Corporate runs: train before you compete.
With all the handwringing over our low levels of physical inactivity, we sometimes forget the flipside: the thousands of people who sign up for distance running events each year. It’s good news –unless you’re the one limping towards the finishing line because you didn’t train in advance.
Would anyone seriously attempt to run 21 kilometres without a bit of practice? Oh, yes, says physiotherapist Jennifer Dodge who was on duty at last year’s Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon where she treated the injuries of around 15 runners who’d done no training.
“There’s an increased risk of injury when people go from being sedentary to distance running.”
“I was amazed at how many people said to me ‘we thought we’d just get a few people together from work and give it a go’,” says Dodge. “There’s a trend for workplaces to encourage employees to make up teams to enter these events for fitness and corporate team building. But although it’s fantastic to see more people taking part, there’s an increased risk of injury when people go from being sedentary to distance running – and there’s not much awareness of the need to train or how to avoid injury.”
Signing up for a running event is one way of setting a goal if you want to get fitter (and if you’re looking for a fitness event to train for, the Exercise is Medicine website has a Physical Activity Calendar of Events Australia wide to help you find one in your area). But even with a short five kilometre event it’s hard to ‘just do it’ unless you’re quite fit already. So how much prep does it take to go from couch to five kilometres or a more ambitious 21 kilometres?
For beginners wanting to run five kilometres Dodge recommends starting six weeks in advance. For an event like the women’s night run in May – the Nike She Runs 10k – on flat terrain in Centennial Park – she suggests starting eight weeks in advance for beginners and four weeks ahead if you can already run about five kilometres. For beginners attempting a half marathon, she recommends starting 12 weeks in advance and including a mix of uphill and flat terrain running.
But heading off injury isn’t just about increasing running time gradually. It’s also about tackling the side effects of sedentary living like tight, weakened muscles that make us injury prone. Strength training for legs and butt muscles helps, as does stretching and massage, Dodge says.
“People who are deskbound often have tight hip flexor muscles from prolonged sitting, for instance, and because these muscles are connected to the vertebrae in the lower spine this tightness can result in lower back pain if they run,” she explains. “You can avoid this by stretching the muscles with a few lunges or stepping one foot up on a chair and then changing to the other leg.”
Reducing tightness in the lower body can also help prevent knee pain when you run, says Dodge who suggests doing some stretches on rest days from running and massaging the hamstrings, calf muscles – and iliotibial band. If you’re not familiar with this particular body part, it’s a band of connective tissue running down the outside of the thigh to below the knee. Called the ITB for short, it can be a common cause of knee pain in runners if it’s too tight, says Dodge who recommends using a foam roller to massage tight spots.
As for what you put on your feet for a running event, her advice is to stick with a shoe you’re used to – it’s no time to experiment with funky five finger sports shoes if you haven’t tried them before.
“Many runners don’t realise that common injuries such as shin splints can occur from simply changing their running shoes dramatically, especially if they’re going from a supported rigid shoe to one with minimal support and structure,” she says.
Has signing up for a running/walking event helped you get fitter?