At some stage or another, just by its very nature - full weight bearing high impact - running is going to cause you an injury. With a little pre-thought and some sensible alterations to your training there are a number of things you can do to (i) lower the incidence of injury, (ii) speed your recovery from running related injuries and (iii) ensure you don't suffer the same ailment again.
So here's a simple "what to do" checklist to consider.
BUILD A BASE
Before doing an "quality" (high intensity training) make sure you have a foundation of low intensity longer miles in your legs.
SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE
Athletes over 80kg should only increase their total running volume by about 10% per week to ensure their bodies can absorb the impact loads to avoid overuse injuries.
TRAIN "SMARTER" NOT JUST "HARDER"
You can't train a tired or injured body. Back off when you need a break. 12-24 hours of recovery can make all the difference.
There's an old rule of thumb around running circles - 10% of your total training time should be spent stretching. Stretch all your major running muscles and hold at the point of stretch for at least 10-15 seconds minimum.
YOU CAN'T TRAIN A TIRED BODY!
Over training leads to burn-out. Monitor your morning heart rate. If it is elevated by more than 15% have a rest day, 10-15% keep the training aerobic, 5-10% above normal, train normally but be on the lookout over the coming days to make sure you've adequately recovered.
WORK ON YOUR FUNCTIONAL STABILITY
A great way to do this is by swapping your chair at work for a Swissball - it may look a little out there, but all day long while you're sitting at your desk you're training your functional stabilising muscles - this'll pay off in your running form.
STAY ON TOP OF YOUR FEET - DON'T OVER-STRIDE
Your feet should be hitting the ground underneath you, not out in front - overstriding increases ground reaction forces and the instance of overuse injuries like stress fractures.
RUN ON SOFTER SURFACES
Vary the terrain on which you train. Staying off ashphalt and concrete and running on grass and natural trails will save your legs.
workouts and terrain for muscle balance
WARM UP FOR AT LEAST 5-10 MINUTES
Increased muscle temperature improves range of motion and helps prevent injury. The colder the day, the longer your warm up. Do a few efforts at least at or greater than, race pace.
TWO PAIR OF TRAINING SHOES
Switching shoes after each running session means your shoes last longer (they dry out between sessions) and you can avoid putting undue stress on one particular area. If there's a particular brand/style you like get two pair and alternate them.
IF YOUR TOE NAILS ARE BLACKENED LOOK AT YOUR SHOES
Blackened toenails indicate that you're jamming your toes against the toe-box of the shoe. Consider a slightly larger size and/or a different model.
BE ON GUARD FOR EARLY WARNING SIGNS
Listen to your body and don't train through niggles as they can escalate into full blown injuries. Identify the cause and treat it. You may drop a day's training by doing so, but it'll save you 4 weeks of down time due to injury.
INTENSITY - USE IT SPARINGLY
The top distance runners in the world don't do much more than 20% of all their training intensely. If you're logging 50km per week in total that means no more than 10km should be quality work.
BUILD YOUR TRAINING SLOWLY AND PROGRESSIVELY
Sudden increases in training volume of more than 10-20% per week can cause injury as your body struggles to adapt to the additional training loads.
CROSS-TRAINING IS A BLESSING
If you're scheduled for another run and your legs are still feeling a little trashed, the beauty about being a triathlete is you can jump on the bike and go for a recovery spin to speed the rate of recovery without having to load your legs. Use cross-training to speed your running recovery.
WORK ON YOUR FUNCTIONAL STABILITY (CORE STABILISERS)
Improving functional stability muscles lowers the incidence of back pain and lower limb injuries by enhancing your running form.
After a hard training session cool your legs with ice and stick them into a cold bath. This lowers the amount of inflammation and speeds your recovery rate.
Do you seem to get over an injury only to have it flare again? Chances are you have a biomechanical shortcoming of some sort. Have your gait analysed by an appropriately trained professional like a sports podiartist.
WALKING CAN HELP
If you're suffering from a long term injury that has kept you out of running for an extended period of time - WALK. This will help your muscles, tendons, bones and ligaments maintain some strength and integrity so that when you're able to return to running at least you wont be starting behind the 8 ball.
ANTI-INFLAMMATORIES AREN'T LOLLIES!
Anti-inflammatories mask the pain but don't remove the cause of the injury. Without the warning signs you can actually make the injury (and long term consequences) worse. Anti-inflammatories (or at least extended inappropriate use of them) can have other implications (e.g. They can produce significant gut problems). Use them sensibly and under medical direction.
WHEN TO CAN IT
Again listen to your body. If you have a cold keep training - provided it is only a head cold - once an ailment goes through your entire system or settles on your chest, pull up stumps, go home and catch a movie.
A regular massage can help keep your legs supple and injury free, they can promote blood flow, alleviate pain and speed recovery. Have one booked for after a hard training session or a race.
The R.I.C.E. principal (Rest, ice, compression and elevation) is still the best immediate treatment for any injury you sustain when running, but don't ice the affected area for more than 15-20 minutes at any one time.
So there you have them, some tips to help you navigate your way through the coming season with the least hassle possible.
Text by Rod Cedaro (M. App. Sc.)
Consultant Sports Physiologist
ACC Accredited Level III Triathlon Coach.