As your parkrun journey progresses, it’s possible that you may pick up an injury along the way. But there are some simple steps that you can take to reduce the likelihood of you being stopped in your tracks.
That’s why we’ve enlisted the help of Noel Thatcher. As well as being a serial parkrun volunteer, a six-time Paralympic gold medalist, and former world record holder for the 5000m, Noel is also a full-time sports physiotherapist.
Noel shares with us his best advice for avoiding injury, and his top tips on what to do should you suffer from any niggles or problems.
What is an injury?
For the purpose of this advice, I am going to define an injury as pain that prevents you from doing the running or walking you want to do.
Pain is not a normal or desirable response to running or walking and, put simply, is a sign that, for whatever reason, whether it be increased stress, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, too much activity too soon, your body is not tolerating the load you are placing on it.
There are plenty of ways in which you can be proactive and reduce the chances of picking up injuries.
1. Variety and consistency
It may sound counter-intuitive to a parkrunner, but actually doing the same thing the same way all the time is in itself associated with increased injury risk, so here are a few tips on how to add variety into your parkrun life.
2. Progress slowly
New parkrunners are often bitten by the running bug! While this enthusiasm and newfound passion is an incredible, euphoric feeling, new runners can be particularly keen to run more and more and more, but research suggests that newer runners are particularly prone to certain injuries as their bodies adapt to moving in a new way.
These could include shin splints (pain on the inside of the shin), or tendon pain such as Achilles tendonitis (sometimes called Achilles tendinopathy) which is pain on the back of your leg above your heel.
The best and most effective way to greatly reduce your risk of developing these issues is to avoid increasing your activity levels too quickly. The three main parts of training are:
A useful approach is to not increase more than one of these at the same time or in the same week and this will help reduce the likelihood of injury.
For example, one week could increase the number of times you get out, or you can try going faster on one of the days, or you can increase the distance of your longest workout. But avoid doing more than one of these things at the same time.
3. Monitor your training
A really useful way to keep an eye on your training and ensure you are not overtraining is to track your training progress. This could be a simple as keeping a diary using pen and paper, or log your activity on an app such as Strava. This will help you monitor your progress, and prevent any unwanted spikes in training that might be signs you are overdoing it.
4. Get stronger
Including a couple of sessions of simple resistance exercises such as calf raises or squats each week on an ongoing basis will help you deal with the cumulative demands of running or walking.
This is true for everybody, but it is particularly for new runners and older runners. If you have had a previous injury, it may be worth talking to your local physio or sports therapist for more specific advice on which rehabilitation exercises are most appropriate for you.
1. Reduce your activity
Believe it or not, some of the most effective advice for injury management is the simplest. Reduce your activity, or slow it down, to the point that your pain settles down and reduces, not necessarily stopping altogether, is the best place to start.
2. Contributing factors
Next, take a look back at what you have been doing and what life has been like in the few weeks building up to your injury and you will probably find the answer to why you are in pain
As running or walking is a hobby, not a job, often work and life stresses are just as important to deal with as modifying your training.
My recommendation would be trying the above for a week or two and, if this doesn’t allow you to resume your normal activity, seek an opinion from someone with a proven history of working with runners. This could be a physician, your local physiotherapist, or a sports massage with a sports therapist.
My advice would be to be a little bit cautious of online message boards, and even well-intentioned fellow runners. Everybody is an individual, and every injury is unique to that individual.
But what about parkrun?
The great thing about parkrun is that, even if you can’t go your normal pace, you can slow your running or walking and nobody will judge you. And even if your injury prevents you from completing the 5k, you can still volunteer in various different roles that will help you stay part of your parkrun community.
Or, you can just come along and support your fellow parkrunners, which can help you deal with some of the frustrations of being sidelined, and keep your morale up by socializing with your fellow parkrunners afterwards!
Returning to normal activity
Once you are able to start building your activity back to normal levels, do it slowly and monitor your response. As a general rule, you should not experience an increase in pain in the 24 hours following your workout, so this is a good way to judge that you are on the mend, and back on the road to your next parkrun milestone!
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