There is nothing worse for an injured runner than watching others fly by free and easy. If you have ever been injured, I’m guessing you can relate to all the feelings that crop up when you are off the road – frustration with the setback, impatience with the speed of recovery, and jealousy of running buddies and strangers alike.
Every runner we spot, in person or via social media feed, acts as a reminder for what we cannot do right now.
You are not alone
The odds are high that as a runner you will get injured at some point. Most of us have been there, and some runners always seem to be carrying an injury. Is it genetics, technique or something different that makes some runners more prone to injury? Indeed there are some factors we can’t control and we all have very different biomechanics, but there is a lot we can do without great technical knowledge to reduce our chances of picking up an injury. It’s not all about complementary strength and mobility training either – although you probably already know you should be building that into your running week.
1) Too much too soon
The most likely cause of injury in new runners is doing “too much too soon”. But it’s not only beginners that are guilty of pushing themselves too much. We can all be a slave to a training plan if we have a race date in the calendar. Our fear of not keeping with the schedule and falling behind has led to many a running setback.
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While following a training plan provides great structure, we need make sure we follow the right plan for our own individual body and fitness level. When we are blinkered to following a plan at all costs, we can often ignore the warning signs from the body. Don’t follow a plan that is beyond your capabilities. Adapt for your fitness levels or you will end up suffering in the second half of the plan.
Imagine being tall and strong through your centre, but loose and relaxed in the shoulders, arms and legs. Don’t forget to smile. This immediately relaxes the body too
2) Life outside of running
Running gets blamed for many injuries unfairly. What we do when we are not running has a part to play also. If we spend eight (or more) hours bent over a desk each day, naturally certain muscles will get weak and/tight. If we wear high heels our calves will shorten. As we tense over a laptop our posture in our upper body can suffer. It is no wonder that we may find running uncomfortable as our body feels tight after a day of repetitive activity or indeed non-activity. Our sleep, nutrition, hydration and stress levels all feed into how a run can feel. So, before you blame running for your injury, notice what you are doing outside of running that could make your running body feel more comfortable. We are in control of a lot more than we think.
3) Go with the flow
Whether you are new to running or a seasoned club runner, loosen out and warm up before you start running. We need to transition gradually between tasks rather than assume our (ageing) bodies can bounce from sitting on a chair all day to running with optimum posture, strength and mobility. Walk for a few minutes, do some dynamic stretching and ease into running at a relaxed pace before running fast. When the weather is cold we need to spend longer mobilising before we push on.
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Many of us are guilty of cutting corners on warm-up, rushing in late or flying out the door and launching into a run at full tilt. When we train with others we can often follow their lead rather than do what our body needs. Give yourself a few extra minutes before you run to notice how you are feeling on any given day. Pay attention to what areas are holding tension and only start running when you feel your body is ready. Choose the pace that feels the right effort level for you regardless of what your watch might be telling you is required.
4) Release the tension
Have you ever seen a photo or video of yourself running? How relaxed or tense do you look? Tension burns energy and tightens the muscles. Make a conscious effort to relax your body while you are on the run. Imagine being tall and strong through your centre, but loose and relaxed in the shoulders, arms and legs. Don’t forget to smile. This immediately relaxes the body too. Check in every few minutes on the go to notice how you are feeling, and remind yourself that you don’t need to be holding tension all over the body. Over time it will become more natural to run relaxed if you practise releasing tension. As an added bonus, notice your breathing. Your breath reflects your effort levels too and is always there to guide us.
Many an unfortunate tumble on the run has put paid to a running season. But from years of coaching I also recognise that most injuries are a long time in the making
5) Mix things up
Variety is key. It’s easy to follow the same running route each time we go out the door. But changing things up can have huge benefits for our running body. Vary the surfaces you run on in order to get the body used to uneven ground. Aim to get off the footpaths where you can and consider hills an opportunity rather than something to avoid. Bring variety into your pace too with each run having a specific purpose so your body has to adapt its stride, technique and effort level. You can even experiment with different running shoes, running partners or gadgets. Learn from others, keep it fun, be open-minded to trying new ways of training. Train your body to adapt to new environments and it will be stronger and more resilient.
Create our own luck
Of course, you can feel like you are doing everything right and still get an injury. I will always remember training for my first marathon, and in a moment of distraction, tripping and breaking my arm. Many an unfortunate tumble on the run has put paid to a running season. But from years of coaching I also recognise that most injuries are a long time in the making. Never choose to ignore the early signs of an injury or be afraid to take a momentary step back for fear of missing out. We can’t predict the future. But we all do know our weak points. What part of your body is your weakest link and what are you going to do about it? Don’t wait until you are off the road to start taking steps to future-proof it.
– Mary Jennings is founder and running coach at ForgetTheGym.ie. She coaches runners how to feel better running and stay motivated