How to avoid injuries for runners + Recovery for runners

Trackstaa sits down with Simon O’Brien from The Athlete Room to consider how best stay injury free and he gives us his top rehabilitation tips for when injuries occur.

Running, this sport we all love, has enormous health benefits both physical and psychological. There is nothing quite like that rush of endorphins when you’ve completed a tough session or the smug spring in your step when you know you’ve finished your run for the day.

However, despite humans having huge physiological advantages when it comes to endurance running, there is little doubt that regular running places immense strain on our bodies.

Most of us, if not all of us, have experienced injury before. It’s almost an inevitability for runners that at some point you will get injured, but there are some things we can all do to mitigate the risk of injury and keep us pounding those roads, tracks and muddy fields.

To make sense of it all, Trackstaa spoke to Simon O’Brien from The Athletes Room (@simon_ob1986), lecturer in Sports Science and Sports Therapy, certified sports therapist and elite performance and therapy coach for Botswana Athletics. Simon’s clients include some of the most elite distance runners in the country, including friend of Trackstaa, 2:13 marathon runner and GB athlete, Charlie Hulson.

“There’s no doubt that running has increased in popularity due to the health and social benefits. However, research conducted in 2018, concluded, probably unsurprisingly, that running has been associated with the highest risk of injury when compared to other forms of aerobic capacity activity, such as walking, swimming and cycling”, Simon tells us.

No matter what your standard, the latest research, Simon says, suggests that too much too soon is the primary cause of injuries. “There has been a huge increase in the amount of research done into the impact of training load over the last few years. The latest studies into running related injuries and as far back as 2016, all point to the same conclusion, specifically that poor load management is a major risk factor for injury and, in fact, it likely contributes to 60-70% of all running related injuries.”

If you are brand new to the sport, combining walking with running is vital to ensure that the bones and soft tissues, particularly in the lower legs, which Simon says contribute up to 79% of running injuries, are sufficiently developed to withstand the increased stress brought about by running. A simple plan you could follow is:

Run – 90 seconds

Walk – 3.5 minutes

Repeat 6 times, 3 times a week, increasing the run by 30 seconds and decreasing the walk by 30 seconds at the start of each week until you can run for 30 minutes without stopping.

For the more experienced runner, we generally advocate that an effective way to increase load whilst minimising the injury risk is to increase weekly mileage by around 10%. Every fourth week, you should take a down-week where your weekly mileage is the same at the start of the 4 week block. So, for example (rounded to the nearest mile):

            Week 1 – 20 miles

            Week 2 – 22 miles

            Week 3 – 24 miles

            Week 4 – 20 miles

            Week 5 – 27 miles

            Week 6 – 29 miles

            Week 7 – 32 miles

            Week 8 – 27 miles

            Week 9 – 35 miles and so on.

As well as overall load, runners can often fall into the trap of training too hard all the time. In order to gain the proper training adaption from your tough sessions, you need to give yourself enough rest and recovery miles to optimise performance and minimise the risk of injury. A typical and easy to follow ratio is to ensure that, each week, 80% of your miles are at any easy pace (we discuss what constitutes easy pace in our training pace article, you can read here) and the remaining 20% are done at much higher intensity, so for example your speed work, hill reps and sessions.

As well as training load, Simon told us that are other factors which can contribute to your risk of injury, including, “Q-angle, which essentially refers to the alignment of the quadriceps, relative to the patella, foot arch height, bone strength, muscle and other tissue and flexibility of quadriceps and hamstrings”.

Some of these are genetic factors but there are still things you can do to reduce their impact. A diet which includes sufficient amounts of proteins, carbohydrates and other nutrients, a proper strength training regime and, where necessary, additional supplements such as iron and vitamin D can be helpful in reducing your chances of getting injured prior to your big race. For more advice on nutrition for runners, you can read our article with Sports Nutritionist, Danny Webber, here. We certainly advise at Trackstaa that a daily vitamin D and iron supplement can be invaluable in helping you get through your high weekly mileage whilst keeping your body in peak condition for race day. 

Furthermore, ensuring you are doing the vast majority of your training in the appropriate shoes, particularly non-carbon plated shoes, is hugely important. We have written numerous articles on shoe rotation and have just released a YouTube video, you can watch here, which explains what shoes you should be using for certain runs and workouts.

How to deal with a running injury

Sometimes however, no matter what precautions you take, injury can hit. What you do when you get an injury can be the most important aspect in determining how quickly you’ll be back on your feet. So, we asked Simon what his top 5 tips would be if the worst happens:

“I think my top 5 tips would be:

  1. Firstly, seek professional advice from a sports rehab therapist, sports therapist or physiotherapist. A correct diagnosis can lead to effective rehab plans being written, meaning quicker return to sport.
  • Secondly, accept the injury – you might still be able to train but continuing to train in the same manner may worsen your condition. Seeking professional advice will ensure you are doing the correct training to assist you in healing and you might find another activity, such as swimming or cycling, that you can do pain free.
  • Thirdly, ensure that you are doing effective strength and conditioning. They are just as important as your run sessions. Sometimes they have a negative misconception that they add mass, but actually when correctly prescribed, S and C will positively improve your performance and prevent re-injury. When injured, being assessed by a professional, weaknesses can be identified and exercises prescribed in order to improve upon these.
  • Fourthly, set goals – not just ‘I want to run again’… be SMART. it could be within a couple of days, walking pain free. 2 weeks’ time, run 1 min, walk 2 mins and then work your way up gradually from there. Short term goals assist in aiming towards returning to the passion you love.
  • Finally, something all runners struggle with, patience – your body will take time to adjust to the impacts associated with running. Seeking advice from a professional will make sure you do not rush back and suffer from another injury lay off.”

There you have it, armed with the information to best mitigate the risk of injury and with top tips from a professional sports therapist on how to deal with injuries when they occur, you’re ready to run into the 2021 season with the confidence that it will be your best yet.

Let us know what works for you in the comments below.

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