It is a sure sign of spring. Runners jogging away on streets and paths, trails and rural roadsides, leaving the treadmill far, far behind. As we runners gear up for another racing season, whether our goal is our first 5K or our twentieth marathon, there are a few things we can do to prevent a dreaded injury that throws a wrench into our training schedule. And to the frugal folks out there like myself, there is nothing worse than signing up for a big race, being injured, and then eating those big registration fees!
While some injuries are traumatic in nature, and may not be preventable, the fact is, most running injuries probably are preventable! How to prevent them? First, follow a good training program. There are many good ones available online, if you don’t have your own tried and true training regimen. Just because it’s on-line, however, doesn't mean it’s good. Here are some tips on evaluating the merits of any training program, and some other tried and true ideas for preventing injuries this season.
- Start with a training base. You need a firm foundation of some basic mileage under your belt before you reach for the stars. Time cannot be rushed here if you are starting from scratch, or you may as well book your physical therapy appointment now for the inevitable injury that will follow. Aim for 4-6 weeks of slowly building with a run-walk of 1 or 2 miles up to 3-4 miles, 3-4 days a week.
- Build your mileage slow and steady. No big jumps or leaps. No skipping key long runs and just continuing with your previously planned scheduled long run for the following week. Your body cannot tolerate shortcuts! Your bones, muscles, joints, and tendons need to gradually acclimate to the increased time and distance of wear and tear to continue to happily serve you on future running endeavors.
- Cross train, cross train, cross train! To keep your joints from overuse injuries, change up what you are doing. Add some biking, rollerblading, swimming, rowing, elliptical work; anything that does not replicate the pounding of running will do. Try to squeeze this in on your days off between runs.
- On the seventh day, God rested. If God needs to rest, so does His lowly creation, mankind. Don’t forget to throw in a rest day, as your body requires this day for adequate recovery. Placing a rest day prior to a long run works great, as you may want to do an easy cross training day the day after your long run to help rid the body of the soreness and wastes you may experience the day after your long run.
- Change up your running surface. This is another great way to unload your body, but still get your mileage in. Asphalt is softer than cement sidewalks or gutters, grass is typically softer than asphalt. Pea gravel and dirt trails are typically softer as well. Be careful of trail runs with lots of ruts and hills if you are not accustomed to the hills and tend to turn your ankle easily. Despite the advice to vary your training surface, if you are prepping for a road race, do spend most of your training mileage on the road! Failure to do so will mean a great shock for your joints in the middle of your target event, which means pain and agony for you when you least want or expect it. Also, avoid uneven surfaces that are consistently uneven, such as the bevels in the road, or gutters or sidewalks that always tilt one way. This goes for a lot of mileage on the track in the same direction around the curves, especially tight indoor track curves. All of these conditions place undue stress on one leg versus the other, leading to many unwanted ailments we see in our clinic, including plantar fasciitis, iliotibial band tendonitis, and muscles strains.
- Take the time to stretch after your runs. Although we frequently run out of time for this aspect of training just like we run out of time for flossing our teeth, consider time spent in this area a down payment on avoiding future wasted time in my clinic nursing an injury.
- Incorporate strength training into your cross training days. Most running injuries can be avoided if your core and hip muscles are strong enough to sustain good running mechanics at your spine and lower extremities into the higher mileage runs and races.
- Admit where you are in life and embrace it! If you are a beginner runner for the length of the event you are training for, follow a beginner training regimen. Don’t try to cover a longer distance while introducing speed training, interval work, hill workouts, and plyometrics like an advanced or more experienced runner might. Remember, just finishing the race will be a PR. You can work on the PR in your next race, when your body has attained the endurance of the event and is ready for more advanced training.
- Train up to at least 75% of your race distance. I realize this advice is becoming unpopular in some more in vogue training circles these days, but there are two good reasons why this advice has been around for decades. The first is purely physical, that is appropriately acclimating your body to the distance of the event, the pounding on the pavement, and the strain on your fatigued muscles. Pushing anyone to do 50% more work than what their body has ever done in training, while trying to PR during a competitive event inevitably increases the athlete’s risk of injury. The second reason is in important psychological one. It is hard enough to run your first marathon when you have trained up to 20 miles. Anyone who has done it will tell you how hard the mental aspect of pushing yourself to keep running in those final 6.2 miles can be. The confidence one gains by completing as close to the race event mileage as possible helps carry you through, because you can say, “I’ve done this before, I can do it again.” And with your body screaming at you just a little less than it would if you did not complete those training miles, you just might believe it!
Good luck in your races this season! With these training tips in hand, I hope to see you at the finish line this summer, successfully attaining a new race distance or PR! If you do feel some pain or feel you have sustained an injury, here’s what you can do. Ice, rest, take it easy for several days or a week. Let pain be your guide regarding return to activity- don’t do anything that hurts. If following this advice still does not rid you of your pain, see your physician or physical therapist without delay. The sooner you treat the injury, the faster you will recover, and the fewer days and weeks you will lose out of your training program. MotionWorks Physical Therapy offers free injury screenings, so feel free to take advantage if you’re not sure what to do about a minor or major injury. We can help guide and direct your care and activity level from there. Call us at 920-215-2050 if we can be of any assistance to help get you back to running again!