One of my greatest victories of 2013 was making it through *mostly* injury free. (I did have a slight tweak in my left Achilles/calf just before the marathon, that caused me to cut my taper mileage and see my chiro). In the past, anytime that I’ve gotten my mileage up, I’ve ended up injured. When I look back on those injuries, I think to myself – “DUH… no wonder I got injured”. When I think back to when I first started running, it’s actually comical, how little I knew. Now, please do not interpret that as me laughing, or making light of anyone with less experience. I do hope though, that maybe by sharing some of the hard lessons I’ve learned, maybe I can save a few people from learning things the hard way, from the sidelines.
When I trained for my first half marathon, there were a number of us training for it, and we picked up John Stanton’s (the founder of the Canadian running store – The Running Room) book, Learn to Run. It had a lot of information in it, which I’m sure I skimmed. What I took from it, for the most part, was the training plan in the back of the book. He had a number of training plans laid out, basic plans, and time goal based plans. The group of us arbitrarily decided that a 2:00 hr half sounded good, and we decided to do that plan. This was before there was race time predictor websites that you could have spit out a goal race time for you, and besides we hadn’t really raced any other races before, so we just pulled a time out of our.. you know where. It actually went really well, my hubby and I trained together almost exclusively, and ran all the runs, did them at the prescribed paces, and ran the race in around 1:57 ish. I had no idea at the time, that it was just dumb blind luck that had me pick an achievable goal time, and that if I had decided that 1:45 was reasonable, things could have gone much differently.
A few years later when we decided to run our first marathon, we did much the same thing. We picked up the same book, went to the marathon training plans section, decided that 4:00 hrs sounded reasonable, and pulled the plan. For the months leading up to the GO date on our training schedule, I knew that I should be running, and building a bit of a base, but I just procrastinated, and was pretty lazy in it all. We were starting right around Jan 1st, and when that date rolled around, I jumped into things right from where I was (the couch). I had done the couch to half marathon training routine many a time, and it had turned out ok. Well, as it happens, marathon training is a bit more strenuous than half marathon training, and the leaps in weekly distance were a lot! I suffered through training with an Achilles injury, and knowing what I know now, think it’s amazing that I finished the race feeling mostly *good* (you know, as good as you can feel during the last 10k of your first marathon!). Even though my time was nowhere close to my original 4:00 goal, it was 4:27, and that’s a great time for a marathon, especially a first, injured, very uneducated one.
So what have I learned in the mean time, and how did I get through last year unscathed? Here are some points:
- Build a base! Especially when you’re training for longer races (halves and especially full marathons), day 1 of training should NOT be day 1 of running. Everyone’s body’s adapt at different rates to higher mileage, and I think it takes some time to learn what your body can handle. Post injury or baby, I like to build up slowly by keeping my mileage stable for a month at a time. For example, I can jump into 30 km’s/week fairly easily, so I’ll run a month at that, then a month at 40 km’s/week, then a month at 50…. the slower the build the better!
- Strength Train!! This is huge for me. I know there are some people who can just run, and run, and run… but this is not me. I need a strong foundation to be able to get my mileage much above 30 km’s/week without injury. I aim to Strength Train 2 times per week, and try to keep that up, even when my mileage gets up into peak marathon mileage. It get’s harder the more you’re running, but I figure, that’s when you need it the most. I try to focus on my core (this includes lower and upper abs, obliques, lower back, and hips) and rear chain (this is everything on the back side of your body – so calves, hamstrings, glutes, back). I also work on my over all body, but these areas are the most crucial in preventing injury, IMO.
- Base your goals and training paces on your CURRENT fitness, not a random goal, or arbitrary number. Even though I think I’m physically capable of running a 3:45 marathon, that is not my current goal, and I’m not using it to calculate any of my training paces. First of all, you need to have training paces, because you should not be running all your runs fast, that is a fast track to injury. This is why training plans are great, pick one for whatever distance you’re working towards, and most likely it’ll have 1-2 speedier runs per week, a long run, and some easy runs. The best way to find out your training paces is to take a recent race and plug the results into a calculator like McMillan. If you don’t have a recent race, then it’s best to go run a 3-5 km time trial and use that as a starting point. In my opinion, it is most important that you don’t run your long run too fast. It is during those long durations on your feet that your body fatigues, and your form can degrade, leading to injury. Keep it nice and easy, especially if you’re new to running.
- Deal with any niggles or tightness early! It seems to be inevitable if you’re running a lot, enough to be training for a half or full marathon, that you’re going to have some minor issues. I’m sure there are some people who can run and run and never get injured (my hubby), but they probably aren’t reading this post… so for the rest of you, learn to watch for signs of an impending injury and deal with it. For me, having my hips/pelvis adjusted by my chiropractor, and having a treatment or two of graston and/or ART (Active Release Technique) can clear up most issues fairly quickly. The more you run on an injury without addressing it, the longer it is going to take to heal.
- Prehab… What is Prehab? In my mind, it is a lot of what you would do AFTER an injury, except that it is done before, to prevent that injury. This could be work on your core, or strength training, but it also includes foam rolling, icing, massage, etc. Again, some people can get away with not doing any of this, but I know my body, and can tell when things are getting tight and need some attention.
These are some things that are working for me, what works for you, have you been injured, and how did you recover?