“It doesn’t hurt that much” … “if I miss two days of training all my progress will be lost!” We’ve all been there. I have definitely struggled with this lots of times in the past, especially as I’ve been increasing my mileage. I’ll have a really good run or training session, but feel a little niggling pain in my shins, or my right knee. But it can’t be that bad, right? We kind of tell ourselves “if I just push through it, it will go away”. So, you keep on running on it for the next day too, and it gets a little bit worse. And you go through the whole process again and again until one day if hurts so much you have to take a week off, or more! Sometimes that little niggle will even stop hurting when you start running and gives you hope that it was all in your head, but then comes back bigger than ever later on. But it doesn’t have to be like that! There are lots of little things we can do to keep ourselves injury-free and to keep those pesky niggles at bay:
- Keep a training diary
Keeping track of the workouts you’re doing, the number of miles you’re running, how many rest days you are taking a week etc. is a great way of keeping track of how hard you’re working your body. You can use this as a tool to look back at what you’ve done over the previous few days and use this to plan what you do next. If you’ve already run more than you normally would this week, you could think about swapping another run for a swim or a gentle bike ride instead. If you realise you haven’t taken a rest day in a few days, maybe it’s a good time to plan one in! Everyone is different, but this is a really good way to keep on track of your own training and not get carried away and putting your body under too much strain. This also works well for making sure you’re not increasing your mileage/training too quickly from week to week too. As a general rule, it’s not advised to be increasing your mileage by more than about 10% per week; by keeping track of your weekly miles you can plan your increases accordingly.
- Foam roll/ball roll
I used to think foam rolling was optional and that it was only for ‘serious’ athletes. But I’ve come to realise it is an invaluable tool for releasing muscle tightness and preventing injury. During exercise, our muscles become inflamed and without proper attention they can tear (which is not only painful but will cause you to have to take more time off!). Try to foam roll at least 3 times a week for about 10 minutes each time to release muscle tension. There are loads of great videos on YouTube showing particular techniques for releasing certain muscles but as a general rule, I try and use a foam roller all over both my legs, giving a little more attention to certain areas if they feel tighter than others.
- Eat well
There’s an analogy for sports nutrition (and I suppose life too!) that I really like – food is fuel. If you’re filling your tank up with poor quality fuel, it isn’t going to get very far very quickly. The same applies for fuelling for sport! Make sure your diet is rich in protein for muscle growth and repair, carbohydrates for energy and recovery, and micronutrients for reducing inflammation and keeping your blood, bones and muscles healthy. I like to eat a carbohydrate fuelled meal such as porridge or toast with peanut butter and a banana about 1.5 – 2 hours before a long run or training session to provide a good energy source for my muscles. Afterwards, I always try to eat a snack within 10 minutes of the end of my run – this should be high in protein with some carbs too – something like an apple with almond butter, a protein shake, nuts or rice cakes with hummus. I’ll then try to eat a full meal within 2 or 3 hours.
A day or two of unscheduled rest is not going to ruin your progress. It is far more important to listen to your body and give it an extra day or two to repair than to jump straight back into a hard workout and do yourself more damage. Sometimes you might not feel you need to take a complete rest day but might swap a high-impact workout for something gentler – be flexible with your training and give your body the time it needs to get back on track. And even if you do end up having to take a week or more off, that’s okay too! There are plenty of things you can do to help your body along: eat well, stretch, foam roll, relax. You’ll get there. And without that extra hour or so of exercise, you’ll have more time in the day to give yourself that extra bit of TLC too.
- Work on your weaknesses
Feeling a little bit of a niggle somewhere might mean that it’s a little on the weak side, or that the muscles surrounding it are taking on extra load. Rather than ignoring it, give this area some more attention with some extra stretching, icing and foam rolling. When it’s feeling better, weight training, foot drills and plyometric movements are great for strengthening major muscles groups as well as all the little supporting muscles, keeping the whole system strong and able to cope with the workload of an increasing training schedule.
I have found that keeping on top of these activities has not only helped me to reduce the amount of times I’m having to take extra days off because of niggles but also to be more in tune with my body and notice when it needs a bit of extra care. This is what works for me, but if you’ve found something else that really works for you and you’d like to share, I‘d love to hear about it!