Since taking part in triathlon and treating patients in physio clinics across London I’m always surprised by the number of people who pick up niggles when running and more surprised when clinicians (surgeons/doctors/ physiotherapists/ osteopaths) advise that running is bad for us!
90% of the time, in my opinion, this advice is misguided.
So let’s look at some facts and figures. Firstly, as human beings we are designed to run. Now I appreciate that everyone is put together a little differently which means that some peoples’ running style may be less efficient, in terms of their individual biomechanics, but I feel strongly that most people, if they want to, can run.
The important point that needs to be considered and addressed is that running is a high impact sport and you have to be strong to do it. Research shows that on average, most of us take 3-7 times our body weight through our legs with every step we take! So even if you weigh in at a feather weight of 50kg that could be up to 500kg of force though your limbs…. that’s a lot right?!
The question is….how do we run injury free??!! I think there are a few key points that you need to consider before you think about running longer distance or more frequently.
You must invest in good footwear. This is non- negotiable! You get what you pay for on this front and there are no short cuts. It can be a minefield figuring out what works for you and there is honestly no secret other than going to a good quality running shop where they can look at you run, let you try on some different brands and then come to an informed decision. Running shops that I trust are Run and Become, Sweatshop, Runners Need, Sporting Feet and UP and Running; they all have experienced staff with a good eye who know their stock and will be able to help you.
You MUST be strong and I mean strong throughout your lower limbs. Your feet, your calves, your hamstrings, your quadriceps, your gluteal, your core… all have an integral part to play in the running motion; neglect one muscle group and it will simply overload another. Overloading will lead to an injury sooner or later.
With all my patients who run, I suggest that they do at least 1-2 sessions (up to 20-30 mins) of strength and conditioning based exercise every week, and I strongly recommend a focus on proper strength and conditioning (gym and weights based) through the off season for ANYONE who is looking to race fast or over the longer distances.
Trust me, you will be faster and more efficient if you are stronger.
Ensure that your training is structured and progressive.
The biggest problem I see with runners is the tendency to rush, to increase distance or frequency of training. Your body can only adjust and respond to so much load in one go. If you push the demand on your system you will fatigue and then your musculoskeletal structures will succumb to overuse.
As a general rule of thumb, always live by the 10% rule, in terms of increasing demand; this is for both mileage per run and total weekly mileage.
Cross training is invaluable.
Training across different disciplines will allow you to increase your fitness without repetitively loading your legs, if you are covering multiple run sessions in a week. Break your sessions up into other forms of cardiovascular exercise such as cycling or swimming (easy if you are a triathlete!).
Variety is the spice of life!
If I had a pound for every person I’ve seen who thinks that the only way to increase fitness is to do more miles then I’d be a rich lady! This is 100% not true. Although I agree that long / slow runs are an effective way of building aerobic strength, it is not the only or the best way of getting fitter and faster. In order to get faster, you have to run faster… simple! So in order to get your times down you need to introduce some faster interval or track based sessions. These will boost your cardiovascular system by revving the engine at a higher rate and you can keep your mileage sensible which can help to prevent injury.
Keep it simple
Orthotics, calf guards, compression socks, other gadgets… I could go on! These things can all help in the right instance and may be appropriate if you have a specific issue but they should NEVER be relied on for solving ongoing issues. Forums can be a good place for this but should ALWAYS be taken with a pinch of salt.
The important thing to implement here is to do your research… ask a professional and seek an unbiased viewpoint.