Marathon training time. Everyone is asking what they can do to prepare for a marathon without risking injury, so we asked our resident running expert and physio, Silvia, what she would suggest:
I would focus on 4 main elements:
• Strength and conditioning
• External factors: nutrition, sleep and stress
If I was preparing for a marathon, I’d like to know how I run (my style) and what can I do to improve this. You can now do a running gait analysis, where you discover how you land, how you place your feet, knees and hips and also how your upper body moves. Obviously it is very difficult to massively change your way of running in just few weeks, but there are some tips that can help to maximise the efficiency of your technique and improve our performance. A good running technique also helps to avoid injuries because it focuses on avoiding putting too much pressure on the main joints and overloading the soft tissues around the joints.
There are a lot of runners that don’t do any gait analysis and they are still fine, but sometimes a small change can make a big difference!
2) Strength and conditioning
The majority of runners think that in order to prepare for a marathon they just need to run (with no other types of training) until they reach the distance they planned. It’s a common mistake to not think about the strength element of running. A common runner’s mindset is to think that if they get stronger, they get heavier and therefore slower during the run. This is not necessarily true.
When we run, our joints and muscles support and absorb forces that are multiple times stronger than our body weight. For example the pressure that our patello-femoral joint is put under during running is between 4.5-7.6 times our body weight. That is a lot of pressure!
This is just an example, but the same theory can be used for the foot, ankle, hip, and for the muscles that support these joints (calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes).
In order to avoid this kind of muscle and joint overload and the chance of being forced to stop training because of injury and niggles, we really recommend including strengthening and conditioning as part of your training. This will prepare the main muscles involved in your running to support all the forces they are going to face. This means strength exercises for quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves.
As well as focusing on strength it is also important to think about balance and control. Sometimes muscle scan be strong, but not necessarily activated in the right order or position. For this reason the strengthening and conditioning for runners often includes a program of strength, balance work, motor control and plyometric exercises. A runner’s body needs to be strong but also flexible, dynamically stable and reactive – for a high performance without waste of energy and risk of injuries.
Too often, blinded by enthusiasm, runners don’t plan their training according to a gradual schedule. They run too much too soon, pushing their body over the limit in the process.
It is important to schedule the right amount of weekly training. When we run long distances for the first time, our body needs to gradually get used to the load. If we increase our training step by step, our tissues will have time to increase their load bearing capacity properly. If we load them too much too soon, they won’t have time to adapt and get stronger. And that will cause reaction, inflammation and pain, and a likely (and unwanted) break from training.
Don’t forget that rest is important too. It is part of the pathway. Usually two days of rest per week is suggested to give the body a chance to recover. It doesn’t mean that those two days are wasted. In fact it’s the opposite. In those two days our body will be able to settle with the changes that are happening and replenish our energy levels for the following days. Leaving us ready for another running challenge.
If we train non-stop, our fatigue level will interfere with our performance, and instead of moving forward, we’ll risk going backwards.
4) External Factors: SPORT PERFORMANCE IS A 360 DEGREES LIFESTYLE
As for all sports people, runners has to face different aspects of daily life:
Nutrition, sleep, stress.
NUTRITION: As a machine, our body needs fuel to move. When we train, we need to replace what we use during running. The right amount of different nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and energy factors need to be considered.
It can be a good thing to see a sport nutritionist to make sure that the level of nutrients and energy you are consuming is balanced. In the long term disorganised nutrition can have detrimental effects on your training. It can increase tissue sufferance and injuries.
SLEEP: Sleep is often underestimated. Lots of runners don’t have enough of time to train and so sometimes give up hours of sleep in order to fit in their training. That’s a mistake. Today we all know, and many studies prove it, that proper sleep is as important as training. The suggested amount of sleep per night is 7-9 hours. Any amount under that can be dangerous for our body, leading to fatigue, ineffective training and guess what? Injuries.
STRESS: If it’s true that running helps reduce stress, it’s also true that too much stress can affect your running performance.
Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life experiences. Everyone expresses stress from time to time. From everyday responsibilities, from work and family to serious life events, can cause stress. For immediate short-term situations this response can be beneficial to our health. It can help you cope with potentially serious situations. Our body responds to stress by releasing hormones that increase the heart and breathing rates and ready the muscles to respond. But if the stress response becomes chronic, it can take a toll on our health. This long term response can negatively affect the training performance, the body can feel exhausted and lacking of energy, and what happens next? You get sick.
But don’t worry, the solution is within our reach. First of all we need to understand what is causing the stress, and then find the best way to manage it. If the cause of the stress is something in particular and we can’t deal with it, then it is worth seeing a specialist that can help.
If the cause of stress is the busy-ness of life, it can be really helpful to introduce into our daily practice some relaxation techniques, like breathing control or meditation. This can help to restore the balance in our body and stop the vicious circle inside our mind.
And remember that sleep and nutrition can have a good or bad influence on our stress condition.