Running is a fantastic form of exercise for so many reasons, namely because its free and you can do it anywhere, at any time. However, there is a distinct difference between running on an ‘ad hoc’ basis, compared to training for a longer distance run.
Of course, it is generally accepted with any sport or exercise that you should build yourself up gradually. There are many training principles and models that you could follow, however I wouldn’t necessarily utilise these thoroughly and regularly within my clinic.
I have recently been working with members of the public who, for the first time, have taken up running and are on a training programme for The Great East Run. Unfortunately, some of these new runners are coming into clinic with various aches and pains for various reasons.
Have a read below for my five top tips on best preparing yourself for a long distance run and reducing your injury risk.
1.Vary your training
Many people I have treated within clinic continuously try and push themselves. This is great, but you do not need to keep running further and further with each run to increase your aerobic capacity. In fact, a study looking into high intensity interval (HIIT) training found that it can be significantly more effective than running longer, submaximal runs to increase maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) – so essentially increasing your overall fitness. As well as this, it gives your body a bit of a break from the repetitiveness of running, and is excellent to do a 15-20 minute HIIT perhaps on a day where you’re short on time, but don’t want your training to be compromised.
It is also suggested that runners should alternate their runs – so perhaps running one longer distance run per week, and devoting one or two to shorter, faster and perhaps more challenging runs. You can mix up your runs by incorporating hill sprints, road and off road running.
Additionally, other forms of cardiovascular exercise should be incorporated into your regime – whether it is on an active rest day (which I will talk about further later), or to replace one of your weekly runs with altogether. Exercise such as swimming, cross training, rowing or cycling are fantastic ways of maintaining and improving your aerobic fitness, whilst giving your body a rest from excessive running.
2. Devote time to strength and conditioning
I would say this is the main cause of injury that I see within clinic – I have patients who are fantastic runners and have a superb fitness level, however their strength capacity doesn’t match this. Each time you take a step, you are effectively doing a calf raise; if you can’t do more than 20 single leg calf raises, then think of how much of a toll this can take on your calves and Achilles whilst running.
It is so important to strengthen the muscles that you use whilst running in order to a) improve your performance, and b) reduce your injury risk. I would recommend to dedicate at least one session per week to solely strengthening – focussing on your gluteal muscles, quadriceps, hamstrings, and not to forget the calves (gastrocnemius and soleus). The calves in particular are often neglected within strengthening programmes. As well as this, ensuring you warm up prior to running, which may include a few gluteal (bum) activation exercises for example. There are plenty of resources available online to give you ideas on what would be a good lower body regime, whether you’re at the gym or at home.
3. Monitor your training load
It is recommended that you calculate your average distance over one week, and only increase your distance the following week by 10%. So, for example, if you went on three 5k runs one week, your total would be 15k. The following week you would only increase your overall weekly total by 1.5k. This can be a little challenging to work out at times, however is a good way of reducing injury. Bare in mind though, as I said earlier, it is advisable to mix up your running distance, so I would not recommend running three times a week at the same distance.
4. Ensure adequate rest and recovery
Overtraining! I would say this is probably the second most common cause of injury in runners that I see within clinic. Recovery really should be at the heart of any training programme. Overtraining puts an excessive amount of stress onto the body, causing fatigue. Continued training in this fatigued state, of course increases fatigue, which ultimately causes dysfunction of pathways and immune, inflammatory and metabolic responses amongst others, including chronic glycogen depletion. This ultimately leads to underperformance and even injury. The imbalances between training and recovery periods are often worsened by inadequate nutrition and hydration, illness, psychosocial factors and not getting enough sleep.
Sufficient recovery periods are essential to allow your body to adapt. With any form of training, it is entirely normal to experience muscle fatigue or delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) for 24-72 hours after training. This means that, at a cellular and molecular level, there is a disruption to the muscle fibres and therefore function. This means that during the time we are experiencing DOMS, there could be a reduction in the number of efficiently functioning and recruited motor units within the muscle – meaning there could be a negative impact on training, performance and technique. Which ultimately can result in injury and set back in training.
Signs of overtraining include prolonged fatigue, reduction in your performance and motivation to train, changes in mood, and prolonged or excessive DOMS. Ensure you have at least one day of complete rest, and I would recommend no more than three days of consecutive training. You could also have an ‘active rest day’, which means that although you’re resting from formal exercise, you could try light aerobic activity, which may be going for a long walk or gentle swim – that way, you’re allowing your musculoskeletal system to recover, whilst still maintaining your aerobic capacity. Heat is also an effective modality to help promote recovery – a recent study suggests that sustained heat straight after training can increase the flexibility of and blood flow to the affected muscles. I would still promote ice for around 20-30minutes if you have swelling of any joint however, and to get it seen to if any joint swelling persists. Of course, adequate sleep, nutrition, hydration and promoting your own wellbeing, enhances your recovery and therefore overall performance.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to invest a lot of money and time into buying running shoes. There are lots of marketing ploys out there, which supposedly analyse your gait patterns and then recommend trainers from there. Don’t get me wrong – this works perfectly well for many runners, amateurs and professionals alike, but I would not say this is a necessity.
What I would recommend is finding a pair of trainers that you feel comfortable in. Some running stores allow you to have a ‘trial run’ on a treadmill, which can be useful. Otherwise, if you have ‘flat feet’, try not to worry about getting the latest trainers with the latest arch supports – if your flat feet give you problems, absolutely this is worth considering. If not, then there is no real need to change your biomechanics. I would recommend changing your trainers every 450-550 miles or so. Depending on the quality of your trainers, this may vary, however tell tale signs that you need a new pair is excessive wearing through to the midsole, lack of support or holes/wearing over the toe region.
Ultimately, my main piece of advice is to enjoy your training and listen to your body. If you have an ache or pain that persists, or suddenly significantly worsens, contact your local physiotherapist for advice to recover and reduce further injury.
Cadegiani, F. A., Kater, C. E., 2017. Hormonal aspects of overtraining syndrome: a systematic review. BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation (online). 9 (14)
Fisher, H., Gooderick, J., 2011. Recovery in performance sport: A review of selected macro and micro strategies. UK Strength & Conditioning Association (online)
Hawley, J. A., 2008. Specificity of training adaptation: time for a rethink? Journal of Physiology (online). 586 (1), 1-2
Helgerud, J., Hoydal, K., Wang, E., Karlsen, T., Berg., P et al., 2007. Aerobic high-intensity intervals improve VO2 max more than moderate training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (online). 39 (4), 665-671
Petrofsky, J., Berk, L., Bains, G., Khowailed, I. A., Lee., H., Laymon, M., 2017. The Efficacy of Sustained Heat Treatment on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine (online). 27 (4), 329-337