With gyms closing around the country amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, many people are taking to the streets and running for the first time in a long time. It makes a lot of sense to run instead of going to the gym - it is free, outside, and can be done solo. Whilst it is fantastic to see people making the most of a challenging situation, new runners need to be careful that they don't fall victim to a running injury that sidelines them from their new fitness activity. Here are my top 3 tips for you new runners - to avoid injury and be able to enjoy your running over the coming months:
1. Too much too soon
After your first run as a new runner, you'll likely have some muscle soreness that could last for a few days - the calves and the quads being the muscle groups most likely to be affected. After a few days, this soreness will abate and you can run again. After a couple of weeks you'll no longer be getting sore, your body feels like it is getting better at running and you decide to increase your distances, or run faster, or run more often. Beware! This period from week 4 to week 20 of a new running journey is when you are at most risk of developing a running injury.
The cardiovascular and muscular system will adapt quickly to the new strains you place on them, but other structures in the body take longer to adapt. The bones, the joints, the ligaments, and tendons take many weeks and even months to adapt to the new strains being placed on them. Runners will not often get acute muscle injuries but are more at risk of injuries to bones (stress reactions), tendons (tendonopathy), and the joints (chondromalacia). These injuries can also take a long time to heal, so you'll be away from running potentially for several months. To combat this, it is important to not run too much too soon.
To begin with aim to run 3 times per week, allowing your body time to recover for 48 hours before your next run. The exact amount you should run will depend on your prior experience and will be different for different people. It is important to be conservative and listen carefully to your body. Don't increase your run duration per week by more than 10% each week.
2. Running technique
Many people don't consider running to be a technique. Surely it is something that we are all able to do, we learn to run when we are children and you are either good at it or you aren't, right?
Running is a very technical action and one that can be taught and learnt. The benefits of running with better technique are that it will reduce your risk of injury and improve your efficiency (making you a quicker and more efficient runner). Try these techniques next time you run:
Run like you are on hot coals: the goal of this is to make your steps lighter and faster and enable you to reduce your ground contact time. Think heavy running is bad, light running is good.
Breathing: focus on a breathing rhythm that is 3:3. This means three steps for an in-breath and three steps for an out-breath. This helps you to pace yourself and breathe fully into your lungs.
Head/neck posture: there are many postural cues you can use to help you with your running but one that works well (particularly for those who use a computer a lot during the day) is to focus on your head and neck. As you run, gently draw your chin down towards your chest, like you are making a slight double-chin. This helps balance the head on the spine and means that the top 'link' in your postural chain is in the right position.
, Running can feel difficult and painful for many new runners. They find themselves getting out of breath quickly, perhaps get a stitch, and get a burn in the muscles of the legs. Inevitably, this causes running to be unenjoyable and means that you slow down or just stop altogether. The trick to dealing with this is to adjust your pace.
You should do most of your running at a pace where you can have a conversation. If you are running with a friend you can easily test this by talking to them as you run (observing current social distancing guidelines of course!). You should be slightly breathless (but only slightly) and should be able to talk in full sentences. If you can't talk in full sentences you are running too fast and should slow down. This may feel a little strange at first - deliberately running slowly - but after a while you will get into a rhythm and will find you can run much further before you feel the urge to stop.
With an uncertain future in so many aspects of our normal daily routine, physical exercise is one thing we can still be in control of. Running is the perfect activity to stay fit: You can get outside, be by yourself, it is free, and if done right is incredibly rewarding and enjoyable. Follow the tips above to get more out of your running and please get in touch.
Stay safe, and run happy :)