Injuries are common in any sport and running is no different. Luckily, with running, most of these injuries are preventable with the proper preparation. Due to the distance ultra runners put in, a little more preparation and other work is important in order to prevent injuries in order to continue training and racing.
The “core” is a very popular term used in the fitness and rehab world, perhaps overused at times. Regardless, it plays a huge roll into how our body functions. Without good trunk and core control, the extremities, arms and legs, cannot functional well either. Along with this, as the muscles that stabilize your spine during your long runs start to fatigue, increased motion occurs in the spine, resulting in postural changes, biomechanics changes, and occasionally pain, numbness or tingling.
So what does this mean for you?
When you start running, most likely you are standing up nice and tall through your torso, possibly a slight forward lean to help with momentum and efficiency. As your miles and hours of running increase through a run, whether a training run or a race, you muscles may start to fatigue along your spine if they have not built up the proper endurance.
As the muscles fatigue along the spine, it is not uncommon to see and increased forward lean, increased extension through the spine, and increased rotation in the pelvis. When this occurs, due to the position changes in the spine and where the nerves come out of the spine, it can cause pain in the back, hips, or even down into the legs and feet.
Most runners, run…just run. Unfortunately, running does not make your legs (or hips) stronger. It makes them lean and toned, but the strength is not developed unless you truly take time to strengthen them.
Why is hip strength so important? It helps maintain the proper mechanics and control in your legs as you run. Maintaining proper control and mechanics is how you keep yourself from getting injured. When the hip stability starts to fatigue (or wasn’t there in the first place), the leg tends to fall inward slightly. This causes abnormal stress to the muscles in the posterior hips (butt) and down the side of your leg as well as abnormal torque/stress on your knee.
Over time, the increased stress placed through the leg with every single step can (and likely will) result in an injury. It is not a matter of “if” but more a matter of “when.”
I hound on foot strength and control a lot, but that is because it plays such a huge roll and is very underplayed in most people.
When the foot does not have good control, the foot and arch tend to collapse, causing abnormal forces on the knee and hip as well as increased stress on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the knees. Over time, this can cause a lot of different issues in the foot and up the leg, including Plantar Fasciitis, ankle pain, knee pain, hip pain, and low back pain, just to name a few. By strengthening the foot and controlling these forces, you can significantly decrease your risk of injury.
Training properly for an ultra race is important. Your body needs to be fully prepared for the miles you will be putting on it during the race.
It is a fine line to not let yourself get overtrained and injured, but also ramping up mileage enough to not get injured come race day.
I talk to runners frequently who either didn’t start training in time or are coming off injury and want to be able to run a marathon or longer in 6-8 weeks. This is just not smart, and essentially setting them up for re-injury to the area or injury to a new area.
In these cases, one of two things can happen.
- You ramp up the mileage too quickly, which does not allow your body to adjust to the increased forces and stresses being placed upon it. This results in injuries to bone, muscle, tendon, and/or ligaments.
- You don’t increase your mileage enough in time, which causes increased stress on your body on race day, resulting in injury from the unexpected forces and stresses your body is required to deal with on that day.
I put this last, but it is in no way least important. Proper nutrition and hydration also protect our bodies from injury.
If you don’t consume the proper amount of total calories, protein for maintaining and building muscle, and carbohydrates and fats for energy, your body will not have the necessary energy required for both your performance as well as maintaining the integrity of all your soft tissues.
Water and electrolytes are required to keep your muscles firing, organs functioning, and brain functioning at it’s peak. Just a 2% loss of body weight in water cause causes a severe decrease in performance, including the possibility of muscle cramping as you continue to become further dehydrated.
What does this all mean for you in regards to injuries? It means if you are not taking in good nutrition to get all your energy sources as well as necessary nutrients to maintain your electrolytes, you are more likely to sustain an injury, especially as your mileage increases.
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