Running a marathon? Top tips on avoiding injury
A record 386,050 people signed up for the 2018 London Marathon, the highest number of applicants for any marathon in the world. Why? Because running a marathon or half marathon is extremely rewarding, and running regularly can significantly improve your physical and mental health.
However, it’s also extremely challenging, with many of those people ‘lucky’ enough to get a place in the London Marathon being unable to actually take part on the day due to injuries sustained during training. Many runners, even those not training for a marathon or who run regularly, will likely experience aches and pains or swelling and inflammation in the muscles and joints at some point. In fact, it’s common to experience these and as you continue to train you’ll notice gradual improvements in what you’re able to achieve.
How likely am I to get injured?
Regular training sessions and long distance runs can have a cumulative effect on the body. Seemingly small niggles can build up resulting in a much larger, more serious injury which may mean you have to stop training altogether.
Typically more serious running injuries tend to happen when people push themselves too hard or too quickly. This is particularly so in marathon training when people realise they are ‘behind’ in their training, panic and then suddenly increase the distance or intensity without enough preparatory work.
Your running technique and natural anatomy could also make you more predisposed to injury by putting more strain or force on certain joints.
What’s the most common injury could I get running?
- Runner's knee - a common overuse injury. This is technically know as patellafemoral syndrome and it is basically when the undersurface of your knee cap hurts due to abnormal biomechanics. You’re more at risk if you your feet pronate (turn onto the inside edge) or your knee caps are unstable due to mechanical or muscular weakness.
- Stress fracture - often due to working too hard before your body gets used to a new activity.
- Shin splints – more common in new runners, or runners who’ve had some time off, and are usually an indication that you’ve trained too hard, too quickly.
- Achilles tendinopathy - usually caused by repetitive stress but tight calf muscles can also contribute it.
- Calf strain - caused by overstretching or overworking a weak calf muscle, easily done if you start exercising without warming up properly first or doing too much before gaining strength.
- Plantar fasciitis - another type of repetitive strain injury but people with tight calf muscles and a high foot arch are more prone to plantar fasciitis.
How can I prevent injury?
Listen to your body: Don’t try to run through the pain. The odd ache or pain is to be expected but if you experience ongoing pain you should seek advice to avoid long-term or more serious injury.
Create a training plan: Build a plan that increases your running distance and/or frequency gradually, and works back from the date of the marathon.
Don't only run: Strengthening exercises and cross training will help build up your muscles and develop core fitness, all of which will help your running. Including other activities will also help prevent overuse injuries from doing the same type of exercise over and over again.
Warm-up and stretch: Stretching cold muscles may cause injuries. Warm-up your muscles by walking first then make sure you thoroughly stretch your muscles, especially your calf, hamstrings, groin, and quadriceps before and after your run.
Good footwear: wear proper-fitting socks and trainers with good support.
Keep it even: avoid putting unnecessary stress on your ligaments by running on flat, smooth surfaces.
Stay hydrated: Make sure you drink extra water on the days you run. Performance begins to decrease after only a two percent loss in body water.
What should I do if I do get injured?
- Rest. The most important thing is to stop what you're doing. If you continue to run after sustaining an injury, however minor it may seem, you could risk making it worse and affecting your long-term health or recovery.
- Ice. Apply ice or cold pack for 10-20 minutes, three or more times a day to help reduce swelling. Wrap the ice in a towel, do not apply it directly to the skin as it could cause frostbite or an ice burn.
- Compression. Use an elastic bandage to apply pressure to the area. But, don't wrap it too tightly as this will cause more problems. Signs that the bandage is too tight include numbness, tingling, increased pain, coolness, or swelling in the area below the bandage.
- Elevation. Elevate your leg as much as possible. Keeping the area at or above the level of your heart will help minimise swelling.
Anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen may also help relieve your pain and swelling.
You should see improvements within 24 to 36 hours. If your injury doesn't improve or you are in any doubt about the seriousness of your injury, you should seek expert medical advice.
How quickly will I recover?
Depending on the type of injury you have, it can take a few weeks to a few months or more to make a full recovery.
In some cases physiotherapy may be useful in helping you recover. Your physiotherapist can also tailor your exercise programme to help strengthen the affected body part and reduce the risk of the injury recurring