Injuries are unfortunately part of the deal when you sign up to a life of running. Despite doing everything within our control to avoid them, it is hard/almost impossible to be completely immune to them. The challenge is not only avoiding injuries, but also knowing when to stop running because of an injury/niggle and when to keep on running. As elite athletes running potentially as many miles as your car each week, if we had a rest day whenever anything was sore or stiff, we’d probably end up having two or three days off each week. We’re often a stubborn breed as athletes, we’ll put up a good fight against our injuries/niggles and will continue running despite the discomfort. Sometimes, with a combination of physiotherapy and rehab, injuries will disappear on their own accord despite continuing to train on them. These are the best kind of injuries! On the other hand, there are the injuries which are just as stubborn as the athletes, the ones that you can never seem to quite get rid of, and just keep getting worse. These are usually the injuries that had we stopped running at the first onset of the pain, we could have nipped it in the bud with a few days off, as opposed to training on it for a few weeks, and then needing a few weeks of rest to heal it. It’s often through experience that we know what injuries we can train through and what ones need just few days off to let things settle. The other kind of injury is the one that gives you no option to keep training on it because of the pain. These usually have a sudden onset, are terribly painful, and leave you with a sinking feeling in your stomach because you know that beneath the skin surface, something has torn or broken! The less of those injuries the better!
Between us on the team we’ve all had our fair share of injuries and I’d like to say we are getting wiser as to how to deal with them, although that is probably not always true…. In the past, our younger selves might have just stubbornly carried on running through an injury only to end up having to have a month off a few weeks down the line, where as now, from past experiences we’ve learnt that a few rest days straight away along with physiotherapy and rehab is definitely the preferable option and in the grand scheme of things, a few days off to let an injury settle is not going to do any harm. But if we were to do that all the time, I cant imagine we’d be running PB’s by the time track season came around if we were having three days off every week because of a niggle. There in lies the challenge, when do we stop and say lets knock this injury on the head with a few rest days, and when do you decide that actually this is something that can be managed and trained through.
From an athletes perspective, the first thing we do when we have an sort of niggle is tell Steve who will then often get the advice of a physio or doctor, or he will simply tell us in a friendly way (when he knows it’s not an to worry about) to get on with it and to stop being soft! The challenge for Steve and our physiotherapists is to know how bad an injury actually is, because after all, the only pain scale they have to go off is what we tell them. We’re often asked to rate the pain of an injury from 0-10 with 0 being nothing to 10 being excruciating pain. This is a great tool and we have it as a daily monitor in our online training logs (Training Peaks). Generally it is thought that when injuries/pain is just a 1 or a 2 we can keep training as usual, but we make sure to manage it with our physios and to use ice/compression/anti-inflammatories. However, if things go above a 3/10 then it might be worth having a rest day to let it settle. The only drawback to this is, we all experience and interpret pain in different ways, what one person may consider a 1/10 is what another athlete would consider a 3/10. I think Steve knows us all well enough now to know that if some of us say something is a 2/10, he will automatically add on two to make it 4/10 and will say it’s maybe worth having a few days off. Despite our differences, they key thing with any niggle or injury we have is communicating with Steve and our physios how things are going, because some injuries need re-assessing on a day to day basis and that way Steve can tailor our training accordingly. To let an injury settle, we might to a session a few days later than planned, or change a session, or simply just cross train for a few days.
Steve constantly reminds us that ‘consistency is key’ and its better to put weeks and weeks back to back with good B+ sessions rather than amazing A* sessions that can some times be risky and could be followed by injury and missed training if we are constantly pushing the envelope too much. Communication is also key and far too often athletes are afraid to admit injury to a coach in case they are told they can’t train or need to rest. A day or two missed is a lot easier to deal with than weeks or even months if you are stubborn and carry on regardless.
Avoiding injury through addressing imbalances (read blog #20 Bullet Proof) and weaknesses is a great way to start and also finding your sweet spot with training volume. Any sudden differences in training and changes of stimulus can often cause injury and we have all been guilty of jumping back on the track after a lay off to then suffer for days afterwards with sore calfs! Introduce any new stimulus with caution and plan ahead carefully with regards to increases in volume or intensity so that your body has chance to adapt.
- Don’t be afraid to rest!
- Communicate with your coach
- Seek advice from a professional (physio/doctor)
- Don’t google your injury
- Listen to your body
- 1 day off is better than 10
- Address weaknesses and imbalances
- Know your limits with regards to training loads
- Be cautious with any dramatic change in stimulus
- Increase intensity and volume carefully