Event training and injury often go hand in hand. With competition season (and finally spring!) upon us, a lot of people are training hard and ticking off the weeks on various exercise schedules. Whatever you’ve been training for, a 5km run, a half or full marathon, biathlon, triathlon or ironman, it’s likely you’ll have had a training routine in place to keep you on track over the past few months. It comes as no coincidence therefore that with various races looming, we’ve seen a large number of people walk through the clinic room door recently with a number of running, swimming and cycling injuries. These injuries have ranged from the foot, knee, hip and back, all the way up to the neck, encompassing nearly every body part we can think of. We’ve diagnosed plantar fasciitis, ankle ligament sprains, patellofemoral pain syndrome, lateral ligament knee sprains, piriformis syndrome, back muscle spasm, shoulder impingement and neck muscle tightness – and these have been the most common diagnoses with a few less common ones thrown in for good measure to keep us on our toes.
Irrespective of what the problem’s been and which part has been injured, the majority of problems we’ve seen have virtually all started whilst event training. Be it a small niggle, a slight dull aching sensation or a sudden onset of pain, most of the people we’ve seen have felt a slight onset of pain during a long run, a long cycle ride or swim or when cross training in the gym. As fate may have it, when out running or cycling, these problems often typically arise when you’re the furthest you can be from home and yes, it’s normally raining and/or your bike has then picked up a puncture resulting in a slow, wet walk home. All injuries are frustrating and annoying and when you feel that twinge it’s all together too common to try and ignore it. With your event training race schedule in mind, there’s always a determination to finish your mileage for the day – after all, if you’re on track and trying to run 18 miles on a Sunday then there’s no injury that’s going to stop you from doing it! That’s what the stubborn part of your brain often tells you at least so you find yourself running or cycling home with that knee, ankle or hip pain becoming progressively more uncomfortable the closer you get to your front door. However, it still feels just about manageable so you manage to limp home in one piece.
Often, the initial pain that you feel when exercising is a good indicator that something isn’t quite right. Injuries can’t always be attributed to tripping or falling or having a direct trauma. Instead, the repetitive motion of running, cycling, swimming etc places parts of your body under a greatly increased load which after a twenty mile training session can start to give you problems. One of the main worries when we see people in the clinic is how long any injury is going to stop them from training. This is one of the major difficulties when following an event training schedule because after all those weeks of training and staying on track, suddenly missing a few training sessions can make you feel really anxious about falling behind and not managing to get enough runs/bike rides etc under your belt prior to race day. However, if your injury is painful now after running 16 miles, how painful do you think it will be at mile 22 or when transferring from your swim leg to your bike?
The most challenging aspect therefore when event training to a schedule is choosing to opt out of the schedule for a week or two in order to let an injury recover. This is however exactly what an injury can need in order to heal and to enable you to get back to training. If you’ve followed your training schedule to the letter so far and have managed to put a few long runs/bike rides in already, then the chances are, taking a week or two out of your schedule won’t be too detrimental to your overall conditioning and performance. It can be hard psychologically but physically it’s far better to rest up and seek treatment and advice for your injury rather than to continue to train on it and make matters worse. If you don’t allow sufficient recovery time for any injury then you may well struggle to start, let alone finish on race day. Additionally, whilst that race date is what you’re training for, the reason you’re planning to run a marathon or do an ironman is normally because you enjoy running, swimming, cycling outside of any specific competition dates. If you train on an injury just so that you can complete that race, chances are it will stop you from doing your chosen sport all together and you’ll have a longer recovery period. Our lecture’s over. Get advice, give your body time to recover and pay attention to any small niggles when training.