It’s one month before the marathon, training’s been going well, you’ve stuck to the plan and you’re on course to do a PB. Then out of nowhere disaster strikes; at the end of a training run you feel a twinge in your calf and have to pull up. You think I’ll leave it a couple of days and try again, but next time the pain comes on and after only a mile! You try to work out what you have done wrong, but nothing comes to mind. You’ve been stretching regularly, keeping hydrated, had your trainers checked, biomechanics are good and you’ve stuck to the training plan to the letter. So what has triggered this pain now and at such an inopportune moment?
This situation is one I see regularly in clinical practice especially in the build-up to the London Marathon. People get themselves in the perfect shape physically and feel they’ve taken everything they can into consideration, good trainers, stretching regularly, diet, regular massage etc. The one thing that people often overlook is the stress and pressure that running a marathon can create, both physically and mentally. It can be incredibly time consuming fitting the training in for a marathon, particularly if you have a full time job and a family, which can create extra pressure. Often people get back from work, get their trainers on and head straight out, giving themselves no time to relax before going into intensive exercise. If you’ve had a difficult day at work, you can spend the whole run recycling the problems you’ve had. There may also be the added pressure of trying to raise money for the charity and not wanting to let down the charity and the friends and family who have given you money. There may also be pressure that you’re putting on yourself to do a good time or a PB. All of these factors can lead to increased stress and pressure and this will lead to more tension in your muscles and more activity in the central nervous system increasing the risk of pain and injury.
Another common problem with runners that I see, is the curse of a previous injury. I see a lot of runners who have had an injury in their calf, ITB or hamstring, who then fixate on the problem whilst they are doing subsequent runs. By checking in on that area to see if it is tight or painful it will actually make the area tight and could lead to pain. If you go for a run and only focus on that area, one you will probably make it worse and two you won’t enjoy the run.
So what can you do to reduce stress and help to prevent pain and injuries? Well first of all ask yourself ‘are you running stressed?’ If you are getting back from work and heading straight out for a run, your muscles may be tighter than they need to be. Instead, try taking an extra 10-15 minutes to switch off before heading out. During this time you could also try some breathing techniques to help relax. Mindfulness breathing exercises are a great way to focus your attention and to help relax muscles. You could do this before or during a run.
If you are putting pressure on yourself to get a good time and are constantly checking your watch during a run, this may be making you more tense when running. Likewise if you are constantly checking your calf or ITB, it will also make you more tense and may lead to pain. Instead before you go for a run, try telling yourself that you are just going to enjoy the run. Maybe pay attention to the scenery as you run rather than focusing on your time or on your body.
Next time you go for a run just acknowledge what you are thinking about and see if it could be causing you added pressure. If so, try some of the techniques suggested.
Good luck for the Marathon and happy running!