You may have heard talk of the ‘terrible toos’ of running. No it’s not a spelling mistake, it’s your own personal list of niggles, fatigue and injury creating dangers that will kill your PBs and hammer your motivation.
Running does not have to come with an inevitability of injury. We create the injuries ourselves by doing too many of the wrong things and too few of the right things in training. This article covers each of these in turn, and gives a few tips on how to avoid them.
1. Too much
Quite simply, aiming for too much running volume. Each time your foot hits the ground when you run you will be putting 2-3 times your bodyweight through your joints, muscles and connective tissue. The paradox here is that the fitness gains from ‘just doing a little bit more’ can be addictive. Adding running volume can be one way of developing your fitness and certainly in the early stages of your running life you will see a direct correlation between an increase in training volume and an increase in fitness.
However, you will find that the gains plateau and you’ll see diminishing returns for a significantly increased injury risk. There is no set rule about how much volume is too much volume. It depends on your lifestyle, current fitness, strength and how well you recover. This one is about listening to your body!
Aim to give yourself enough time to build up your training in a sustainable way. Whether it’s for a 5K, or a marathon a gradual increase of about 10 per cent each week or 5-10 minutes added to your key runs (such as your long run) will ensure you are able to develop a good base whilst giving your body time to strengthen and adapt without biting of too much too soon.
If you want to increase your training volumes whilst reducing your injury risk consider the huge value to be gained from cross training. By cross training I mean non running training which still works your heart and lungs. Aqua jogging, spinning, road biking, the elliptical machine in the gym and even swimming can all see you increasing your training volumes while reducing the impact of running.
2. Too soon
We all lead busy lives. Work, family and social life commitments can have a big impact on your training. Sessions get missed, or you might find yourself with a niggle or a period of sickness which could knock a week or more out of your training. Returning too soon after missed training or trying to play catch up is one of the most common ways runners get injured or extend colds and sickness longer than they need to.
You cannot cheat your body; you are where you are. If you missed training don’t try to play catch up. Step back into your plan where you left it. It will be designed to take you on a gradual, progressive and sustainable build up. Don’t look to just run through niggles and pain, even if you feel an injury is progressing look to replace your running sessions with cross training until its cleared up!
3. Too fast
Harder isn’t always better. We live in a world where high intensity training is hugely popular as gyms and personal trainers aim to maximise our limited training time through short, hard bursts of training. Training for endurance is a little different though. Combining too much hard and fast running with ever increasing training volumes towards race day will make it very hard for your body to recover well between sessions. It will also mean you're not necessarily developing the right energy systems for a longer, endurance based event.
Build a good base of regular running. If you're new to it this might involve a gradual build-up of running mixed with walking e.g. 10 minutes easy run, 3-5 minute brisk walk. Over time aim to gradually reduce your walk breaks. If you are more experienced the bulk of your weekly running should still be at a conversational and easy pace. This will build up your capillary density, your body’s ability to burn stored fats as an energy source and ensure that you have adequate time to recovery between your 1-2 hard interval based sessions each week.
4. Too hard
Rest is when you actually progress. As we train we damage muscle fibres and tissues, when we rest this damage is repaired and we get stronger and fitter. Not allowing adequate time for this recovery by running too many back to back hard sessions, or not getting enough focused rest and recovery is one of the most common ways runners will pick up an injury or niggle or simply plateau too quickly.
Take a minimum of one complete rest day each week and aim to take a lighter week overall, reducing your training by about 30 per cent every four weeks or so. Avoid back to back hard days such as interval sessions or long runs and set yourself a goal for 8 hours sleep a night, and if that is not possible even 15-30 minutes more can make a big difference.
5. Too weak
Putting a big engine in a weak car will see it breakdown in time. If you spend all your time running, building your engine, without ever focusing on developing a frame on which to hang it don’t be surprised if you go the same way.
Aim for at least two conditioning sessions each week focusing on running specific strength and conditioning exercises. Single leg squats, glute conditioning, lower abdominal exercises and core stability should all play a part in this training. A good quality Pilates class could be a great place to start.