Running is one of the most convenient and effective forms of exercise. It is also one of the most natural forms of competition, requiring no other instruments than shoes, and even that is optional for some. For many runners, the half and full marathons are on the “bucket list.” If this is on your list and you are starting your training for a half or full marathon, then the best thing to do is to have a plan. A significant part of this plan is to reduce the likelihood of any factors that will deter you from your goal.
One of the biggest obstacles can be an injury that occurs during training. While injuries are impossible to avoid completely, many injuries are attributed to training errors and the following steps can help to reduce the likelihood of injury.
Choose a program wisely
When choosing a training program, consider your individual characteristics. Most training programs are designed for the “average” runner without adjustments for prior injuries, baseline strength or endurance. The most significant risk factor for a running-related injury is a prior injury. Therefore, if you have a prior injury, you may want to consider a slower progression. Or, if you are not confident that it has fully recovered, consider seeking a health care professional that can help complete your recovery, which may be possible during your training. Also, consider what your tolerance has been to other training in the past. Have you had problems when starting any other exercise or training programs? Have you been resilient to increases in physical demands of your body? If you sense that you may be vulnerable, you may want to consider a slower progression.
As indicated above, slower progressions of new or increased activity are better tolerated and allow the body time to adapt. Often ambition and motivation to succeed overshadow the fact that the human body adapts to activity slowly over time. Rigorous bouts of exercise take days to recover from and if this is not allowed it will break down and become vulnerable to injury. Therefore, starting out and progressing slowly allows the body sufficient time to “catch up” to the new demands.
There is no golden rule here, but in the rehabilitation setting, progressions of total weekly volume (i.e., miles/week) of 10-20% are recommended. This recommendation is supported by recent research that has demonstrated progressions of weekly mileage greater than 30% to be associated with increased risk of injury. In addition to sensible mileage progression, harder or longer runs can be followed by lighter and shorter runs for recovery. Some may want to consider interval programs incorporating walking periods into running training.
Be good to your tissues
The new or increased demands of running training are going to stress your tissues, which will help to improve their resiliency…to a point. Too much stress without recovery or ignoring indicators of breakdown can lead to injury. You can help to manage the soreness that goes along with normal training by assuring proper nutrition and hydration. In addition, you can do some body work on your own, or with the assistance of a professional. As the demands of running increase, there may be muscles that are stressed out and will develop tension or “knots.” Typically, pressure on these points for 60-90 seconds with a ball (tennis, lacrosse or racquet), foam roller or other specialized tool can help to release the tension. This can be followed by more general massage strokes or rolling of the broader area. It is important to allow time to recover and adapt to this treatment. Therefore, your body work should be done every 2nd to 3rd day followed by daily stretching of an area you may be noticing stress, like your calves, quads, hamstrings or glutes.
Running is a great way to keep your body healthy, but only if you respect the adaptive process, including the time and demands required for your body to adapt appropriately. If you are starting to train for a longer event, or simply picking running up again, make sure your plan includes a reasonable timeline to progress your training without increasing risk of injury (10% for those with a prior injury or reason to believe they are vulnerable to injury; closer to 20% may be feasible if you have not had a prior injury and evidence that your body is resilient to physical training stresses). Then you can assure a successful training experience and enjoy many more running events over your lifetime.
This article was originally published in the IMT Des Moines Marathon newsletter and is republished with permission.