Training and running on a regular basis can put a lot of stress on our body. It’s easy to think that the more and longer distance we constantly train we will get stronger and fitter. Proper training will increase our fitness, strength and endurance level, and causing some breakdown at a certain point, especially for long-distance running. After we follow the proper recovery that’s when the magic will happen. Training causes stress to the body. Responding to the stress, the muscles and bones get stronger, cells become more efficient energy providers. To improve our performance level, includes applying stress, stimulating a manageable amount of breakdown and recovering properly. But training is not that easy. Over-training gets the body over-stressed in a chronic way, or if the required recovery is not adequate, the body breakdown will cause some consequences such as injuries or over-fatigue.
By following the key training recommendations to prevent injuries and include self-care will minimise the risk of breakdown so you can continue building up your strength, endurance and overall performance. For trail or road runners who only run, that is not adequate training to prevent any issues. To prepare, look after your body during and after running which is essential.
Tips to prepare, stay healthy on the run, and recover
Before the Run
A good warm up before a run is essential to prevent injuries and maintain a good running form. The key is to include some dynamic stretches to improve the mobility and flexibility. Static stretches should not be done before a run.
Benefits of a warm-up:
- Improves the range of motion and warms up the joints and muscles for the dynamic movements during the run.
- It gets the blood flow going which warms up our extremities, making them stronger at the beginning of the run.
- By activating our physiological engine, our body is prepared for starting to run, otherwise the body feels perceived exertion at the start which makes it more challenging physically and mentally.
Add a five-minute warm up prior to each run to avoid starting feeling groggy and sore.
- Start by loosening the joints, circling the ankles, knees, and hips.
- Perform some reverse and forward lunges (10 reps each) to activate the glute muscles, quads, and hips.
- Perform some lateral lunges (10 reps each) to activate your body in a different range of motion. Side lunges will activate your glutes, dynamically stretch your inner groin muscles. Especially trail running requires different range of motions.
- Perform squats with lifting toes (10 reps). This exercise will warm up the glutes, quadriceps, calves, ankles (preventing Achilles tendinosis).
- Perform leg swings (10 reps each side) will stretch the hamstrings and hip flexors dynamically, it also mimics the running motion.
- Perform some high knees, butt kicks, jumping jacks or slow jog to warm up the heart, get the body used to the pounding before the run.
During the Run
Once we start running, especially long distance, we have to start looking after our body, focus on a good running form, fueling and hydrating. One important factor during a run is to have the awareness of how our body is feeling. Acute injuries during trail runs don’t happen too often (ankle sprain, torn ACL, fractures). Most of the time, the most common factor during long runs is chronic injuries. They start as a minor pain and concern, but after many kms they can progress into more intense pain and soreness. Knowing the difference between what pain we should run through or not is part of our essential awareness. The general rule is when in doubt stop and save your body. For trail runners or long-distance road runners, to DNF during a race feels like a “walk of shame”, it can be challenging to have to handle quitting and feeling down. But to learn how to figure out your pain issues can save you from months of not being able to run due to an injury. Depending on which pain issues you feel, here are ratings out of 10, of how intense each area is, which can help you make the decision to stop or not.
- Top of Foot- 9/10: The most common injury on the top of the foot for runners is metatarsal bone stress fracture. Before it becomes a stress fracture, as soon as you start feeling some pain on the top of your foot stop running and rest until the pain goes away. It will heal much faster that once you have a stress fracture.
- Bottom of the Foot- 4/10: The pain under the foot is usually due to plantar fasciitis, a very common issue with runners. Although it is quite painful and need to be treated properly, it is not as intense as a stress fracture. So, if you are running a long-distance race, you could probably finish the race and then start your treatment and rest.
- Ankle- 5/10: Sprained or twisted ankles is part of the trail running. Although acute sprains are not too common, twisted ankles happen more often. If you keep running and the pain persists and gets worse, stop as soon as you can. If your ankle is flexible and was only twisted, if you release it and stretch, it might get better during the run. If you hear a crack that means it’s a fracture and you need to stop.
- Achilles- 10/10: Achilles injuries start with minor aches before becoming intense quickly. For any Achilles issues, take a break until the pain goes away, and make sure you do some treatments.
- Shin- 8/10: Shin splints are another very common injury for runners which is often linked to tibial stress fractures which are very intense chronic injuries. Once you start feeling the pain, take a break rest, treat and recover.
- Calves- 6/10: A strained calf is very common, but because it is a soft tissue injury, it is not as intense as hard tissue damage. Strained calves can last a long time if it is not treated and you don’t take a break for recovery.
- Knees- 3/10: Stress fractures are not too common in the knees, but tendinitis is very common amongst runners, especially trail runners. If you feel your knee loosening up during the run, you can keep running. Otherwise, if you keep running without getting treatments the tendinitis will get more intense.
- Hamstrings and Quadriceps- 3/10: These big muscle groups are made of soft tissue, which can heal quickly by taking a few days break from running. So if the pain is not too deep or intense you can finish your race, but if it is deep that could be due to a femoral stress fracture, then you should stop immediately.
- Hips and Glutes- 9/10: All running motions come from the hips, hip mobility and glutes strength, so if you feel any unusual pain in these areas you need to be careful and evaluate the intensity of the pain. It could be coming from an IT Band tendinitis, hip flexor tendinitis. Hips or glutes injuries are quite intense, so if you feel any chronic pain you should stop the race to save your hips and glutes.
- Lower Back- 4/10: Lower back pain or soreness is very common amongst runners, especially with today’s lifestyle of sitting for many hours a day. If you feel some soreness or stiffness you can keep running. If you feel some abnormal pain, make sure you stop running, this can be caused by SI-joint dysfunction or a sacral stress fracture which are very intense. You need to take a break from running and get some treatments.
After the Run
When you finish running, just like a good warm up, to prevent any injuries, you need to cool down, stretch immediately after your run. Perform some basic static stretches for all the important muscles. Hold each stretch for 30-60 secs. The ideal muscle recovery would be to add some daily foam rolling, especially at night before going to bed, once your muscles are released then can recover during the night. Even 5-10 minutes of foam rolling the basic muscles will be super-efficient. If you can do more go ahead- Sports massage, physio, yoga!
Muscles to stretch:
Glutes, Piriformis, Hips