It’s coming to the end of January. Many runners will be getting to a stage in their training plan where the mileage is starting to ramp up as they prepare for the start of the racing season. Runners tackling a new races will likely be running more often than before, potentially training slightly differently too, taking on speed, hill and distance sessions.
At this stage many first-time marathon runners will start to feel tired as the additional training kicks in and these are a group at arguably the highest risk of injury. They are, sadly not alone, as experienced runners will tell you, injuries can happen to anyone. It’s a fact, though, that many first-time marathon runners fail for a variety of factors like motivation or overuse or acute injuries brought on by the change in workload. Knee, calf, achilles and foot issues seem to be the most common, brought on by “too much too soon” from attempting hill training, speed training or long distance training or all of that in spades. It’s so tempting to simply “follow the plan” no matter what. I’ve heard runners say “but its on the plan” so many times, even when completely exhausted from training.
The body needs to recover from each session you put it through and it does this when at rest, at night when you sleep as well as during rest days. Benefiting from increased training and “getting stronger” is called adaptation. Your body ‘adapts’ to the increased levels of training, but it can only adapt if its allowed enough rest to do so, this is why rest is so important to marathon training. Your muscles, tendons and ligaments undergo constant structural and biomechanical changes in adaptation to stress. Should a runner increase their workload too quickly, these structures will not have time to adapt and all of a sudden you are parked on injury street.
There are various rules about increasing workload gradually, but you can generally speaking simplify it to a 10% rule. Either increase the overall mileage by 10%, the mileage of the long run by 10% or increase the intensity, although this is harder to gauge. Increasing overall miles, the long run and throwing in hard sessions together will certainly lead to breaking point sooner.
The running shoes play a part too. They start to break down between 300 and 500 miles and this too can lead to injury as the cushioning and responsiveness changes drive small changes to your running style.
There are plenty of other ways you can get injured, but here are some collated tips to try and stay injury free and motivated;
- Preparation time. Don’t try to rush the training plan. If you are newer to running then it will take you longer to build up the mileage base. Don’t add missed sessions to the next week.
- Design your plan around the 10% rule
- Cross-training such as swimming or cycling can be useful, or take a day off on the days after your long runs. Allow your body time to adapt.
- Be specific during the taper, and don’t dramatically cut mileage down. It should be gradual.
- Include races in the plan where it makes sense such as 10k, 10m and half marathon races.
- Group runs at the same pace often increase enjoyment and motivation. Its important that its at your pace. You can get into issues from both running slower than normal as well as faster. Motivation is key, you are far more likely to stay the course when motivation is high.
- Listen to your body and your peers. If you feel tired all the time and look like hell, chances are an injury is just around the corner if you don’t change something quick. Take some time out, eat well, recover and re-join the plan. Be flexible.
- Warm up pre-run where there the session will be intensive and warm down after tough sessions.
By taking a sensible approach and being flexible, following a plan through to a race ought to be an enjoyable process. You can’t do much about nerves as you get closer to the race, but that’s another story, but you can get to the start line injury free.