As he touched on in a previous article, the odds have been stacked against Nigel Martin staying injury free and certainly when he first started, he was extremely susceptible to injuries, soft tissue in particular.
I can’t claim to be an expert on avoiding injuries, but I can say I’ve found something that works for me. Hopefully by sharing that, others can find what works for them also. You probably know most of this already, but it may jog your memory on some aspect you’ve been neglecting.
Learn from your injuries
In 2015 I picked up a very persistent peroneal niggle (a muscle I’ve been particularly plagued by in the past, on the outside of your lower leg). I found I was able to run through it, literally for several months.
However, inevitably as it wasn’t getting better, it eventually caught up with me. I remember it flaring up after a track session. Of course, I kept on running, but then the following week I felt it go during a road session.
After hobbling 1.5miles back to the car I could barely walk for a few days. That resulted in about 5 weeks of no running, then a slow build-up, so overall of course you lose a lot of fitness.
Whilst I think I could have avoided this with what I know now, it was part of the learning process at what was an early stage in my running career. Your number one goal when you’re injured should be to make sure that specific injury never happens again. For me that almost always means adding in exercises to my strength work routine. If you do pick up a niggle…
Nip it in the bud
If you’re running through something for months and it’s not improving, chances are it will get you in the end.
You’re much more likely to get side-lined by the niggle you know about than something that crops up out of the blue. These days, the first thing I do when I get a niggle that can’t be resolved with self-massage or foam rolling is get advice from a Physio.
Seriously, if you don’t have a friend who is a Physio – get one (or pay for one Nigel – Ed.) All I ask for are exercises (I don’t stretch at all, but again maybe that’s individual). Whilst I know strength work (see later point) is an area a lot of people neglect and the last thing you want is more to do, you need to view it as black and white.
Either you do this exercise for five minutess a day until you’re strong, or you get injured. You do have to be disciplined, but you don’t need to do strength work every day forever, it’s just whilst you strengthen your weakness. At that point maintenance is probably just a couple of times a week. Either that, or risk something long term, leading on to…
Your number one goal should be to stay healthy i.e., not injured. Every now and then you may have to modify your plans to stay that way.
It could be skipping a session or modifying it to make it easier on your body. You will perform a lot better if you have consistent training behind you, than if you smash every session. Two unspectacular training sessions a week and plenty of miles will go a long, long way over a number of years, vs one summer of great training.
What you can handle in training is very individual, but you will quickly learn your limits. The riskiest runs are almost certainly your structured training sessions and the long run. So, for most people that’s three runs a week.
If you’re increasing intensity or volume, pay attention to your overall training load. Take one session easier or run slower on your long run if required. A lot of people incorporate cross training into their schedule to stay healthy.
Again, if that’s what is required to stay healthy, then it’s a lot better than having to go on the elliptical every day because you can’t run at all. Personally, I think if you run very easy then cross training isn’t required if you also….
Keep it off-road!
This won’t be for everyone, but I swear by it. Every easy run I do contains as much off-road as possible. I’m only happy when I’m off-road. Obviously, it can be impossible to avoid the road entirely, but just get creative – grass verges are everywhere.
Yes, you will get muddier and your feet may get a bit wet, but it’s also a lot more scenic and you don’t have to navigate or stop for traffic. In the winter I will admit it’s a pain looking like you’ve just run XC after every run, especially if you run twice a day, but if it’s wet everywhere, you can end up just as wet and muddy if you run on the pavement through puddles anyway.
Setting expectations is worth a lot, if you go out expecting it to be really wet and muddy, you will embrace it.
Light up the way
You may be thinking I can’t do this in the winter when it’s dark – well, that’s what head torches are for.
They are very affordable and work really well. It’s quite a different experience for sure and I can understand a lot of people don’t feel safe running on their own in the dark in the middle of nowhere. I actually really enjoy it and don’t feel unsafe.
I almost never come across anyone, people generally don’t hang around a trail in the middle of winter. You may see a few dog walkers with a torch, but that should be it. It will depend on where you are of course, perhaps some parks are not safe, so local knowledge will pay off. If you’re running with a head torch, others are probably more afraid of you if anything!
It still won’t suit some people; in which case you could try and meet up with someone else.
These days with highly cushioned shoes, I can understand why a lot of people do run on the pavement, but I still hate it. Whilst these shoes may reduce the impact, they can’t get rid of the monotony. If you’re running off-road, every step is more varied. Most running injuries are repetitive, so it makes sense to keep things as varied as possible. The road certainly has its place, for example tempo runs, but unless I’m racing or doing a tempo, I’m off-road.
Take a break
With the running calendar the way it is, it’s easy to get sucked into racing year-round. Straight after track season it’s the road relays, then it’s XC, then it’s spring road races, then it’s track etc.
If you really want to improve and stay healthy, you have to take a break. You have to go backwards to go forwards. A couple of weeks with a few easy jogs, then a slow build back up always works really well for me at the end of the summer.
I’d say also for your mental freshness, a very easy week after a spring half-marathon then leaves you with two 5-6 month blocks and reduces any risk of burnout. If you recover slow like me, I’d recommend regular taper weeks. Lots of people do 4-6week blocks of high mileage, but I need the recovery, so I work off a 3-week cycle with 2 big weeks and an easy week. Again, find what works for you.
You knew this was coming! You need to be strong to run. For me, I do strength work twice a week. About 25mins of bodyweight stuff – e.g., leg raises, bridges, planks, calf raises and 20mins of weights (cleans, calf raises, squats).
I’m not generally talking heavy weights – I work with half body weight for injury prevention. It will definitely help with improving performance though and if you can, something closer to bodyweight if you know what you’re doing and can be supervised.
Apart from weights, the strength work can be done in-front of the TV. Again, I view this as black and white – if I don’t do this twice a week, I’ll get injured. I’m religious about it. I’d say the weights are probably more for performance, the bodyweight stuff is the key for injury prevention.
My regime should differ from yours, everyone has different weaknesses, so if you learn from your injuries and incorporate the relevant strength work, you can find what works for you.
There are some additional exercises, like with a resistance band for the ankle and things like that which I do more sporadically, just when I feel like I need it. It can definitely feel like a chore, but that’s why you need to understand the importance of it. Also, given a lot of runners are trying to follow a healthy lifestyle, most should be aware of how good strength work is for you.