Put a bunch of runners in a room and they’ll while away many hours telling tales of various niggles and injuries. The causes will vary in detail but many of their problems will boil down to overdoing it: running too hard, too long or too fast. But if you take care you’ll be running for many years to come and, who knows, you may even avoid injury altogether. Here’s how…
If you exercise every day you will lose strength and deplete your energy stores, so as the week progresses you will actually become weaker. It takes at least 48 hours to fully recover from a hard run. Training when you are tired puts more stress on your tendons, joints and bones, which increasing the risk of overload injuries such as stress fractures. Resting allows your body to repair itself, which means it becomes stronger, and so your performance improves. Rest days also allow you to replenish your energy stores, so you have more fuel the next time you run.
If you have never had a sports massage, treat yourself. It’s a great way to aid recovery, reduce muscle tightness and can even prevent injury. Running puts increased stress on your muscles, tendons and fascia (the connective tissue that surrounds our muscles and organs). When they are tight you can’t function at your best. For example, tight muscles may not contract efficiently and may also cause pain. A sports massage can help alleviate this tightness, allowing the body to work more efficiently. It can also help prevent this occurring in the first place. If possible, have a massage each month, or indulge yourself a few days before a big race.
Not everyone can afford a regular sports massage. A foam roller is wonderful and inexpensive alternative. This simple piece of equipment will help alleviate muscle tightness and joint stiffness, and it could not be easier to use: you simply roll over it using your body weight. When you apply compression and constant pressure to the muscles, you increase local blood flow and circulation to the soft tissues, releasing tight fascia tissue and stretching muscular tissue. This reduces the muscular tightness and joint stiffness that can develop after a run, which in turn reduces the chance of injury.
When you run harder or longer, you use up more energy than usual, so you need to take on more carbohydrates to stay fuelled. If you run low in carbohydrates your performance will suffer, you will tire more easily and you’ll increase the stress on your body, making it far more likely that you’ll develop an injury.
These can greatly assist in recovery and injury prevention. Ice baths taken for up to ten minutes after a run can help reduce tissue and joint inflammation, thereby assisting recovery. If you can’t tolerate an ice bath, try a very cold shower instead. Hot baths are ideal a day or two after a hard run, as they will help reduce muscular tightness and joint stiffness. They should not be used the same day as a run because you will be dehydrated and the heat will only increase your body’s inflammatory response.