Posted by: David Stewart | December 18, 2014

Taking running to the next level without getting injured

There are a few rules of thumb in training for 26.2 mile marathons. Iron-clad assumptions. Do your long slow distance runs every week. Hydrate properly. Wear the right shoes. Do speed work to get yourself faster.Cascadeshalfmarathon10K2012example.jpg

But unfortunately, I was finding that following a normal training routine was breaking me down. After nearly a decade of injury-free racing, I was starting to get injured regularly. Plantar fasciitis. Hamstring pulls. Strains of the iliopsoas. These would knock my training off track, sometimes for months.

Is it possible for me to meet my running goals without injury? Or should I just hang it up?

Fortunately, I have not had to give up yet. My coach has made some really good changes to my training, which has helped me to train well while avoiding some of the worst of the injuries. Here are a couple of things which have really helped. (By the way, I’m not at all an expert on any of this stuff. I recommend that you talk to an expert, like a running coach).

Track work replaced with fartleks. If you want to run fast, you need to run faster in training. The usual way this is accomplished is on a 400 meter track. You run repeated fast loops around the track at a particular pace, interspersed with slow loops. This alternating fast-slow builds strength, speed, and endurance. In fact, one common track technique is called “Yasso 800s“, after legendary runner Bart Yasso.

The problem is that my track workouts would often be where I would get injured.

Fartlek is a Swedish word meaning “speedplay.” My coach has had me alternate fast-slow segments like track work, but integrated into a regular run. This has a number of beneficial effects: since I’m putting it in the middle of a regular run, there is more variation in terrain than on a track. There is less of a tendency to force myself to hit a particular time per repetition, so I’m less likely to push my body too far. I’m also more likely to do a sufficient amount of warm-up and cool-down miles.

There are various ways to do fartleks, which you can research online.

Replace one day of running with the bike. Serious marathon training usually means running 6 days per week. My coach started replacing one of my running days with a day on the bike. 

Biking works well because it exercises some of the running muscle groups like the quads. And it helps build aerobic capacity. But it doesn’t stress out some of the joints and ligaments as running does. So you can continue to improving your training while giving the hamstrings a rest.

By “bike”, I’m referring to the stationary bike. I suppose you could bike outside instead, but I don’t really have a decent training bicycle, nor do I have the gear needed. The inside bike is a little boring, but for me, it’s probably safer.

Weight training. Yes, there should be no excuse for me not doing work in the weight room. But this was another good alternative to doing nothing on a rest day. Proper working out on weights tends to make the runner more injury-resistant. The trick is to do the workout properly. Here’s another good place to check things out with an expert. In addition, Runner’s World has a page of recommended strength training.

And if you do get injured … Don’t let it fester! Get in to a good chiropractor or other body work professional who is accustomed to working with runners.

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