Anyone who runs regularly will face injury at some stage and knowing how to handle the injury effectively could be the difference between a long-term injury or a quick recovery. Half marathon health and injuries are more likely to cause problems than those faced by runners who are training for shorter distances.
The first thing to remember is that when you are running you are performing the same movement time and again – a situation that will inevitably lead to a form of repetitive strain injury. This can lead to shin splints, stress fractures or any number of strains and sprains in the weakened area of your body.
The stage at which you catch an injury is really important. If you recognise the onset of a problem then the first thing to do is stop running and get some alternating heat and ice treatment on the injury. A visit to a sports specialist, such as a physiotherapist, is recommended as he or she will be able to advise you on what to do next. Generally, if you pick up an injury in your legs or feet then doing some non-weight bearing exercise, such as swimming, for a week will allow the injury to heal and enable you to maintain your aerobic fitness at the same level.
With some injuries you can still cycle, row or cross train. These will allow the rest of the leg muscles to get a good workout but will reduce or remove any impact. Throughout this period of active recovery it is important that you keep stretching, particularly concentrating upon the injured area.
Whatever the injury, you can still work on your core stability and muscular strength, and indeed, working other areas will aid and speed your recovery.
But, obviously the most effective approach to half marathon health and injury is to develop your training so the problems do not arise in the first place. Some runners will advise that the only way of training for a half marathon is to run. Other schools of thought say that running should be mixed with other activities, otherwise your body becomes unbalanced and injury more likely.
The aforementioned aerobic alternatives, cycling, cross training, swimming and rowing, are excellent ways of maintaining, and even improving aerobic fitness (stamina) while working your muscles in a slightly different pattern. Take cycling for example, it works the same leg muscles as running but concentrates on the quadriceps and hamstrings more than the calves. Running tends to work the claves and hamstrings more than the quads. And by altering the resistance or getting out among the hills, you can get your legs to work faster, harder or easier depending on what you want to achieve from the session.
Core stability and strength conditioning (with machines or free weights) allows you to develop flexibility and strength in your back, abdominals and arms – all crucial areas for an efficient running technique. And yoga or pilates can also offer a different means of maintaining fitness and flexibility when it works in combination with a well-structured running program.
Top tips for avoiding injury
Mix up your training to include flexibility and strength work.
If you feel a twinge then stop and see a specialist
Ensure your running shoes are comfortable and suit your gait – see a specialist shoe provider
Build rest and recovery days into your program
It is also important to remember to look after your health to reflect your increased mileage. Just as you are pounding out more miles and putting your legs under pressure, so you are working your whole body harder. This means taking care with what you are eating and ensuring you are hydrated at all times.
Even if you took up running to lose weight, and still want to lose a few pounds, eating a reduced-calorie diet while you are training for a half marathon is not a good idea. You will need a good carbohydrate intake (pasta, rice, potatoes) to fuel your runs; protein is essential for the repair of muscles; and fat is also necessary to keep your sugars balanced during your increased effort levels. It is also important that you eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds as these all provide vitamins and minerals that are essential for continued good health.
Even on the days you do not run, you should keep drinking plenty of fluid. This can be a combination of fruit juice, water, sports drinks and limited amounts of tea and coffee but should not be solely water. If you only use water for rehydration you could end up washing essential enzymes out of your body, which can leave you dangerously ill.
One of the best ways to ensure you are looking after your marathon health and injuries is to talk to other runners and visit the relevant section on the C25K website. You will be able to make adjustments to your training regime to ensure you make it to the start line in one piece.