~ Jonathan Tan
I set myself a goal late last year. I think I was flying somewhere over the Indian Ocean, making the long trip back from Europe, picturing myself gasping for air on my first run after 9 weeks on holiday. I remember planning to exercise at least once a week while away. I ran once – fail. My goal is to run a half-marathon.
I’ve never been a great long distance runner. The longest I’ve run is 12 k’s in previous HBF run’s and the City to Surf a couple of years ago. Having always been involved in team sports, there has always been some level of external drive to push myself, but running is a completely different ball game.
However, I find myself in a pretty good position going forward. I’m injury free and feeling pretty confident in my ability to do this run. Previously I’ve struggled to really push myself due to injury, but touch wood, I’ve done far better this time around. I’ve been reflecting on what’s worked, what hasn’t and what I’ve done differently to get to this point. I think a few of these tips could be helpful to novice runners.
1. Warm-up – Don’t be slack! Get yourself moving.
If you’ve already committed in your mind to 30 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise, what’s an extra 10 minutes? I’ll admit I used to have a bad habit of not practicing what I preach. I used to throw my runners on, quickly stretch my calves and go straight out the door into my run. Most of the time this resulted in me having to stop after 10 minutes to do what I should’ve done earlier.
We’re often asked what’s more important during the warm up, stretching or dynamic exercises. Stretching is something that should be incorporated regularly into your daily routine. 5-10 minutes of stretching prior to running isn’t going to provide dramatic improvements in flexibility, nor is it as important as dynamic warm-up exercises in preventing injury. Stretching can also be harmful in certain cases such as tendonopathy.
The main muscle groups you focus on are your quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes. An individualised warm-up program will be more effective.
2. Progression – It must be gradual
I’ve fallen victim like most, to trying to go too hard too quickly. Whenever we get the motivation to do something, we like to go flat out from the get go. It’s human nature, but in many cases something decides to pop up and remind us we are only human. Most overuse injuries are primarily due to one thing – LOAD, and too much of it. If you are just starting out, 2 short runs with rest days in between, followed by a longer run over the weekend could be a good starting point. Progressively increase the length of these runs.
If you’re training for a half-marathon, a good aim for each week is 1 long run, 2 medium-length runs and a couple of shorter runs or cross-training sessions. There’s nothing more frustrating than pushing yourself too hard early on and having to completely stop because injury is holding you back. This is a pretty simple guide you can use if you are training for a half-marathon
3. Strength and Conditioning – Don’t Stop!
I’ve made the mistake in the past of completely stopping my other strength and conditioning exercises to focus on running. This was mainly due to time and my lack of it. Continuing with glute, hamstring and posterior-chain exercises are important. I was always concerned that having heavier legs would affect my running ability (not that my chicken-legs are that big in the first place!). This time round however, I’ve actually increased how much leg work I’ve been doing, focusing on endurance and general conditioning rather than strength. As I continue to increase my running distance, I’ll slowly taper the resistance training off.
Here are a couple of exercises that could be useful.
4. Footwear – wear what’s comfortable
It can be confusing when buying your new pair of running shoes. Pronator? Over-pronator? Minimalistic shoe? The list goes on.
The bottom line is, everyone has different feet. No one particular type of shoe is better for everyone. Your shoe selection is important and needs to be individualised to you.
Pronation is the way your foot rolls inward as you walk and run. It is an essential movement that allows us to absorb shock. However some people may over-pronate or over-supinate (the opposite way). Different shoe types can help to accommodate for this.
Unfortunately, many of the most popular shoes on the market are popular due to their sleek and lightweight design. Some people handle these shoes fine, especially for shorter-distances, but most people don’t and increase their risk of injury by using them far too much.
Our colleagues over at the Running Centre advise that the most important determining factor when selecting your shoe is comfort! If you think you’re an over-pronator, a simple taping technique you could try is the Low Dye. See if this is more comfortable and we can help you from there.
5. Cross-Train – change it up!
Too much of one thing is never a good thing. Changing the surfaces you run on is a good way to alter the load your joints and muscles are taking. Changing between concrete, grass, even sand can have different benefits to your training.
Changing your form of exercise can also be beneficial. Throwing in the occasional swim, cycle or session on the cross-trainer will allow you to continue with your aerobic training while changing the load on your body. Cycling reduces the load on your joints, swimming even more so.
In saying this – if you’re training for a run, you need to run. If an injury is stopping you from doing so, get it fixed before it becomes a bigger problem.
I hope this has been of help, let’s hope my body doesn’t break down before I reach the finish line! If you’d like to support my run and donate to the Heart Foundation, follow the link below.
East Fremantle Football Club Senior Physiotherapist