With the weather warming and days becoming longer it’s very tempting to dust the cobwebs off your trainers and make that long awaited return to running.

It is generally around this time of year that physiotherapy clinics become inundated with patients who have recently made the return to running only to succumb to injury a few runs back into their new fitness regime.  

The question you must ask yourself before making the return remains “is my body ready to begin running again?”

Firstly, it is important to state that running is a great form of exercise. Not only does it help improve cardio-vascular health it has a variety of other benefits including improved mood and increased energy levels. It can however lead to injury quite quickly if your body is not ready to withstand the load that is placed through it.

Sports science has shown that running can create ground reaction forces of 3-4 times bodyweight with each foot strike. The average runner completes 80-100 foot strikes per minute. Couple these figures together and all of a sudden you have gone from sitting on a couch to now placing somewhere between 240-400 times your bodyweight through the joints of your body with every minute of running you complete. Knowing this, it’s no wonder issues arise with quickly for those who have not ran in awhile.   

Your strategy for building your running routine after a break depends on how long it’s been since you have trained, your fitness level whilst you were running regularly and whether you have maintained cardio vascular endurance through other activities.

It is often advisable that if you haven’t ran for a significant period of time or if you are suddenly looking to increase your distance that an appropriate musculoskeletal screening takes place.

The type of screening may differ dependent upon the individual. If you are a new mum who is looking to make a return I often advise seeing a women’s health physiotherapist, whereas if you are someone who has suffered from foot based pathology in the past with running a podiatry review can be quite beneficial.

Initial training:

Start with intervals of walking and running. It is important to listen to your body to determine how much running is right for you. There is no specific recipe or one size fits all when it comes to this (every individual is different).

A general guideline is to start by using a 1:4 ratio (walk for 4 minutes and run for 1 minute) gradually build this up so that your ratio becomes 2:1 (you should be running double the distance you can walk, e.g. walk for 4 minutes run for 8 minutes).

Once you have reached this point you are ready to attempt your running baseline measure (how long you can comfortably run for) I will touch on why this is important later.

If running for any length of time seems difficult, start by using a 20-30 minute brisk walking workouts to build a base that you can build upon later. Conversely, if running returns easier than expected, extend your running intervals during initial training, taking care not to over-do it.

Research suggests that when making a return to running you should aim to run at a moderate intensity pace and take walking breaks when needed. This principle works well for runners in the retraining mode as well. Build an endurance base first before adding speed and intensity sessions.

Listen to your body:

Muscle aches and soreness (especially in the calves and quadriceps) are to be expected any time you are pushing your body further or faster than it is accustomed to going. There are however some aches and pains that should not be ignored (feel free to read my previous blog on common running injuries to gain an understanding of some of these). Any sharp or persistent pain that worsens when you walk, run or go about your daily activities are signals to rest for a few days and make that appointment with your physio. Secondly, pains that affect one side of the body, but not the other are often issues that should not be overlooked.

Get the right gear:

I’m not saying you need to buy all the latest equipment to start running, but a new pair of trainers are a non negotiable. Worn out trainers are a leading cause of injury and often wear and tear aren’t obvious to the naked eye. Go to a specialty running store to find the right trainer for your foot. Don’t shop by fashion or price. Trust me the money you spend will pay off in the form of hundreds of pain free miles and less visits to the physio. The general consensus is to replace your trainers every 300 to 500miles.

Set a goal:

Setting a clear goal can help ensure you remain compliant to your new training regime.

Are you doing it to aid weight loss? Improve cardio vascular fitness? Compete in an event or fun run?

Each of these goals can affect the way you train. It is often advisable to speak to a professional (running coach, sports scientist/physiologist or physiotherapist) if you are unsure how to approach your training.

I often encourage non runners to sign up for a 5-10km run as this can be a very motivating way to stick to your training plans whereas those who are currently running these distances I like to challenge my clients to either improve their running speed or attempt that half/full marathon. Initiatives like park run can also be a great way to improve compliance due to its group nature.

How do I reduce my chance of sustaining an injury:

  1. Have an appropriate musculoskeletal screening prior to your first run or before stepping up your distance (identify and address potential biomechanical/musculoskeletal risk factors for injury before they catch you out). You can book in for a 1-hour running/physio assessment at the White Hart Clinic for a full evaluation. Bring your running shoes and come in your kit, we have a running treadmill in the treatment room.
  1.  Incorporate strength work into your routine (build the musculo-skeletal systems capacity to withstand the increased demand on the body) exercises like single leg calf raises, skipping, single leg squats and running man variations can be good starting points.
  1. Find your “baseline” (how long you can comfortably run for) and only ever increase your training load by no more than 10% per week.

Recent research into training load monitoring has shown that increasing your training load above this level can significantly increase your risk of injury.

For more experienced runners you can use a variable baseline program. You can achieve this by reviewing your baseline every 2-4 weeks and change your distances accordingly. This is a slightly higher risk strategy that can result in large climbs in mileage but for more experienced runners it’s a reasonable option to reach your target goals.

  1. Give your body adequate rest between sessions. Research has revealed the importance in allowing rest between sessions, especially when you are re-introducing a new exercise into your regime. When unaccustomed to load the musculoskeletal system generally requires 24-48 hours rest between sessions. Stick to this principle for the first month of your training schedule to reduce your risk of sustaining an over-use injury.

In closing, running is a very beneficial sport which has many positive health outcomes for the body. However, if you are not prepared to run or try to over-do things when making that return, injury can often leave you questioning why you ever made that return in the first place. Be smart about your approach, take it slow and gradually build your tolerance. If you are unsure seek an expert opinion. Good luck.

Shane Carr

Chartered Physiotherapist

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