#Run1000Miles: how to avoid injury

Tips for staying in one piece over 1000 miles of running


by Marc Abbott |

I’m a walking, talking, running joke in the Trail Running office. For numerous reasons – which we shan’t go into here – but mainly because I seem to be afflicted by the runner’s equivalent of the boxer’s ‘glass jaw’. In the past, I’ve managed to pick up injuries like colds – if there’s one to be hobbled by, you could almost guarantee I’d succumb soon enough.

However – and it’s a big ‘however’, one which nobody sufficiently equips you with the knowledge to expound as a new runner – there are a certain number of things you can do, and of course not do, in order to make your running adventure as stress- and injury-free as possible.

Here are a few of the lessons that I’ve learned over the years. Sometimes the hard way…

1 Start slow

One of the first injuries I picked up when I came back to running after a several-year lay-off was a particularly nasty hamstring pull. Not a full-on tear, but enough to side-line me for a month or two. I know exactly what caused it.

Lacking any sense of structure to my training, and being full of ‘new runner exuberance’, I left my house with the goal of running 5km in less than 23 minutes. Straight off the bat. I was a half-decent cyclist, so I must be fit enough, right?

Well, yes. And no.

Leaving the house with no warm-up to speak of, I hit the pavement then the trails behind my house, breathing out of my backside to maintain 4min 30sec kilometres. Target in sight, I rounded a corner 200 metres away from the finish line of my driveway, stepped off a kerb – because I’d gone into the turn too hot and needed to adjust and run wide – put my foot down, and felt a searing pain shoot up the back of my thigh.

The lessons: know your limits, cycling and running use different muscle groups, and ALWAYS run the first few kilometres easy, to get your heartrate up and your body ready.

2 Turn down the volume

Many books and coaches will (rightly) recommend something in the region of no more than a 10% increase in distance run each week. There’s a good reason for this. Again, we’re back to the eagerness issue – running is a fantastic sport to be involved in and, once you’ve experienced that post-run exhilaration once, you want to feel those endorphins all the time.

The danger with thinking to yourself that, regardless of running only 10km in your first week, you can run eight miles in one hit the next, is obvious. Here, we’re just as likely to pick up injuries to joints – especially the knees – because our bodies simply aren’t amply conditioned to cope. So, as well as keeping the pace easy to begin with, also be realistic about weekly mileage. As the year progresses, so will your distances increase, so don’t get panicky about having to run 2.7 miles each day, from day one; it’ll all come good in the end.

3 Listen to your body

If you do pick up a niggle, remember to be honest with yourself. You’re the best judge of your body’s condition – after all, you’ve lived in it your whole life. Just because your pal was back to easy runs a week after breaking their leg (I know, I’m using an extreme example), doesn’t mean you will be. If you have a stinking cold, running might delay your recovery to full fitness. Take a day off; it’s fine! If you can still feel a twinge in your hamstring, when you leave the house, there’s no shame in calling it 400 metres into your run and walking home. I’ve been there, and I’m glad I did it. Even if the neighbours found it funny and my wife was peeved that she hadn’t got rid of me for the half hour of R&R she was anticipating.

4 Seek professional help

If you’re the kind of person who thrives on being told what to do, and finds it easier to trust a professional than cobble together a training schedule yourself, why not get a coach? Basic one-to-one training plans are not as expensive as you might think, and you’ve the experience of (usually) an elite runner to draw upon. Crucially, this should prevent you from falling foul or points one and two (left).

Just as importantly, if that soreness in your quads is still there a week after a run, or the nagging pain in your knee has become bad enough to affect your sleep, a visit to a physiotherapist could get you back on your feet much quicker than simple rest. And again, you’ll learn some useful exercises and drills to help strengthen and condition your body.

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