Running, whilst not up there on the injury rankings like rugby, or horse riding, is still a high impact sport therefore sadly injury is common. A British Journal of Sports Medicine indicated that 75% of runner’s get injured each year.
In particular, training for a marathon or half marathon is hard on your body and seasoned runners take the attitude that dealing with injury is part and parcel of the challenge. There are steps though you can take to reduce the likelihood of injury, and whilst I appreciate you may well be injured and hoping I can provide guidance (which I will) first let’s have a look at what you can do to avoid injury in the first place.
How to avoid injury
If you are a first time or novice runner training for a half or full marathon, it is probably achieving the distance or close to it in training that is your main focus. 16- 20 weeks is a good training window to train for a marathon from a ‘good base’ of three steady runs a week, where for a half marathon 12 weeks is advised. Take your distance up in gradual increments of no more than 10% each week. As a rule of thumb that is no more than 1m or approx. 2km per week.
If you are a more experienced runner working on improving your speed over distance then you will need to work on speed – intervals and hills both count as speed work. It is advisable to come to marathon or half marathon training with some speed already developed so that you are not asking too much of your body by adding volume and intensity (speed) simultaneously.
Your training plan should have a lighter week every 6 weeks which gives the body chance to adapt and recover. If you are training for a marathon and have a half marathon booked midway in your training this naturally provides chance for a taper week ahead of the race. After a race don’t throw yourself straight back into full volume or intensity for the first run, try to do 60-80% of your normal weekly session.
Refueling is key to recovery – think the three R’s – Rehydrate, Refuel (carbs) and Rebuild (protein). You should aim to get 20g of protein within an hour of finishing exercise. Gently cross training in the 24 hours after a hard run or race will boost blood flow and aide recovery. Sleep – incontestably the most important recovery tool. Those getting less than 8 hours sleep a night are at a 1.7% greater injury risk than those who get more than 8 hours.
As runners, we generally hate strength work (me included) however, it is a means to an end and part and parcel of injury free running. If you are currently doing no strength work try a body weight strength programme designed for runners (like this one on Kinetic Revolution’s site) that will give your legs and glutes a workout a couple of days per week.
If you are used to strength training and do a regular class or gym routine, make sure that these efforts are hard enough to produce muscular gain which is defined as 70% of your 1 rep max. Ie if you are doing weighted squats, if you can lift 30kg on 1Rep max you should be lifting 21kg (for around 6 reps) in training.
If you find that the demands of impactful running 3-6 times a week are having their toll, try to substitute the length and intensity with other cardiovascular sports like cycling or swimming. For example if you have a niggle that stops you from doing your long run, can you spend a few hours at a low heart rate on the bike instead?
Listen to your body
It’s hard to know when soreness and tightness, or a niggle turns into a full-blown injury where you need to stop running. Every runner is different, but the general rule I follow is to observe soreness/ tightness – use techniques like sports massage, rollering and specific flexibility sessions to work on these. Then if you feel your niggle on more than three training runs I would step back the volume or intensity of your next run and possibly substitute with cross training to give your body a few days off the impactful training.
It’s too late I’m injured
Solidarity to you. I am also coming back from injury and I am finding this a challenging time both physically and mentally. At a point where my running peers are racing cross country and upping mileage for Spring marathons I am on very low mileage, focusing on strength and exhausting all cross-training options in a desperate plea not to lose fitness. However, I am working on seeing this temporary blip, a new project and an opportunity to learn more about my body.
Once you have accepted you are injured, (and I know that can take a few weeks of trying to run and failing to do so!) , your first step is speak to an expert in order to get a diagnosis. Depending on the severity of your injury, your GP, who may then refer you to a physio, is usually the best person to start with for musculoskeletal issues. A physio can provide some relief with manipulation or acupuncture, may look at your running gait and will give you exercises to get along with.
Do the exercises!
Are you going to be one of the runners who fall by the wayside after the initial physio appointment, or are you going to do your exercises 3 x a week with a decent effort level come what may? The physio’s I’ve seen would say that once a week you will just about maintain what you already have, twice a week you’ll see some progress but three times a week you should see improvement.
You need to commit to your exercises, make time and the right environment. For me this is first thing in the morning in the precious 30 mins before my husband goes to work and can take the kids. If I leave the exercises til later they don’t happen. I listen to the radio whilst I am doing them which is a treat. I have a system of counting sets (building blocks from my daughter’s jigsaw) so that I don’t get lost. Finally, I get to eat breakfast once it is over!
For many of us running provides a boost to mental health, therefore it is even harder to maintain a positive outlook when we aren’t running. However break down your recovery into a process with key milestones so that you don’t get disheartened and can see progress along the way. Use a table or spreadsheet to plan out the miles you plan to do to take your running back up incrementally and safely using the principles that I talked about in the prehab section.
You will need to realign your goals – for example I still have hopes to run the London Marathon but as I will have less time to run numerous long runs, I have paired my goal back from sub 3 to 3:30hrs.
Don’t compare yourself with where you were last year or what other runners may be doing, be grateful to be able to run at all, even in small increments.
If you’d like a perosnalised training plan to help you return from injury please do get in touch.