Extra mileage can often lead to injury. Matt Phillips explains how to up your miles without suffering the injury blues
For most recreational runners, being able to run further is nearly always at the heart of your goals. But sometimes, these aspirations become hindered by pain and niggles. How can you add extra mileage to weekly training without increasing the risk of injury?
The impact caused by running has been shown to actually increase bone density, in effect reducing the risk of osteoarthritis. That said, too much running can be bad for you, and there we have the number one cause of running-related injury – inappropriate training levels.
In contrast to other physical activities, like football or swimming, running just involves slipping on some shoes and getting out the door. Studies suggest that inappropriate training is responsible for 80 per cent of running-related injury. So, when it comes to organising your sessions, you are the boss; you have to take charge. Don’t overdo volume or frequency, and avoid thinking you have to run every day to get fit – you can still improve fitness and stamina on three or four good quality runs per week.
Have a training plan
One of the best ways to take charge is to have a training plan that you can stick to. If your body is used to having a whole day off between running sessions, doing two days in a row not only adds a sudden increase to weekly mileage but also decreases recovery time. Both of these are significant factors in increasing the risk of injury.
The total running load you place on your body can be increased in three ways: running further (increase mileage), running harder (increase speed or incline), or running more often (increase frequency). The golden rule for getting more from your body without inviting injury is to avoid simultaneous increases in these factors.
Very often, runners will add, for example, some interval sprints to their week but continue adding miles to their long run. Safe training is all about periodisation, that is dividing the months/year into a series of manageable phases (called mesocycles) in which you concentrate on developing just one of these factors. Hill work, for example, can be great for developing strength but if you’re going to start six weeks of hills then make sure you reduce the distance of long runs.
Enjoy monthly recovery
In the quest to increase our mileage, we often hear of the ’10 per cent rule’, which means ensuring that increases in weekly mileage are no more than 10 per cent. Modern research adds an interesting spin to this by pointing out that the adaption of the body to stress/demand is not always linear. The body may well adapt better during a period in which no extra stress is added (particularly in the case of bone stress).
Olympic coach Jack Daniel’s ‘Equilibrium Method’ suggests that you increase your mileage gradually to a new level and then stay at that level for three to four weeks before increasing again. Other coaches put a ‘down’ week into training plans once a month, when you decrease your running mileage by 10-20 per cent.
Be prepared for lifestyle changes
Adding distance to your training sessions can feel great but will have a knock-on effect on your regular routine. This can create stress, something that will sap your energy and increase the risk of injury. Make sure you talk to the people around you – let them know you still value them.
Adding mileage also means you will need more recovery time. Modern research stresses the importance of quality sleep with some studies suggesting that anything less than eight hours can increase the risk of injury. Robbing sleep hours to create more time for running is counterproductive. You are asking your body to perform more on less fuel, which is not going to happen.
Organise your food intake
Sleep is one part of recovery; the other is nutrition. Skipping breakfast or lunch to allow for an extra run is, again, counterproductive. During your run, you break down muscle. You then have a two-hour opportunity immediately after the workout to replenish the body with protein for repair and adaption, and carbohydrates which as well as stimulating protein synthesis also refills depleted glycogen stores. If you’re planning to increase mileage, chances are you will need to take a good look at food preparation and eating times.
Matt Phillips is a running injury and performance specialist and host of the podcast Runchatlive runchatlive.com