Born to Run, and Run, and Run

December 7, 2012

For those of us who love to hit the pavement, especially in the warmer months, sometimes we can push ourselves those few kilometres too far, resulting in aches, pains and even stress fractures which can keep us out of our joggers for long periods. Not good.

There is a better way, which involves building up your running capacity or putting the kilometres in your legs over a period of time to better prepare you for the long run.

Our body, its bones and soft tissues adapt to load over time. Depending on the sport or activity you are involved in, strength of bone, muscles and their attachment sites will gradually build up to cope with those demands. In the case of running, we are referring to the capacity of:

  • the tibia – (main lower leg bone) to absorb shock
  • the plantar fascia (tissue in the sole of your foot that holds up your arch) – to cope with repeated foot strike
  • the calf muscle – strength to repeatedly push off
  • the Achilles tendon – to attenuate forces and shock absorb
  • other lower leg muscles – to control foot position e.g. avoid pronation

These tissue adaptations take time to occur – 6 to 12 weeks at a minimum. If the legs are given too much repeated impact too soon, before they have had a chance to adapt, injuries will occur. Trust us. The most common ones are ‘shin splints’ (tibia), ‘plantar fasciitis’ (sole of the foot), calf strain, and Achilles tendinopathy.

Here are some guidelines to help you minimise injury, enjoy the experience more and stay running longer, when you start running:

  • Run on alternate days so that tissues can rest and heal
  • Start at 15 minutes jog (or less if you need to)
  • Once you have completed 3 runs at a certain time length, add 5 minutes to the length of the run
  • Run at about 70% capacity, no hills
  • You can walk to increase your overall exercise session to 30 or 40 minutes, then gradually replace the walking with running
  • Stretch all the main leg muscle groups at least 3 times a week, after, or at separate times to, your exercise
  • If you get persisting pain in your feet or legs (eg lasts more than 3 runs), do not progress, and see a Physiotherapist

After 6 to 8 weeks, continue to progress, but make sure you only change 1 variable at a time, e.g.

  • Adding speed
  • Adding hills
  • Consecutive days
  • Longer runs

Remember that the more running you do, the more important it is to recover properly. This includes more stretching, massage, and cross training in the form of swimming, cycling etc. We are a lot like a car – the more kilometers we do, the more servicing and maintenance we need!

If you are already a runner, and you want to train up for an event like a half or full marathon, the same principles apply. Remember that your training is not just about building fitness, but also tissue tolerance. You may feel like you can smash out a 30km run on the weekend, but are your tissues ready? If you have only been doing 5km runs, chances are, they are not ready! Tissue stress is cumulative too, so even if you survive that first 30km run, you are likely to create injuries if you continue with the dramatically increased volumes.

Enjoy your running, longer!