How to Properly Train for Long Distance Running

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The following is an excerpt from the American Physical Therapy Association’s Guide to Healthy Running

Why do you run? For some, it’s about setting goals or staying fit. Others love being part of the running community and the freedom running can provide. No matter the reason, the rewards are undeniable.

Developing muscle strength and aerobic capacity have benefits in the long term. Most runners live longer than non-runners.1 According to a 21-year study, runners have longer lifespans and are less likely to develop a disability. 

What’s more, the downsides aren’t as bad as previously thought. Many runners think they’ll pay for abusing their knees, but studies show runners are no more likely to develop osteoarthritis of the knee than non-runners.2 If you understand and maintain proper form, your risk diminishes even further.

Physical therapists are experts in restoring and improving motion in people’s lives and can help runners improve performance, prevent injury, and get back to running. And, if an injury does occur then a physical therapist can treat it. Many physical therapists are runners themselves and subscribe to a runner’s philosophy: It’s about hard work and constant improvement. Just because you have an injury does not mean your running days are over.

 

THE STARTING LINE

Whether you’re returning to running or just beginning, it’s important to ease into a routine to allow your body to adapt. Gradually increase distance to establish a base of fitness. After you have developed a base of fitness you can gradually increase your speed and pace over time. Don’t set out to win your age group in your first race. This approach will likely lead you to an injury.

As you prepare for a race, listen to your body. Because your muscles are adjusting to the stresses of running, you may need to take a day or two off. It’s important to try to hit training program targets, but don’t stick so firmly to a program that you ignore warning signs and injure yourself. Increasing your weekly running distance by more than 10 percent from week to week can be unsafe.

Runners in their mid-30s and older should take age into consideration when returning to running or starting a regimen for the first time. Their bodies have changed and they must make adjustments to their training routines to accommodate these changes. Take time to adjust, and build your base mileage before training for a race. Ambitious goals can sometimes make you ignore pain, which can lead to injury.

 

PROPER TRAINING AND COMMON MISTAKES

Train well, race well. Physical therapist Robert Gillanders, PT, DPT, OCS, subscribes to this philosophy for himself and for the runners he trains.

Making purpose and intensity part of training requires knowledge of proper training and form. Consider the following training myths:

 Myth 1: Recovery is a break from training

Recovery time isn’t a break from training, it is part of it. Runners, particularly those at the Master’s (40+) level, can consider taking recovery time every third week instead of every fourth week during a marathon training program.

 Consider using cross training, such as the elliptical or bike, to substitute for recovery runs to give your legs a break. This allows you to rest your legs while remaining on track for a successful race.

Myth 2: Push through the pain

Runners know how to handle pain. But how do you determine what pain is normal and what is cause for alarm? Muscle soreness that eases as you run can be normal. However, pain you should be concerned about may have one or more of the following characteristics:

   Pain that does not subside within several hours after running

   On a pain scale of 1-10 (10 being worse pain), pain that exceeds 3 while running

   Pain that wakes you up at night

   Persistent pain that worsens when you run

   Pain that persists in the same area, every time you run

A physical therapist can help determine the cause of the problem and recommend effective cross training exercises, identify when poor form may be contributing to your pain, and prescribe necessary changes in training to allow the body to repair itself.

Myth 3: You can zone out on a run

Running can clear your mind and provide stress relief. However, thinking about your form while running can help you make subtle improvements.

“Listen to how you run,” Gillanders advises. “Notice how you strike the ground. Does it sound the same on both sides, or is one foot strike louder?

Notice where your foot lands relative to your body. Is it in front of you, or relatively underneath you, which is often less stressful? Recognize that as you fatigue, your form is more likely to be compromised.” Usually when a runner’s form is compromised mechanical stress increases and injury can soon follow.  

Click here to sign up for a 60 minute full body comprehensive running assessment by a Doctor of Physical Therapy who is a running biomechanics expert.

Assessment includes flexibility and strength screening, video gait analysis, footwear evaluation, and on the spot advice to improve your running performance.