Running is a terrific sport – simple, exhilarating, sociable and inexpensive…it really has a lot going for it! But it does have one drawback, namely injuries. Running is a repetitive action – thousands upon thousands of steps going forward, and that means that any imbalances, weaknesses or asymmetries in your body, even if very small, can lead to injury over time. But please don’t be put off! There are many helpful things you can do to avoid injury.
The first place to start is footwear. Your shoes really are important because they’re the only thing between you and the hard ground. Every time you plant your foot while running, several multiples of your body weight go through your legs – that’s a lot of stress and strain, so good quality shoes are a must. Buy from a shop where the staff are familiar with running, and can advise sensibly about your foot’s shape and function.
Strength & conditioning
The next thing to remember is that your body needs to be strong and robust enough to handle your running training. There’s a balance to strike between what your body can cope with, and how much running you demand of it. Therefore doing some form of strength and conditioning such as body weight exercises targeting key muscle groups (gluts, calves, hamstrings, and core), pilates, or yoga, can help to build the strength you need to cope with your running load. Training is not all about running! For an accessible guide to building strength for runners, I recommend two books - Jay Dicharry’s “Anatomy for Runners”, or Richard Blagrove’s “Strength and conditioning for endurance runners”.
Know your body
Listen to, and get to know your body. If one particular place often gets sore, try to figure out as soon as you can, with specialist help if necessary, what the cause is. Once you know what causes the discomfort, you can figure out what preventive measures to take (eg exercises, stretching, foam rolling etc) to keep it functioning well.
Managing training loads
Increasing your training load in small amounts is crucial for injury-prevention because body tissues take time to adjust and respond to training. Different body tissues – bone, muscle, tendons, ligaments etc – take different amounts of time to repair and grow. Making small increments to training allows for all of them to adapt to your training load.
Sudden changes in equipment or training can cause injury, for example a new pair of shoes, or suddenly running on hilly or uneven terrain. Always introduce changes gradually such as breaking in new shoes by walking in them before running.
Cross-training is an effective way of maintaining fitness if injury forces you to stop running. Aqua-jogging, elliptical training, stationary cycling and swimming are all excellent alternative forms of training. Cross training can be a valuable part of your routine even if you are not injured – it brings variety, an alternative form of training stimulus, and can be useful when running is impractical eg if the roads outside are icy.
It isn’t rocket science!
Use your common sense and be sensible about your training. If you run for a bus in high heels, you might find you have sore Achilles tendons the next day. If you have to miss a few days’ training and then try to ‘catch up’, the risk of injury will be high. If you suddenly run on very hilly terrain when you are not used to it, your quads will be sore. Using common sense also means always performing a reasonable warm-up before, and warm-down after training to reduce stiffness, soreness and the risk of injury. None of this is rocket science, it is simple common sense.
Always look after yourself and take time to rest, recover and regenerate. Simple things like Epsom salt baths, getting enough sleep, taking days off from running, compression socks, regular visits to a good physio, icing anything that becomes sore, and sports massage, can work wonders to keep your body ticking over without falling into injury.
Learning when to stop
Training for a half-marathon will involve a certain level of aches and pains, stiffness and localised soreness. This is part and parcel of endurance running, because it involves impact and is a weight-bearing form of exercise. However, discomfort above a certain level calls for rest from running and seeking out help, since it may be the start of an injury. Where to draw the line is an important skill that all runners need to learn.
Copyright Mara Yamauchi 2017