RUNNING and INJURY
Humans are designed to move, there is no question about it and moving by putting one foot ahead of the other is a rewarding exercise that can be done anywhere at any time. Walking in itself, is an essential part of day-to-day life as it allows us to just function and get around. Running, allows us to cover more ground quickly and it is here that we progress to exploring, racing and seeking to improve.
Improving in anything requires training, you need to train to be a doctor, you need to train to be an artist and in sport, no matter what sport, training is required to improve and progress. By definition, *’Training allows the body to gradually build up strength and endurance, improve skill levels and build motivation, ambition and confidence. Training also allows athletes to gain more knowledge of their sport as well as enabling them to learn about the importance of having a healthy mind and body.’
In running, it has often been said, there are three types of runner:
- The runner recovering from injury.
- The runner that is injured.
- The runner that is about to be injured.
The above is a pessimistic look at a runner, but there is some truth. You see, runners get injured because our bodies are only capable of so many miles or hours. Push too much, too hard, too often and the body breaks.
Sports injuries are commonly caused by overuse, direct impact, or the application of force that is greater than the body part can structurally withstand. Common injuries include bruises, sprains, strains and joint injuries. ******
Training in itself is designed to stress the body so that it adapts. The body breaks down on a cellular level (bone cells and networks of cells deform) with long-running, fast-running, climbing, descending, whatever it may be specific to your chosen discipline. The magic happens when we rest. So, the first lesson is to embrace rest. Rest is not a dirty word; rest is essential to make the training stimulus work.
’Experts recommend training is varied and tailored to specific individual needs; this helps keep motivation and establish individual goals. Athletes should take care to rest fully between training sessions; this will help to prevent overtraining, which can have negative effects on performance and contribute to injuries… Sessions should not be too easy or too demanding; they should be pitched at the appropriate level to facilitate improvement but prevent injury and a lack of self-confidence.’ **
Finding the balance is hard. The stress-v-rest equation is a tough one and difficult to get right. You see, running, and most sports in all honesty are addictive.
‘Sports addiction sounds paradoxical, because we usually reserve the word ‘addiction’ for things that are recognizably bad for us, such as illicit-drug use or alcoholism, but there really is a sense in which you can become addicted to exercise. Even modest athletes can relate to the famous ‘high’ after exercising, triggered by the release of ‘happiness hormones’ such as dopamine and endorphins, which have mood-altering effects.’ ***
It makes sense, just as a drug addict needs a fix of ‘x,’ we as runners need a run to get that kick of endorphins. When we don’t run, we get low, our mood changes and well, we can be a little difficult to be around. But, let’s be clear, the positive and psychological effects of an active lifestyle are proven. Improved fitness, stronger heart, better weight management, increased life expectancy, clearer mind, stronger bones and the list goes on. But like in all things, we need balance.
Irrespective of ability, runners need balance. If you are new to running the balance will be different to the experienced runner who is maybe looking to run a personal best. One thing is common though, all training places stress on the body.
Let’s say you are new to running and looking to go from the Couch to 5km. A week may look like this:
- Monday – 30 min walk
- Tuesday – Rest
- Wednesday – 30 min alternating between 5min walk/ 5 min jog
- Thursday – Rest
- Friday – Gym working on strength and core
- Saturday – 30min walk
- Sunday – 45 min broken down as 5min walk/ 10 min run and repeat
By contrast, an experienced runner looking to break 3-hours in a marathon, may have a week that looks like the following:
- Monday – 40 min easy run at 90 secs per mile slower than MP
- Tuesday – 50 min run as 10 min easy, 30min at Marathon Pace, 10 min cool down
- Wednesday – 90 min endurance run, 1min slower per mile than MP
- Thursday – 15min war up, hill reps 10 x 2min efforts (85%) on 90 sec recovery, 15 min cool down
- Friday – Rest
- Saturday – Park Run
- Sunday – 2hr 15min run as 90min 1min per mile slower than MP, then 30min at MP followed by 15 min easy to cool down
There is a huge difference between the training plans above. Each applies stress in its own way, and both require rest or easier days to allow the body the strength to train hard when required.
So, planning is key in a training plan. Runners require a rest day and easier days in a training week, and importantly, they need easier weeks in let’s say, monthly training blocks. A good strategy is building for 3-weeks and dropping down on week 4, so, 8-weeks training in hours (just for illustration) could look like:
- Week 1 : 6 hours
- Week 2 : 8 hours
- Week 3 : 10 hours
- Week 4 : 6 hours
- Week 5 : 8 hours
- Week 6 : 10 hours
- Week 7 : 12 hours
- Week 8 : 6 hours
If a runner never gets injured, one could arguably say that they fall in one of two categories:
- They have a superb training plan that balances stress, stimulus and rest.
- They are not training hard enough and not adding any stress.
