Running has become an increasingly popular sport, especially here in Portland. I tend to find that if someone is not currently a runner, they have been at some point, or plan to become one in the near future. Due to the prevalence and the relative ease of access of the sport, runners often begin running without having a template for what is right and what is wrong in terms of form and training. This makes running really unique and also amazing because so many people can join in on the fun without battling through several barriers. The downside is that 65% and upwards of distance runners and up 90% of marathon runners will undergo an injury yearly. These injuries often cause new runners to give up the sport due to a mismatch between expectations and their current ability levels. Injury is linked with training errors, overuse of the same muscle group without variation, and biomechanical problems; All things that your physical therapist can help with!
More often than not, we focus on weekly mileage or running volume and its progression. This mindset creates tunnel vision that allows us to overlook how our body is responding to progressive loading and leads to us ignoring our body’s plea for recovery, cross training, or simply routine modification. This is the path that takes runners straight to injury.
So how do we stop this? First, listen to your body. I cannot say this enough. Your body tells you what it needs. Runners are notorious for not taking the proper recovery. If your schedule calls for running 6x/week, but you always feel sluggish and painful on that 6th run--cut it down to 5x/week. Running is about quality over quantity. Having a mileage goal is great because goal-driven behavior is linked to success and adherence, but if those miles begin to become sloppy and dreaded it’s time to refocus.
If not mileage, what should we focus on in training? As previously mentioned, quality. Quality can relate to excellence in any attribute of running, not purely speed. This includes excellence in form, pacing, breathing, fluidity, and occasionally time goals. If miles are blending together as painful and gut wrenching experiences, it’s time to re-evaluate what your intentions are for every run. Having a slow day? Embrace it and focus on form. Feeling fast? Add some quick intervals followed up with a short recovery. You should not feel tired or fatigued at the end of your runs, you should feel invigorated and ready to battle the day!
Another important thing to consider outside of running volume is intensity and frequency of runs. Many of us are one-speed runners meaning that we go out and run as hard as we can for as long as we can everyday. Why do we do this? We want to be the best that we can be and give everything that we have to our exercise routine. It brings us psychological satisfaction to know that we are giving 100% at all of our endeavors. Also, hitting that “runner’s high” or anaerobic threshold during running helps us forget about our daily stresses.
So, what's the problem with this? Runners that perform all of their runs floating around their anaerobic threshold (aka at moderate to high intensity) are more likely for tissue breakdown, thus creating a high risk for injury. How do you know if you’re in this DANGER zone? The most common signs and symptoms of falling in this pattern of behavior are having a weakened immune system that causes you to constantly catch every office bug, as well as constant aches and pains during and in between runs.
Stay tuned for simple tricks on how to keep your body happy as you log those miles by changing up the pace!
Anna Wetzel, PT, DPT