Phil Smith, Sports Rehabilitation and Massage Therapist
Connect Physical Health
I’ve seen so many ‘runners’ turn up for an event without having done the necessary training. They then try and complete the run thinking they can just rock up on the day and do it justice. We all need to do our P’s! Preparation Prevents Poor Performance! Training for an event , depending on physical background and ability, should start 12-20 weeks pre-race. The miles need to have been done in order to have the best result on the day and actually feel good whilst running and not suffer ridiculously due to ‘just turning up’ and increasing the risk of injury spoiling the day.
2. Know your body
We are all different. Doing the training and running a half marathon is no mean feat. The roads are punishing on our bodies. During running the impact forces through our body equal 3-4 times our body weight with each stride. If we are not used to and adapted to this stress then we run a much greater risk of injury. Knowing our body, and what it is capable of, how it feels and how it adapts to the training is critical. Knowing which muscles are tight, which areas are taking the strain, what are our weaknesses and strengths are all important. This requires a deep knowledge of our own body, an intuitive sense that comes from repeated physical exertion and training, ie. Exercise!! If we can tune in to how our bodies are reacting to the training then perhaps we can implement strategies to prevent an injury before it occurs.
3. Sports massage
Most athletes and competitive sports people will use sports massage at least once per month; some even daily when in heavy training. Most normal folks only use sports massage when they get injured or when they get a niggle when it’s usually already too late! The evidence is always conflicting regarding the benefits of massage but anyone who has used it will tell you of the positive effects. They are varied but one of the main things is that it can prevent an injury before it occurs by identifying it and releasing tension and tightness. It’s not to be overlooked and it doesn’t always need to be painful!!
4. Have a training plan specific to you
Some runners may just use a generic training plan, that might work, might help keep them going, but ideally you follow a plan which is specific to your needs/requirements. Some of us find it hard to follow a plan; mainly because we are so busy we never know how we are going to put the training in in the first place. How can I fit it in within an already crammed schedule and I need every bit of sleep I can get, which isn’t much in the first place?! In this case, working together with someone can help motivate you to find the time and to find a balance amongst commitments to design even a simple well-balanced plan to focus on getting the best quality into the week. This might just keep you injury-free by balancing the actual running that you do week in, week out. Being able to communicate with the coach and seek advice if you are unsure might just prevent you doing that one run which leads to injury.
5. Run on mixed surfaces
Although the GNR is all on road doing all of your running on hard surface is not necessarily a great idea. You will benefit from running on hard surface and it is a good idea to prepare the body for that impact but make sure you also run on soft surface such as trails, gravel, fell because this will vary the impact. Help take some of the strain off the body and it might just relieve some of that repetitive unforgiving impact from the road which can lead to injury.
Understanding and observing our running form, the way we run, can have implications for injury and prevention. Running lightly, without over-striding especially with an extended knee and heel strike (image below) can help avoid injury. This usually occurs when we are tired, and a poor running form directs impact forces through the knee and into the back. Learn to avoid it!! Instead focus on running relaxed with a nice short stride and avoid landing directly on the heel.
7. The benefit of Cross Training
Cross training means using other forms of exercise to help get fit and improve your running. The idea is that you still get the benefits of exercise, working the heart and lungs but at the same time give the other parts of the body a rest from the strain and impact of running. This can be particularly useful if you have a niggle which threatens to become a full-blown injury and prevent you from running. Cross training may allow it time to recover before returning to running. Forms of cross training vary from swimming, cycling, gym circuits etc. Triathletes are fully aware of these benefits and know that when they get an injury, they can still usually swim and cycle. Those of us with good contacts may wish to try underwater running on a treadmill as a form of cross training!! This has been acknowledged as a major contributor to Mo Farah’s and Alistair Brownlee’s Gold medal winning exploits at London 2012. The underwater running helps take the stress of impact away whilst simulating the running action hence still working the same systems with less impact!
8. Don’t over train
Over training is driven by fear. Fear of having not done the desired mileage, that running and training more is better. This is a particular risk for those who are very driven, overly enthusiastic, or with a statistical or numbers-driven mindset. ‘I’ve run 47miles this week but 50 sounds better so I’ll nip out Sunday evening for another 3miles even though I’m already tired and had a hard session today’. We need to let go of the numbers, learn to train by feel rather than beat ourselves up if we have missed a session. There is a risk of becoming obsessive or compulsive about our running and a specific condition of overtraining can manifest itself which can lead to serious injury or burnout and further problems. Always keep a clear focus and objective to your running – if you feel tired then rest, if at all in doubt regarding whether to run or not then rest. If your muscles are sore then view that not as a good sign but a bad sign and rest. Listen to those around you, family and friends, they will be the first to tell you are doing too much, they will recognise the signs and they are often correct!!
It’s often difficult to differentiate between what is an insidious onset injury and what is simply a niggle and we can run through it and in a few days will have forgotten all about it. Experience often helps but instinct will often let you know. Be proactive and either rest, cross train, do more stretching, icing or self-massage to make sure it doesn’t become an inhibiting injury. Seek the advice of a physiotherapist or sports massage therapist if you are unsure and it doesn’t clear up within a few days/runs. These niggles are often the first sign that something is not quite right and a more sinister injury is around the corner – listen to the body!!
10. Do some form of ‘injury prevention’ exercises
Injury prevention can be boosted by some specific exercises. These can be specific to the individual and their apparent weaknesses or just general strength and conditioning. This might include core strength exercises or simply Yoga and Pilates classes. They all have a role to play and all overlap to some extent. The key is that they help keep us both functionally fit and injury free. If you enjoy any one of these then it’s probably best you continue with that as you’re more likely to keep it up consistently. It’s the consistency that counts, not any one exercise when we feel an injury creeping on. At Connect I run a Core Stability class and we incorporate aspects of both Yoga and Pilates because we are aware of the massive benefits of both, not just to running but in general health. If I had my way we all would be conscripted into a Yoga class!!
Phil is an ultra Distance Runner who has completed many sporting challenges including only this year the Bob Graham Round 72miles 28,500ft in under 21 hours and running the full length of Hadrian ’s Wall for charity in under 23 hours. He has completed several Ironman Triathlons and represented Great Britain Triathlon team at two world championships and European championships and the Long Distance world championships. He works with Connect Physical Health as a Sports Rehabilitation and Massage Therapist and also offers 1:1 coaching for anyone looking to complete a sporting challenge. You can contact Phil at our Newcastle clinic on 0191 213 5116.
Note: The content of this article is for general information purposes and is not meant to replace physiotherapy or medical consultation.
Will you be competing in the Great North Run? How do you prepare?