Lacing up and hitting the trail has lost some of its lustre....
The end is in sight. Spring is around the corner - time to head out and feel the dappled sunlight on our skin and wind in our hair! Although you may feel ready to kick start the training, your body might take some time getting used to the idea. Running physios report a sudden spike in patients at this time of year, as runners ramp up their training regimens or switch their training from the treadmill to the tarmac.
So here are our tips to ensure your enthusiasm isn’t derailed before Spring has sprung.
It’s a boring but true, rapid changes to routine are the most likely cause of running injury. Avoid any sharp increases in ‘load’ such as jumps in overall running volume, rapid switches from treadmill to outdoor running, or increases in faster or hillier workouts. As a rough guide avoid consecutive weeks where overall running volume (miles or kms) or the proportion of fast running jumps by more than 15%.It’s a good idea to keep a log of your training and monitor how you react to changes in your exercise habits. This can help you take steps to tackle issues before they become critical. Run tracking apps can give you an insight into the amount you are running, but it’s also important to keep a subjective record of how you felt during and after workouts. Make a note of any stiffness and aches or pains, and acknowledge changes in mood or energy levels. If 4 runs per week leaves you feeling cranky and stiff, drop your training back to a level where you were feeling more productive.
New or inexperienced runners tend to run too fast - running out of ‘gas’ long before their bodies start to adapt to the rigours of running. This is particularly true of runners who have spent the winter pounding the treadmill. The key to running improvement is consistency - a solid routine of steady running builds general strength and stokes your aerobic engine. It doesn’t matter whether you are beginner or elite, the majority of time spent running should be at a pace where you could maintain conversation with a partner. If you run ‘hard’ all the time you can’t run very much - the more you practise, within reason, the better you become.
Unless you live in the Bahamas, you still need to factor in potential weather changes in your preparation. Spring showers can derail a run so plan your routes accordingly. It’s not always possible but avoid runs that finish into a biting headwind. But, you really don't want to face running into a strong cold wind when you are already sweaty and cold.
Although running outside is biomechanically similar to treadmill running, there are subtle differences that alter the ‘stress’ that goes through the body. On a treadmill, runners tend to increase their cadence, lower their knee lift, and spend a longer time in contact with the ground.A change to outdoor running can mean an increase in impact forces, greater stress through your achilles and plantar fascia, and a greater workload for your hip extensors / glutes. It’s hard for runners to stay completely clear of the asphalt, but there are a few things you can do to prepare for the change. o Focus on increasing cadence outdoors.On the first few runs outside focus on marginally shortening your stride and increasing the turnover of steps. Don’t worry about which part of the foot hits the ground first, but focus on quiet steps where you apply the whole foot to the ground.o Warm up hip extensors.Before heading out for your run loosen up hip muscles with a series of leg swings. Facing side on to the wall, swing your leg forward and backwards like a pendulum from the hip joint. Hold your upper body still, with all movement coming from the joint. You can also include a slow march exercise - walking forward with high knees, rising up and balancing for 2-3 seconds on your toes.o Strengthen foot and ankle.Research suggests that just 2 weeks of simple foot strengthening exercises can make an impact on your susceptibility to nasty injuries like plantar fasciitis / plantar tendinopathy. Try these 2 simple examples 4 times a week. It should only take 5-10 mins. Toe curls. Standing or sitting on a chair place a towel underneath your bare feet. Slowly curl and relax your toes pinching the towel underneath. Try 3 rounds of 5-10 repetitions. Calf raises with a towel. Roll up a towel, and standing in bare feet, stand on the edge of the towel so your toes are raised. Rise up onto your tip-toes, pushing through the big toe. Start with 3 rounds of 5-10 repetitions on both legs before progressing to doing this on one leg.
Judging pace and effort is more difficult than it sounds. We can use watches or apps for ‘in-run’ feedback, but use this opportunity to move away from ‘running to numbers’ and listen to your body's reaction to the training.The easiest way to do this is to tune into your breathing. At this stage most of your running should be at a ‘steady’ or aerobic pace - you should be able to maintain conversation with a partner throughout. Regulate your pace and tune into this tempo despite the varied terrain, weather, and topography.Once you have established a good routine of steady running you can start to experiment - learning how different effort levels affect different areas of the body. Stimulate your heart to pump more oxygenated blood with a weekly tempo run, holding a pace where breathing just starts to become strained, or boost lung capacity with a session of 2-3 mins intervals where breathing reaches its maximum rhythmical range. Why not even throw in a series of hill sprints, and feel the legs start to burn? Breathing goes out of the window!
Running with others has a number of benefits. Research suggests you are more likely to stick to an exercise regimen if you commit to do it with others. Your performance in the workout itself improves, resulting in greater fitness gains.