Recently, a runner told me he was injury prone because he ran his first marathon and got shin splints and then a week later his achilles tendon started hurting. He wanted to know what to do to address the shinsplints and what type of training plan is good for an injury prone runner.
Just because you end up with different injuries in close proximity does not mean you are an injury prone runner. You could just be a beginning runner or new to the distance or type of race you have chosen. If you are an experienced runner in both time as a runner and at the distance/type of running, and continue experience a reoccuring injury or multiple injuries in a row, you may be an injury prone runner. However, if you have not been running long, increased your distance, or changed from road to trail running (or the other way), you are probably under prepared.
Let’s address under prepared runners first. The runner may actually have prepared to the best of their ability and still have some aches and pains that extend beyond a few days after a race, such as shin splints or IT band issues. This is very normal especially for a runner who is taking on the marathon for the first time. Most beginning marathon training programs build miles up to, but not beyond, a single twenty mile long run. If you tack on 6.2 more miles in one go, you’re likely to have some aches and pains. As you gain more experience you can increase the number of 20 mile long runs and build your miles beyond the twenty mile mark. This will reduce the chances of aches and pains after a marathon.
Let’s look at what I mean by under prepared. Training for any race should include race specific training as much as possible. This means if the race includes hills (up and down), run hills in training. If it includes trails, run trails in training. If it includes roads, run roads in training. All of these will impact your body in a different way, so if you don’t train specifically for the challenges of your race, you are likely to be sore or even get injured.
Both experienced and new runners can neglect strength training or not realize how important it is in training. Runners do not need or want big muscles, but strengthening muscle supportive muscle groups can prevent injury and post race aches. Runners as a group tend to have weak hips and tight hamstrings. Weak hips contribute to a multitude of common running injuries such as shin splints, runners knee, and IT band syndrome. Your hips work to stabilize your legs as you run. They make sure your leg swings back and forth with the right alignment and speed. Include a hip strengthening workout three times a week in your training. It only takes a short amount of time and you don’t need a gym membership. You can search the internet or use the one above. Tight hamstrings reduce your range of motion for your leg swing and if you over stride you can strain or tear them.
What’s an injury prone runner? An experienced runner who struggles with chronic, reoccurring, or consecutive injuries on an ongoing basis. Runners who fit in this category can do a few things to increase the likelihood that they will be able to continue running and participate in races. First, either go see a physical therapist or google rehabilitation of whatever condition you have. Use the strength exercises four days a week. It can take three to four months to feel a difference, especially if it is a chronic issue. Even if it is a reoccurring issue and you don’t currently have symptoms or they go away, keep up the exercises for 4-6 months.
Second, use a foam roller at least every other day. Roll on the area for two minutes at a time and don’t neglect the surrounding muscles because if they are tight, it will pull on the injured area. Stress fractures are another matter. Do not roll on a stress fracture. Follow your doctors instructions for any stress fracture.
Third, change your training program to reduce impact. A normal training program has a rest week every fourth week, which means miles are reduced by 20-25% for the week. Injury prone runners should change the rest week to a pool running week, mini-trampoline running, or an elliptical (zero impact machine) week. If you look through my training programs you will find such a program.
If you are new to running or new to the distance you are running, take a hard look at whether that could be the cause of your injuries or if you are actually an injury prone runner. Using the injury prone training program will keep you running, but you may not make the same gains you would if you took the steps under the new/under prepared runner section.