There’s no doubt about it, whether it’s a weekend out running the trails or hitting the road after work, running brings a sense of freedom, health and well being. As a sports physio at the Prime Human Performance Centre in Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium, running injuries are one of my most frequently treated conditions. The running season is ramping up as runners prepare for the comrades marathon and with just a few weeks to go, it’s devastating to be out of training due to a neglected niggle or preventable injury. So, here are my top 5 tips to help you run at your best, no matter your running goals. From running posture to post run recovery, these tips will assist in preventing injury and fatigue and boost your enjoyment of every run.
Check your form.
Very few people are born “natural” runners. The rest of us need to consciously learn how to run well. Correct running posture and technique will reduce risk of injury and make your run smoother and more enjoyable. For top results have your running assessment performed by a trained sports physio. This becomes an absolute must if you have pain or even a slight niggle during or after a run. Keep in mind is that injuries from running can sometimes only give symptoms a day or two later.
Here are some helpful ways to improve your running form:
- Run tall, as if you’re being pulled upwards.
- Run quieter, run lighter. Your foot-steps should be controlled and almost soundless.
- Stay relaxed. Your shoulders and hands should be held loosely.
- When increasing the speed of your run, increase the number of steps rather then lengthening your stride.
- Check in on your posture. Be mindful of your form throughout your run.
Work on your strength and remember to stretch.
Running requires the seamless interaction of your limbs and trunk, but running alone does not give you the necessary strength to reach your peak. By including a strengthening and stretching routine into your training programme, you will improve your running technique and performance and help prevent injury. Strength programmes should include core and balance exercises and running-specific strengthening. Your sports physio will give you an exercise program specific to you.
Mix it up.
Don’t be a one-speed runner. Vary your training programme depending on what you are trying to achieve during each run. 80% of your training should be longer, slower runs. You should be able to say the alphabet comfortably without feeling short of breath and end your run feeling refreshed. This type of training builds your aerobic capacity, meaning you can perform better for longer. The remaining 20% of your training should focus on short, hard, fast runs. This will build your anaerobic threshold, meaning that your body gets rid of lactic acid build up in muscles more efficiently and you can run faster. The pros call this polarised training.
This advice often concerns runners, as instinctively one feels it’ll lead to loss of speed. But the research proves the opposite. Running at a medium pace every run causes your body to fatigue and run down. Immune system inhibition results making you susceptible to illness. Your body doesn’t get time to recover and this increases risk of injury. Benefits of a polarised training programme are that you can run harder during fast runs as your body is rested, therefore you gain more from speed work, and less time spent out of training due to illness and or injury. Now this is starting to sound like sensible advice!
Post run recovery.
Invaluable, and should never be neglected. An active recovery, otherwise known as a warm down should be a 5 to 15 minute walk or walk-jog. It’s also beneficial to stretch the muscles used. This aids in tissue repair, reducing muscle soreness and even helps with psychological recovery. Evidence also proves that an effective recovery session will maximise your performance and minimise risk of injury during your next run.
Pay attention to your body’s needs. Rehydrate well and provide your body with correct nutrition directly after your run to assist recovery from intense exercise. Flavoured milks and liquid meal supplements are ideal fluids that refuel, repair and rehydrate.
Are you getting enough sleep? This is vital for a successful athlete. Sleep loss interferes with concentration and training performance.
Take some time out. Include rest days in your training schedule to allow your body to recover. Use this time to treat your hard working muscles to a sports massage. Massage during periods of hard training reduces muscle tension, increases joint range of motion and increases circulation and nutrition to tissues. And your body will appreciate the attention!
Running has many positive effects on health and well-being, a reason that people run and stick with it. Running is often used as an emotional outlet but be careful, don’t risk running to the tune of your emotions. Remember to stay relaxed and run lighter or you’ll run the risk of undoing your hard work. Now you’re equipped with the knowledge to create a well-planned training programme, run on and reap the benefits!