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Managing injury in a marathon training block

If you, like many others, are embarking on your journey of training for a 2024 marathon this month, you may find that you pick up an injury of niggle along the way, and this can be a cause of anxiety for lots of runners.

So, what can you do to ensure that you still reach your marathon goals?

1. Seek professional opinion

As much as social media might provide you with a plausible diagnosis, it fails to take into consideration contributing factors that may have led to the injury, such as planning, work-life balance, sleep and family life to name but a few.

2. Don’t panic!

With the correct diagnosis and treatment plan from your physio, you should, in most cases, still be able to continue training. It may look a little different to what you had originally planned, but the results can be just as good, if not better.

3. Respect healing times

It doesn’t matter who you are or how much money you throw at something, your tissue will only heal and adapt in its own time. Muscles, tendons, bones, and ligaments all take time to get stronger and adapt, therefore a weekly massage, as nice as it may be, won’t be as effective as a thorough review albeit less frequently, and a well-structured training and rehab plan.

4. Don’t fear the use of cross-training

Many of the world’s best runners use it very successfully. Consider how you can create a consistent training load and avoid the most common training errors.

These include:

  • Doing too much too soon
  • Doing too much mileage for your fitness level and recovery
  • Running too quickly on your easy sessions
  • Not listening to your body
  • Not considering ‘non-specific training loads’ such as your job and family

When training for a marathon, the biggest risk factor for injury is ramping up the mileage too quickly. Therefore, consider the purpose of each session. Yes, the long run is important, but the easier runs can equally be replicated on a static bike or cross-trainer, ideally swapping like for like. After all, the main purpose of these is cardiovascular development.

Some examples of this could be: 

  • A 30 min run, replaced with a 30 min easy bike, working at the same intensity.
  • 4x1mile at target race pace with 2 min recovery (9min/mile for example) on the bike; this would equate to 4x9mins at the same intensity off a slightly shorter recovery (60-90sec) due to the lack of impact on the static bike.
  • 10×60 sec hills with jog back recovery would equate to 10×60 sec hard on the bike with high resistance off 2 min recovery.

5. Build the running up gradually

Using a treadmill can be a great way to ensure you can stop quickly if you need to and not have to trek miles home if your injury is still not quite ready. You can also split the session, with the first part running and the latter part cross-training.

6. Don’t be afraid to miss a day or two

There is some research showing that a person loses approximately 50 percent of their acquired fitness when they do absolutely no training for 12 days. There are even some adaptations that you keep for at least three months, namely the cardiovascular adaptations of heart size and muscle capillary density. So, you missing a day or two in a training block won’t hugely impact your fitness.
Most runners are able to build the endurance required for a marathon by simply getting in the miles however, to perform optimally and reach your race day goal, strength training is also essential.

It is therefore worth asking yourself: Is your body strong enough to achieve the demands that you are asking of it? A common mistake is neglecting the need to incorporate strength work into your training. Yes, it might mean sacrificing a run, but it can significantly reduce your risk of injury (up to 50%) and improve your performance by as much as 5%, along with enhancing your running economy by up to 8% if completed two to three times a week.

From your injury to race day, build a plan or if needed plan for the next one. Even better, enlist the help of an experienced coach professional and don’t let those goals and ambitions slip away.


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