Monday, March 17, 2014

Running With Illness or Injury

I was going back through some blog entries I had written years ago and found this one from early 2010 that I thought was worth sharing again.  

Running with Illness or Injuries 

I'd like to share with you my guidelines for running with injury or illness.

We are all susceptible to the occasional common cold or virus.  When these occasions hit, runners and their coaches must then decide when to back off training and when to run through it.  Here are the basic guidelines I use to decide when to push on and when to back off.

1)  If there is a fever present then no running is allowed
2)  If there is stomach distress (nausea, vomiting or diarrhea) then no running is allowed
3)  If congestion is present and lingers more than a couple of days, then runs are cut back to 50% of the normally scheduled amount and stress days are replaced with 50% of a normal easy day.  This is done for 1-3 days or until feeling back to normal again.
4)  If you are in the first few days of congestion, or what might be the onset of a cold, and you start a stress workout and feel drained (sub-par), cut the workout short and take a couple of days of half runs (see #3).  
5)  If light congestion is present but you are feeling and breathing normal, continue training and closely monitor the symptoms.

While we can't take off every time we have a sniffle, if we continue to push ourselves when our bodies are sick, we can end up having to take a week or more off when our cold/virus becomes more severe (infection or pneumonia).  By cutting back to 50% of normal for a few days we often give the body the extra help it needs to fight off the illness in a timely manner so we can get back to training with minimal disruption. Additionally, the 50% work that we do helps us maintain our fitness and running adaptations while sparking the immune system.  Often just a few days of this makes a world of difference.  As a coach I can work a training program around an occasional 2-3 half workout load days much easier than I can a 2 week break to recover from pneumonia.

Example:  If I start to feel run down from the on-set of a common cold and I normally have an 8 mile easy run schedules, I'd cut that run to just 4 miles easy.  Or if I had a 30 minute tempo planned, I would change that to an easy run of 4 miles instead.  

The majority of injuries distance runners face are over use related.  So prevention is a key aspect.  Here is a few of the things to keep in mind to prevent injuries.

1)  Make sure you don't increase the quantity or quality in your program too quickly, slow and gradually changes are the key.
2)  Make sure your quality workouts and long runs are in the proper proportion to your weekly mileage.
3)  Follow a sound core and strength routine to maintain proper balance between muscle groups.
4)  Follow a warm-up/cool-down/flexibility routine that keeps a full range of motion in all muscle groups and joints.
5)  Make sure you are using the proper equipment - check your shoes regularly for wear and take the time to get properly fitted for the shoe type best for your form.  
6)  Watch the cantor (sideways slope) of your running route.  If you run on the roads often, regularly change the direction of your run loops so that you don't develop knee, hip or ankle problems from running always on one side (slope) of the road.  
7)  Diligence in the little things (like following #1-6 above) can make a ton of difference in trying to keep injuries at bay.

But even with the best prevention, occasionally aches, pains, nicks or even full injuries can happen.  So how do we decide what we can run through and when we need some time off or to see a doctor?  Here are some of the basic guidelines I use (but remember I am not a doctor).

1)  If the injury, or pain from it, alters your stride or form then do not run.
2)  If pain/discomfort decreases as you run (sore at first but better as time goes by) then you can do some light running (being careful of duration and intensity).
3)  If pain/discomfort increases as you run, then do not run or discontinue the run you are on and start treatment for the injury.

Treat minor aches and pains before they become injuries
Most runners in serious training are familiar with the minor aches and pains that come along with pushing the envelope in training.  A sore tendon, a sore muscle, or aching joint, etc.  The best advice I can offer is to treat these promptly before they become full on injuries.  Some of the tools for treating aches and pains can include:

- Icing the area after exercise/activity
- Ice baths / warm Epsom salt baths
- Specific stretching routines to address a problem area or cause area
- Specific exercises to strengthen weak muscles or correct imbalances before they get worse
- Contrast therapy 
- Rolling / massage or manipulation of the affected or cause areas

Cause - Look up the chain
Try and look for the root cause of a problem area or injury.  Often times you will not find the problem where it hurts but rather somewhere up the chain (or leg in this case).  Tight hips or lower back are often the culprit for IT band problems.  Foot problems are often tight calf related/caused.  Whenever possible make sure you are treating / dealing with the cause of the problem as well as the injury site itself.  This will help prevent relapses later on.

Hopefully you find a point or two in here that helps you out at some point. 

Happy Running,

Coach Mark Hadley