I've targeted the Kingston marathon in October to get a new PB (target sub-3.30, current best 3.38 at Edinburgh in 2014). Over each of the next 16 weeks, I'll be addressing a different aspect of marathon training. Follow me on my journey and tell me about yours!
If you call yourself a runner and have never been injured, congratulations! But seriously, what’s your secret?! Research shows that 35-85% of runners get injured at some point. And the remaining 15% are lying. I’m kidding, but for a non-contact sport, this seems unusually high so it’s worth taking a look at why this is the numbers are so high.
Running further and faster than you have before puts a strain on the body, which with the right amount of rest and refuelling, slowly gets stronger. Known as adaptation, this is all part of improving yourself as an athlete. Problems can occur though when the body is pushed too far. The tricky part is knowing exactly how far too far is, and knowing your own body is not as easy as it may seem. Personal and often painful experience is sometimes the only way to learn, but there are a few things you can do to minimise time on the sidelines.
See a professional
If you're injured or think you're injured, your first port of call should always be a professional - a doctor or sports injury specialist. Asking people on social media might be quicker but the vast majority of the time they won't be qualified to diagnose your problem, however helpful they're trying to be. And looking up symptoms on the internet can guide you in the right direction but again, it's a lot safer to get it looked at it in person.
Having said all that, the following link from Competitor (a US-based running magazine and website - if you don't already follow them on Twitter, you really should) covers what they consider the five most common running injuries, what can cause them and how to treat them.
In case you don’t have time to look at it right now, the five injuries are:
IT Band syndrome
As the article states, prevention is better than cure. Far better to avoid issues in the first place than to have to deal with them; although it’s worth bearing in mind that ‘dealing with them’ is not simply getting treatment.
The best way to strengthen muscles you use for running is to run. No surprises there. But if you increase your quantity or intensity of running too quickly for adaptation to take place, you're at risk of something breaking down. The most likely reason that I only made it to mile 95 of the Thames Path 100 earlier this year, was because my body wasn't strong enough to cope with the repetitive strain of 20+ hours of running.
A solution is to do regular strength work - core is one of the more commonly mentioned areas for runners to work on but upper body and legs should not be ignored. And the further you run, the more important strength work becomes. Both William Sichel (ran 3,100 miles in 50 days round a New York City block) and Kevin Carr (ran 26,232 kilometres around the world in 621 days) ran just a few days a week in preparation for their epic journeys, instead focusing mainly on strength and conditioning. Of course, these are extreme examples but having such a focus on strength is clearly beneficial.
The other, more obvious way to avoid injury is by being sensible i.e. not running long or hard on back to back days, or racing flat out every week. Unless you're very strong or very lucky, sooner or later you'll come unstuck. Without fail every week on Twitter someone is asking why they're tired or sore and it turns out they've run every day for the past month including six races. Sometimes you just need to stop and think for a minute.
When it comes to getting treatment, my advice is to go as often as you can afford to. Sports injury specialists aren't cheap for good reason - they know what they're doing,. But unless you're a professional athlete, it might not be worth your while to spend all your pocket money on rehabilitation.
The key is listen to what they have to say and if they prescribe exercises, actually do them. This might sound obvious but the massage or manipulation they provide is only a small part of the job. You have to 'own' the injury and if you really want to get better quickly, you should do everything you can to expedite your own recovery.
It's also important not to underestimate the impact being injured can have mentally. Some people use running as a way to escape, to unwind, or even as a sort of therapy. When that opportunity is removed, it can have a hugely negative impact on a person's mental wellbeing. Running regularly becomes a habit, and like any habit when it's removed as an option, it's a shock to the system. If you can't run and that's your main interest, find another way to occupy your time and focus on that until you're fit. Easier said than done, but managing this is crucial to your well-being.
In a future post, I’ll be addressing nutrition, but it’s worth remembering that while it’s tempting to say “sod it” and get on the booze and burgers when you’re injured, it probably won’t help your recovery. Obviously once you’re back up and running again…