Some coaches actually say, that injury is just part of the process and we need to be prepared for it. In a way, I agree, but that does not mean we must not try to avoid injury… On the contrary.
NSMI provide the following information to avoid injury:
- Warm Up
- Use the correct equipment (in our scenario, appropriate footwear)
- Use the correct technique (run style and technique for gym/ weight training)
- Do not over-reach (Listen to your body, know your limits)
- Remain hydrated
- Cool down
The above is a simple bullet list of points that provides a great starting point. But running is a harsh sport that creates great impact and stress, so, maybe we can be a little more creative.
Diet – Food is fuel and it provides us with energy to undertake training and importantly it allows us to recover. So, think about the food you eat and consume good quality calories from a variety of sources.
Cross-Train – Just because you are a runner, you don’t need to run every day. In all honesty, a good cross -training regimen is essential in my opinion to keep the body healthy and the mind healthy. One or two sessions per week in a gym on a stepper, elliptical or rower all increases fitness and gives the ‘running’ body a break. Weight training, core training and yoga are all positives to running.
Treatments – Having a massage every week or every month is a great way to have an overhaul of the body. It’s like taking your car to the garage to make sure that everything is working okay… A good sports therapist seen on a regular basis is a great way of nipping potential niggles before they become injuries.
Get a coach – A good coach will take into consideration your targets, available time, family and life stresses and provide you with a plan that balances stress and rest. In addition, they are a sounding board for your concerns, and they will keep you honest. They will push you when you need it and they will tell you to rest.
Variety – Don’t always run on the same routes. Mix up terrain so that it provides not only physical stimulus but mental stimulus. However, don’t lose sight of the reason why you are running. For example, if your target is a road marathon, you need specific road training. Equally, if you are running a trail 100-miler with loads of vertical, don’t do too much running on the road.
WHAT IF YOU GET INJURED?
The secret is noticing injury early and doing something about it. Runners are historically bad at this and I get it. We all have runs with some level of pain or discomfort and the secret is, in time, understanding what is just training discomfort (stress) or an injury waiting to happen. Simply. When in doubt, do not run.
RICE has often been used as an option in the 24/48-hour window:
- Rest – At least 48 hours of rest for the injured area
- Ice – Apply ice packs to the affected area for period of between 10 and 30 minutes. Be sure to place a towel over the injured area before applying the ice pack as direct contact with the skin can cause an ice burn.
- Compression – In order to reduce swelling and also to restrict movement, compression bandages can be used.
- Elevation – By raising the injured limb to a comfortable and elevated position, swelling can be reduced, and the limb will be at full rest.
As mentioned above, having a coach or getting regular treatment will help here, as you have at least two avenues to explore and discuss your problem with.
But shit happens and that ‘one extra run’ or not listening to your body is when the scales tip over and injury occurs.
See a professional. Don’t guess, do not go on social media and ask your peers what is wrong. Pick up the phone, get an appointment and start on the right path to a healthy body from the beginning.
There is no one type of injury and of course some injuries can be resolved in a week with some RnR and treatment, whilst others may see you sidelined for weeks, or months.
This is where cross-training in a training plan may well have been a god send. Remember we said early on, runners (all sports people) are addicted to an endorphin kick; we are addicts. So, while you may not be able to do the thing that you really, really want to do. Doing something is always better than nothing! Cross training is almost always given by a sports professional to help you on the road to recovery, so, embrace it.
Rest. Yes, if you have not already realized it. Rest is one of the key disciplines of any training plan. Embrace the rest days.
As an injury progresses and heals, be sensible. The urge to rush out the door and pick up where you left off is not a good idea. Ease the body back in, start slow, be progressive. Add stress, rest a great deal and slowly but surely increase time on feet and avoid any hard sessions. Once the body starts to feel good again, you can start to introduce other training stimulus such as speed and hill work.
Naturally, prevention is better than cure and there are many things that should be advised to professional and amateur athletes alike in order to avoid chronic muscle pain and injuries. Proper alimentation and stretching are key. A diet rich in proteins, vitamin C and A, and zinc, will help rejuvenate muscle tissues and prevent any damage and long-term injury. Making sure enough calories are consumed on a daily basis is also crucial to help maintain the body’s ability to repair itself. Perhaps also counterintuitively, the athlete also has to consume enough fat: an optimal level of fat has been proven to help reduce the inflammation process. Finally, it is recommended to eat within two hours after a workout, as it has been demonstrated that muscle tissue heals faster during these 2 hours-window frames. Stretching exercises are equally recommended by sports specialists in order to help increase flexibility and avoid muscle sprains. Warm-up stretches in particular serve to increase body temperature and prep the body to perform each activity. *****
Finally, learn from the process. Sit down and look at the training that lead to the injury. Try to see markers or key points that you can pinpoint and then moving forward, plan accordingly.
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