Running is a sport for anyone and everyone, all you need is a pair of shoes. Every year, Australian runners, both serious and recreational, lace up their running shoes and hit the road or trail, participating in events extending from local Parkruns and fun runs to more serious marathons. Whether you are a seasoned runner, want to resume running after a break, or looking to start from scratch, running is a sport that requires preparation to ensure optimal performance and most importantly prevent injuries. In this article, we will explore the concept of prehab for runners, provide insights on starting or returning to running, offer tips for preparing for a long-distance running event, and discuss injury prevention strategies.
What is Prehab for Runners?
The Australian Physiotherapy Association reports that up to 79% of runners will sustain an overuse injury in any one-year period (1). Prehabilitation, commonly referred to as prehab, refers to proactive measures taken to prevent injuries before they occur. For runners, prehab usually focuses on addressing common weaknesses and imbalances in the musculoskeletal system, (2) whether that be calf or hamstring tightness or gluteal weakness. By incorporating specific exercises and stretching routines into your training program, prehab can help improve stability, flexibility, and strength, reducing the risk of injuries.
How to Start Running or Return After a Break
If you’re new to running or are returning after taking a break, (whether it be injury or lifestyle-related), it’s important to plan your return wisely to avoid overexertion, overload of joints and muscles, and consequent injuries. Here are some tips to get you started safely:
- Assess Your Fitness Level: Before you hit the road, consider your current fitness level. Start with brisk walking or light jogging and gradually increase the intensity and duration over several weeks. Interval training can be a great tool for building intensity gradually, breaking a session into manageable “chunks, either walk-run-walk or jog-run-jog. You can use either time or distance intervals and gradually decrease the “resting” period. Couch 2 5K is a great program you can follow to progressively run further in each session/interval to build up to running a full 5km. There are numerous versions of this program, and you can even get an app on your phone that coaches you through the intervals.
- Set Realistic Goals: Establish achievable goals based on your current fitness level. Setting specific targets, such as running a certain distance, maintaining a certain pace, or participating in a local race, can help maintain momentum and keep you focused when motivation might wane. Even if you don’t have a race or personal best time in mind, setting yourself a goal of consistently going for three runs per week can be a great start to building the habit of regular running. Whenever you set a goal, it’s important to track your progress. This shows you how you’re progressing, where you might need to make changes and then hopefully once you’ve achieved your current goal it can help guide you to set a new one.
- Start Small and Build Slowly: When you’re starting a new hobby or challenge it’s often easy to go “all-in”. Avoid the temptation to push too hard, too soon. Gradually increase your running volume, allowing your body time to adapt and build strength and endurance, reducing the risk of overuse injuries.
- Get Social: Find a local running group or a running buddy to keep you accountable. It’s amazing how much easier it is to run if you’ve got a conversation to distract you. Failing that, even just having a friend online or via text who can hold you accountable to your goals can help.
- Tune in: Find it too boring on long runs, being alone with your thoughts? This is often the time that self-doubting thoughts creep in as well. Use the opportunity to listen to a podcast, or audiobook or make an energetic music playlist to help keep you going.
Tips for Preparing for a Long Distance Running Event
Preparing for a long-distance running event requires strategic planning and consistent training. Follow these tips to optimise your performance and ensure that everything goes well on race day:
- Develop a Training Plan: Design a well-structured training plan that gradually increases kilometres, incorporates cross-training and rest days, and includes different types of runs, such as endurance runs, speed work, and recovery runs. Taking this one step further, you could also engage the services of a running coach, someone with the knowledge and experience to do the planning for you, taking the guesswork out of training.
- Cross-Train: Incorporate cross-training activities, such as cycling, swimming, and especially strength training, to improve overall fitness, prevent overuse injuries, and enhance muscular strength and endurance. Cross-training is also a useful tool to break up the monotony of running and bring variety to training plans.
- Fuel Your Body: Proper nutrition and hydration is vital for long-distance runners. Consume a balanced diet rich in carbohydrates for energy, lean proteins for muscle recovery, and healthy fats (3). Stay adequately hydrated before, during, and after your runs. Remember to practise your nutrition and hydration routine during a training run in the lead-up to your event.
- Sleep and Recovery: Make sure your body is getting enough sleep to recover from your running as well as some stretching or gentle “active recovery”. Activities such as walking or swimming can help shift any lactic acid, speeding up recovery and keeping joints and muscles from tightening up.
- Prepare for the Conditions: Peruse the event course. If your race has hills, make sure you incorporate some into your training. Do at least one training run in the clothes you plan on wearing on the event day. Make sure to follow the “nothing new on race day” rule, there is nothing worse than your hard training being scuppered by blisters caused by new shoes. Chafe can absolutely ruin a big run, so it’s important to have trialled your race day outfit and footwear on a long run during training. if your event is taking place in particularly hot or humid conditions, be prepared for some extra sweating and how moisture can also contribute to chafe injuries. Use a quality antiperspirant product and apply chafe cream to your problem areas to prevent it from occurring once you start to perspire.
Injury Prevention for Runners
Running-related injuries can be a major setback for any runner. To minimise the risk of injuries, consider the following preventive measures:
- Warm-up and Cool-down: Prioritise dynamic warm-up exercises to activate your muscles and increase blood flow. After your run, perform a cool-down routine that includes static stretching to improve flexibility.
- Proper Footwear: Invest in a good pair of running shoes that provide adequate cushioning, support, and stability. Visit a specialty running store or visit a podiatrist for professional advice on selecting the right shoes for your foot type. Shoes should also be retired after 800-100kms (depending on running style and terrain) and keep an eye for any uneven wear on the treads. Socks are also an important consideration, especially for runners who are prone to blisters. It may take a little trial and error to find the perfect sock for your foot.
- Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to any pain or discomfort during your runs. Ignoring warning signs can lead to more severe injuries. If you experience persistent pain, consult a qualified healthcare professional such as a GP, physiotherapist, or podiatrist.
- Strength Training: Runners often think that the only way to get better at running is to run. While that might be true to some extent, strength training has been shown to complement a running training plan. By incorporating lower limb strengthening including glutes and core training, the body becomes stronger, more efficient, and less prone to injuries.
By following the above tips, you’ll be able to gradually build your running endurance, cut seconds off your pace, and be completely prepared for any situation come race day. Best of luck on your running journey!
Thanks to Caroline Jones for this article.
Caroline is a physiotherapist who is passionate about using exercise as medicine and getting patients moving, especially those living with chronic conditions.
She is currently undertaking postgraduate research, studying the effects of exercise on women following treatment for gynaecological cancer and consequent lymphoedema. She also holds a Level 3 Certificate in Personal Training, owns a CrossFit box with her husband, and enjoys being a below-average runner.
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