Injury Prevention for Runners

I want to talk about injury prevention, and coping with injuries when they happen. Inevitably, in the life cycle of an athlete an injury will pop up. Unfortunately, most people focus so hard on finding a solution, they fail to ask the most important question. Why did they get injured in the first place?

Once we ask this question, we can essentially categorize the injury into one of two categories:

  1. Overuse, overstress, poor prevention, and base health related 
  2. Accidental, impact, or freak mistake 

If you have truly become injured in the second fashion, and what you’re seeing happen has no potential reflection on your prior actions, move on to focusing on healing and health right away. Unfortunately, for most athletes, especially runners the majority of their injuries are preventable and something they should be taking accountability for, so that they can minimize the likelihood of this injury ( or injuries in general) becoming a part of their annual routine.

In fact, I once read that most runners deal with an injury every single year. As someone who despises sitting on the sidelines, injury prevention has become a bit of a passion. So here are some tips from my own training and coaching practice. 

  1. If you don’t feel like the activity or workout, don't do it. Is this a carte blanche to skip working out for the rest of your life? Absolutely not, but if you feel an emotional or mental resistance to a training day it’s generally best to take the extra rest. If you feel this way often, it's time to reassess what’s going on in your life. What does your sleep hygiene look like? Where is your stress level? What is your schedule with commute, work, family, and friends? Are you asking too much of your body or are you not taking proper care of it?  Take a proper inventory of what this “blah feeling” causation could be, daily workout journaling or logs can help. And then take appropriate actions or reassess your training plan to make sure it is in alignment with your life. As you all already know I use Strava, so feel free to add me and tag me in the comments if you had a particular off workout or something you’d like my feedback on specifically. 
  2. Real time feedback. With almost all of my coaching clients I use MAF training as a way of making sure they are staying healthy while training. MAF heart rate training is 180 - your age = Your max heart rate cap during your workout - 5 more if you’ve been injured in the last 12 months. While this method tends to slow most runners down, the benefits of less cardiovascular damage, more aerobic fitness, and minimizing injuries is worth the “brag worthy speed training splits” on your strava. In fact, as I look around my home with two runners in a pro training camp, I can outline that only once a week are either of them potentially exceeding their MAF hr. And these are two male runners who will be aiming to go to the 50k world championships this year. However, exactly similar to their goals the variation in training is a good example of the difference you should be making in your training based on lifestyle. So I will share their training ( and why ) they are doing the methods they are doing below for educational purposes: 

Anthony: 28 year old, male, full time athlete. Able to sleep 8 - 12 hours per night or until he wakes up naturally, with the ability to nap after a hard workout or upon any whim. Eats an exceptionally clean diet, takes approximately $20 - $25 a day in retail value of sponsored and self purchased supplementation ( herbs not drugs!). Running 100 - 120 miles a week during this training block, with 1 speed workout, 1 workout with strides or shorter turnover (still under MAF), 1 long run workout ( that will eventually incorporate the speed workout, but currently is separate and under MAF). He spends approximately 2 - 3 hours daily doing additional preparation, including but not limited to meditation, ice baths, red light sauna, stretching, foam rolling, balance board & other ankle/calf rehabs & strength ( his area of prior injuries ), journaling, and reading (to keep his mind sharp/ stay motivated and educated on all current science related to sport). He has about 10 years of meticulous running close to 100 miles a week on average (minus when he has had injuries). ( Anthony Kunkel

Billy: 36 year old, male, full time special ed teacher, soon to be father, and also my husband ( so that's its own set of responsibilities). He sleeps 6 - 7 hours a night during the week and 8 - 10 on the weekends. He eats an exceptionally clean diet, takes minimal supplementation probably $3 - 5 per day. He is running 50 - 65 miles per week this training block, with 1 speed workout, 2 - 3 short strength training sessions, 1 - 2 optional spin sessions ( in case of bad weather or lack of “wanting to run”), and is aiming to hit 1 longer run a week ( but is flexible on this based on fatigue and having a longer run base - over 20 years consistently 40 - 60 miles a week with no history of any injuries ). He spends 20 - 30 minutes a day on preventative habits, including ice baths, red light sauna, stretching ( when reminded), foam rolling ( when sore ), and has a hobby of filling empty moments at work or before bed with reading on current science related to sport.  ( Billy Barnett

My husband protects himself in the heat for a short heat adapting run, while Anthony adds the extra stress of a Sauna suit under layers of clothing to get the benefits of a higher core temperature as a once a week intentional stress.

Looking at their two lifestyles, it's obvious which runner has the higher likelihood of success for this training block, Anthony. He is able to get in double the miles and close to double the rest time. However, nothing is an exact science, especially when it comes to high level running and horse racing.

3. Preventative actions. As outlined in Anthony and Billy’s habits, what you can do to accessorize your run training, is of equal if not higher priority than your actual run training itself. If you are unable to spend the large amount of time each of them are on preventative actions, do what you can. Don’t have an ice bath? How about an ice pack on your likely to be sore areas during dinner. Don’t have a sauna at home? What about 5 minutes of stretching while in a hot bath or shower. Don’t have a private workout gym and training facility in home? Could you squeeze in 20 - 100 bodyweight only squats or lunges throughout your day? Don’t have time to run and do a full stretching and foam rolling session? Do you have 2 minutes while you make breakfast to stretch your calves before you head out the door for the day. 

While the scenario of two runners, with the recovery benefits of testosterone naturally, and of exceptionally extensive base training I have shared is out of the “normal” realm for most. The takeaways of how to train hard(er), and how to prevent problems are not. Streamline what you must, but focus on the basics. Sleep, good nutrition, strength, and mobility. If you listen to your body and prioritize the prior, you will find yourself much less likely to have to halt for injuries. 

Finally perspective here is everything, if my husband feels a lack of wanting to run he will back off during this training cycle. To Billy, health is a huge priority to above 50k results. He is hopping into this training simply to support Anthony. Anthony however, as this outcome directly alters his income, and career, would likely push through fatigue and force a few workouts, before considering altering his training. In this situation, (and only in this type of situation), would I advise taking the sport outcome as a higher priority over long term health. This is an intentional, well informed choice on his part to chase a career and personal goal, with the knowledge and drive that long term running is not his goal. My husband however, would love to be a hobby jogger at 80. Each perspective has value, but only in the case of high level athletic performance, should this be even up for debate. If you aren’t shooting for national or world records, please always consider your long term health first.