An Endurance Runner’s Guide to Injury Prevention
“Respect the distance or the distance won’t respect you! It will eat you up, spit you out, and make you beg for mercy.” – Unknown
Running has evolutionary roots in mankind. This ‘evolution’ started around 2 million years ago. The territories in which pre-humans lived were full of dense forest, and chimpanzees frolicked through the trees eating sweet fruits. Then the climate changed to a drier environment, some of the trees disappeared and open savannah emerged.
This persistent chasing and hunting played a key role in the evolution of humanity. Without weapons, a relatively new concept emerging 100,000 to 50,000 years ago, prehistoric human could out-compete different mammals with sheer endurance and persistent chasing. From this evolutionary viewpoint, running made us human.Thousands of years ago, in the open savannah prehistoric humans could hunt large animals in hot climate without weapons. The human race was able to keep up a persistent, steady running pace. Prehistoric humans had this unique gift of being able to run for hours in hot and humid climates. Most animals stopped running because they couldn’t cool their core body temperature and became easy prey for the humans after a couple of hours of running.
Running is extremely popular nowadays, as a sport available to anyone, anywhere. The health benefits associated with running are clear. Endurance running related injuries are common so to continue to benefit from running, it is important to minimize the risk of injury wherever you can.
10 Ways to Prevent Injuries in Endurance Running
- Rest and Recover
Start your journey to injury prevention by including rest days in your training schedule. Enjoy a complete break from training both mentally and physically. Just get off your feet and rest your body and mind for the day. Don’t train more than two weeks consecutively without taking a rest. Although pro athletes may need “off” days more frequently, beginners need them too. The so-called recovery weeks should be included in your training every third to fifth week – with less hours spent running. The so-called recovery days, with jogs or non-intense workouts, should be scheduled after hard trainings.
- Include Recovery Techniques
There are various approaches to include recovery into your running schedule. Massage sticks and ice baths can help sore, stiff or achy muscles recover from workouts. Watch movies, spend time with friends and family, read, listen to music to develop positive mood states of serenity and happiness. Try to disassociate from physical exercise and choose efficient relaxation techniques. Practice mindfulness. Learn to interpret your emotions objectively and find your inner calm whenever you need it. I started practicing mindfulness with the Calm application – you can find it on Appstore or Google Play.
Crucial for physiological repair and muscle growth, endurance runners should aim for 8 to 9 and a half hours of sleep every night. Cardiovascular performance can be compromised by up to 20% by a lack of sleep. Reaction time, the capacity to process information and emotional stability are also reduced. Naps are recommended.
- Eat Correctly Post-Workout
The main goal of post-workout nutrition is to restore liver and muscle glycogen stores, enhance hydration, and repair damaged muscle tissue. Try to eat 10 to 30 minutes after running, ideally at the earliest opportunity, when your muscles are most responsive to “fuel”. Fast track muscle tissue repair and replenishment by eating protein and carbs together in a ratio of 1 to 4.
Weigh yourself before and after long runs to assess how much water has been lost. To stay hydrated you should drink no less than 24 ounces (0.7 l) per pound of body weight lost within 6 hours after exercise. Your physical performance will be affected after only 2% loss in body water. Incorporate electrolytes in your fluids to get rid of the risk of hyponatremia if running for over 3-4 hours.
- Warm Up and Cool Down
A smart warm up is key to preparing for the demands of any workout session or competition. Develop a pre-race warm up that works best for you. By performing a warm up you will elevate your heart rate and VO2. You will ensure a continuous blood flow to the connective tissue and muscles. This will increase muscle temperature and help reduce joint stiffness, enhancing your range of motion.
Warm up for 5 to 15 minutes – the effects will last up to 45 minutes. Following 45 minutes of idleness, re-warming may be required. On the opposite side of the coin, the complex recovery process and preparation for the following day’s workout starts with proper cool down. Jog, cycle or swim for 20 minutes – these are excellent cool down exercises for reducing lactic acid and diminishing the severity of muscle and joint soreness.
- Include Strength Training
Strength training (also referred to as cross-training) plays a key role in setting up the body for the demands of endurance running. It encourages bone health and “upgrades” injury resistance. Most importantly, strength training can boost lactate acid tolerance and help with postponing fatigue.
- Use Proper Equipment
The use of proper running shoes will minimize unwanted stress. The best advice for endurance athletes is to invest in first class running shoes that simply enhance your running technique, while minimizing injury potential and discomfort.
- Use the 10% Rule
Increase weekly or monthly training miles by 10% or less. If you ran 30 miles this week, it is recommended that your running distance does not exceed 33 miles the following week. The same goes for training according to time.
- Interval Training
Proper interval training can enhance VO2 and anaerobic threshold. Interval training allows your body to adjust to and race at higher paces. You will be able to complete a 21K, marathon or ultra marathon faster.
If you want to run fast, the saying goes, you’ve got to run fast. To develop speed, most runners do speedwork: aiming for really high paces over distances of 400 meters or more, with short periods of recovery. On the other hand you can get fast paces with superfast and supershort efforts, the so-called high intensity interval training (HIIT).
HIIT workouts vary and repeats are generally 15 to 60 seconds long, running as fast and hard as possible, followed by a rest period lasting two to four times the length of the effort (so you can recover to do the next repeat at the same pace and with good form).
Interval training moves the muscles through the full range of motion, enhancing ligament elasticity and improving coordination between your muscles and nervous system. With time, you will build a more efficient stride at all your paces.
Include interval training in your endurance training program and you will be able to sustain the effort for longer distances.
- Listen to Your Body
This is maybe the familiar advice for maintaining a strategic distance from injuries, and it is still the best. If you do not run through pain, you can avoid injuries from the beginning. Most running injuries don’t appear overnight. Look out for the signs, like persistent pain, soreness or aches. It is completely up to you to not dismiss them.
Yes, avid runners can go through pain while running. It’s imperative to give careful consideration to pain and become acquainted with the “foundation” of what’s producing it. Understand pain and you will never get injured. This is one of the best injury prevention tips in the endurance running world.