Running. One of the simplest ways to keep fit. There are no rules, no specific equipment is required, and you don’t even need a gym membership. All you need is a pair of shoes and off you go! That is until it comes time to put a training plan together:
“How long should I run? How far, how fast, and how often?”
Maritime Race Weekend is just around the corner and Choice Health Centre is a proud sponsor of this amazing event. Fittingly, this month’s newsletter is all about running. As a clinician with special training in running injury prevention, I see a lot of training mistakes made by well-intentioned runners. So often the training program that they trusted to prevent injury and produce a fast race is perhaps not the fool-proof plan they were expecting. Unfortunately, many of us compare training plans to mathematical equations: one formula, one result. By that comparison, many believe that if they follow the plan to the letter, success is the only possible outcome. But running is really more like baking a cake. You can have a recipe, and all of the ingredients but the result may still produce an undercooked marathon time, or worse --an injury. And with that, the simplest way to keep fit just got a lot more complicated. Below, I present some of the lesser known but incredibly common training errors I see among runners.
3 Most Common Training Mistakes for Runners:
1. You Are Not Running Enough
The body has an amazing ability to adapt to the loads and the stresses that you place on it, as long as you increase loads and stresses gradually and allow for proper recovery. Running frequency is a crucial variable in this equation. In order for the body to adapt to the stresses of race day, you need to run a lot. In terms of injury prevention, a 2012 study by Rasmussen et al. found that runners with a weekly training volume of less than 30 km were more than twice as likely to develop a running-related injury during marathon training compared to those with a volume of 30 to 60 km or even those who ran greater than 60 km per week. Another common misconception is that running three days per week is enough to improve running fitness and form, while simultaneously reducing injury risk with more recovery time. This statement is the basis for many amateur one-size-fits-all training plans. While it may be tempting to think that training for a 10k, half marathon, or even full marathon in only three days per week is doable, it just isn’t realistic to the prevention of injuries. Studies have shown that runners who train four to six times per week have less injuries than those who train only three. Often, clients are disappointed to hear this. In a world where time is precious and non-renewable, it can be hard to fit four or more runs into the week. But the truth is that your body needs the consistency in order to make the adaptations required to run long on race day. Pounding through the joints, stress on the tendons, and repetitive forces through the muscles need to occur frequently in order to develop the structural tolerance and physiological adaptations required for race day. I like to recommend that all of my running clients run at least four days per week. If this sounds impossible, I encourage them to get out for even just ten or fifteen minutes the fourth day, for the sole purpose of injury prevention. Your body will thank you later.
2. You Are Running Too Fast
Any good coach will tell you not to run too hard on your easy days. Let’s consider that there are two types of stress when it comes to running: physiological stress, and mechanical stress. Physiological stress will include the stress on the heart, lungs, and other systems of the body.Mechanical stress is the pure impact of running, ie repetitively loading of the joints, and muscles. Running too fast on your ‘slow’ runs increases both of these stresses unnecessarily, which leads to poor running form, and lessens the quality of your workout. While it is good to go fast sometimes, if you are always running at or near your race pace, you are just going to make yourself tired, and injured.
As a rule of thumb, 80% of your mileage should be performed at a low intensity. The concept of 80/20 training was first introduced by Dr. Stephen Seiler, an exercise physiologist from the University of Agder in Norway and then popularized by author and running coach Matt Fitzgerald in his 2014 book of the same title.
Running slow has its own set of benefits. It aids in building endurance, and improves cardiovascular performance. Most importantly, running slow reduces physiological and mechanical stress on the body, which allows you to build mileage at a lower injury risk. It also aids in fat adaptation, meaning that at lower intensities, your body is better able to tap into fat stores as a source of fuel, rather than carbohydrates. Not only is this handy for weight loss, (if that is a goal of yours) but more importantly, it teaches your body to be more fuel-efficient in race situations. This decreases the chances of “hitting the wall” --the sudden loss of pace and energy that occurs when the body is depleted of glycogen stores.
3. You Are Running Too Slow
Yes, you read that correctly. Too many athletes fall into the trap of running too hard for their easy workouts, and too easy for their hard ones. Don’t be one of those athletes. Of course, in order to go fast on race day, you need to train fast at least some of the time (~20% actually if we follow the advice of Dr. Seiler as above). The fact is, if you are not running fast in training, how can you expect to go fast on race day? Not only are you at risk for injury during your event, but you are also not going to meet your goals and realize your potential. Running fast taxes the body in different ways. This is the reason we see differences in common injuries among sprinters, compared to marathon runners. For example, achilles tendon rupture is more common among explosive sprinters, than iliotibial band syndrome, which is more common among those who run long and slow. If you want avoid these injuries, you need to prepare your joints, tendons, and muscles for fast running on race day.
When I’m talking about running fast, I mean running FAST. In order to get the most benefit out of your training with regard to muscle, structural, and neural adaptations, your runs should be significantly faster than race pace for races 10 km or longer. It is generally important to keep these workouts short --less than 10 minutes of really hard running, (heavy, uncontrolled breathing but NOT a sprint). Be sure to also include an easy warm up, cool down, and active rest intervals between sets of really hard running. Even with rest intervals, this will be your shortest workout of the week. I often see training plans with multiple speed work intervals, that take 90 minutes or more to complete. Instead, the fitness benefits will be greater, and the injury risk will be much lower if the workout included less intervals at a much faster pace.Remember: quality over quantity for speed work.
Run often, run slow, and run fast: the recipe for injury-free running, and your next best performance. While not as simple as it seems, perhaps this article has given you some food for thought about what may or may not be working in your current running plan. After all, running is an individual sport, and it really is all about discovering what works for you.
To learn more or to book an appointment with Laura Gfeller, PT or another health care professional, call Choice Health Centre at 902-404-3668 ext. 1 or an book an assessment online.