Have you taken up running recently due to the lockdown? Gyms are shut and many sports have been shut down so people are hitting the pavements more than ever recently. This is fantastic news, however it seems to be coming at a price. I’ve had many messages and seen so many posts on social media of new runners suffering with injuries and pain.
Sore shins, painful knees and achy hips are everywhere – but with a little bit of knowledge, this doesn’t have to be the case! Here is my start-up guide to help you get up and running, pain-free.
What is your run-capacity?
The first thing to understand is that we all have a capacity for running. This isn’t how far or how fast we can run – instead it is how well our body can cope with the stresses of running. Our tendons, ligaments, joints and muscles all take a lot of strain and impact when we run. Exceed their capacity to take this stress and this is when things start to break down, tighten up and cause pain and injury. The more we overstep this mark, the more likely we are to get injured.
Which leads us to the one thing that most of you won’t want to hear. If you are new to running, your body’s capacity to handle running is likely to be far lower than you think. I understand you may be fit from the gym, you even play other sports that involve running such as football or tennis, but distance running is different to these things. This is not to say that it is a harder, or more worthy sport, or that you are unfit in any way – simply that if you have not conditioned your body to run, you will not have built any capacity for running.
It’s very common for new runners to push too far and exceed their body’s capacity to run safely. It’s even more common in those who are already fit from other activities. Their cardio systems allow them to push harder than their body can handle. Unfortunately the lag-time on injuries appearing often means that they only realise this once it’s too late.
You got hurt – so what next?
So you went at it a bit too hard, pushed past your capacity a little and things started to hurt? The first thing you need to do is allow ample time for recovery and wait until the pain subsides enough to get you back to running. This doesn’t mean total rest – I always advise people to stay as active as they can while recovering from any injury. This means you can do whatever activity you can that doesn’t cause you pain – walking, cycling, strength training, cycling & yoga are all great examples of things you can do while the injury heals.
So when is the right time to start back running? It’s always a fine balance, but in most cases, you do not have to wait for the pain and tightness to completely disappear. Small amounts of discomfort and stiffness are usually ok to run with, as long as they are managed appropriately and not allowed to escalate. If you try to run and the pain is causing you significant discomfort or is making you change the way you run, then this is too much and you need more recovery. For more information on running with pain, see my article here: Exercising With Pain
The Right Plan
What is the right way to re-start your running career? The vital thing to consider here is to start off at a lower level than you did originally. This could be as little as 5-10 minutes of running for your first few runs. You could also think about using a run/walk strategy where you break up your running with walks in between. The Couch-to-5k apps are a great place to start for many that are new to running. These are widely available and are a gentle introduction to running. They are very useful if you have no running experience or a low level of fitness. If you already have a good level of fitness you may find C25K is too easy – in which case I have created an advanced introductory running plan that you can find here: Advanced Running Start-Up Plan
A key point to make here is that all your runs at this point should be low intensity. Going hard, trying to beat your times or any kind of interval training will increase the levels of stress on the system and make it more likely that you will overstep your capacity.
The important thing with whatever plan you choose to use is that you should be looking to progress slowly but steadily. Also you should be monitoring and managing any pain or discomfort as it appears. This doesn’t mean stopping at the first sign of pain. Instead you should be assessing it according to the guidelines discussed above, then managing your training accordingly. This could be simply taking an extra day’s recovery in between runs, or reducing the length of your next couple of runs to compensate.
Running is one of the best sports out there. It’s simple, hassle-free and infinitely varied and challenging. Unfortunately it’s also got a bad reputation for causing injuries, with many runners never making it past the first hurdle due to getting hurt early on. By following the advice in this article you can make sure you get a flying start to your new running life. Good luck, and let me know how you get on. I’d love to hear your stories of your adventures into the world of running!