intervals, track work, hills...these are all things that you can incorporate into your training week to mix it up and make sure you are constantly improving.
3.) There are many ways to stretch!
Whoever created the foam roller was really clever and possibly had a bit of a dark side. Its a love-hate relationship of being painful, but very effective. I foam roll areas that I know are problematic for me probably 2-3x per week, and even more frequently when my training load goes up. Another really useful thing I've found is getting a massage once every few months. I find its really helpful to a.) have your muscles flushed out - like a reset button and b.) have a second pair of eyes/hands help you figure out what needs to be worked on more. Stretching is something I do little and often throughout a day. Rarely will I do a large stretch 'session', but instead I go to yoga a few times a week.
4.)Strengthening is for life
This is something that I will always have to do in order to keep running long distances. Some of us have the burden of having to do it more than others, and this is largely down to your individual make up. BUT, if it keeps you running, its less of an ask than to try and recover from an injury ( an example of strengthening in research can be found here -> Van Mechelen et al, 1992). There are endless combinations of what should be strengthened, however the more common areas for runners are the ankles and the hips.
My final words of wisdom is to learn from your experiences. You might get injured, lose a race, win a race, or drop out half-way. Positive or negative, there is always something you can take away from it that will make you a better runner in the future. It might take you a few attempts to figure out what your 'recipe' is, but once you find it you'll become a much smarter and more efficient runner. Finally, this sounds very elementary, but it's a question I get time and time again, "Why can [insert name] run marathons without doing anything else but I have to foam roll everyday?" . Try not to compare yourself to others. We are all different. It doesn't make sense to assume that we can all do the same thing without any other input. Just because running is an accessible sport, it doesn't mean we are all built like Mo Farah - as much as we'd like to be!
van Mechelen, W., Hlobil, H., & Kemper, G. 1992, Incidence, Severity, Aeitology and Prevention of Sports Injuries, Sports Medicine, Vol 14, No. 2, pp. 82-99.
Neilsen, R., Buist, I., Sorensen, H., Lind, M., & Rasmussen, S. 2012, Training Errors and Running Related Injuries: A Systematic Review, International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, Vol 7, No. 1, pp. 58-75.
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