How To Run More Without Getting Injured 

A training—injury prevention paradox that will

change your mind! 

Richard is seeking to run a new personal best, and thanks to some actionable tips from Running Smarter, he now understands that to run a new personal best, step one is to increase his weekly km. At first, this sounds like a simple, albeit demanding challenge, but as Richard sits down to consider this challenge, beginning to review his training plan, seeking opportunities to run more, questions quickly begin to arise.

 

How Many Kilometers Per Week Do You Need To Run?

You are unique, and therefore you have our own unique running history and your own unique running goals. To begin answering this question, let us first determine what the gold standard is, allowing us to reverse engineer this standard to your unique goal. In this case, we have Paula Radcliffe. Paula reportedly ran an outstanding 200km/week in her prime (source: Prof. Andrew Jones, Paula Radcliffe’s Physiologist), a weekly running load that allowed her to run a marathon in just 2:15:25. A world record that stood the test of time for 16 years. Unlike a full-time elite distance runner, you have work, family and lifestyle commitments that make running 200km/week almost impossible to achieve. So how much should you run per week?

 

Thankfully, science has the answer.  As part of a research study, over 2000 amateur runners were asked exactly this question (1). How much do you run per week? And what is your recent race performance for the distances of 5km, 10km, Half Marathon and Marathon? So, what did the researchers find? The absolute upper limits of the benefits of running more appear to plateau at 128 km per week for your 5km race day performance, and 160 km per week for your 10km, half marathon and marathon race day performance. But how much faster can you run by simply increasing your weekly km?

 

Preparing for a marathon? By simply increasing your average weekly training km from 48km/week to 80km/week, you can expect to decrease your marathon time by just over 16 minutes as a male and over 21 minutes as a female (1). But why? By simply training more, you can increase your VO2 max (your ceiling for aerobic respiration - it's your physiological capacity in terms of distance running). Perhaps best exemplified by Bente Skari, a 5-time Cross-Country Ski World Champion, who increased her VO2 max from 65 mL·kg–1·min–1 to an outstanding 74 mL·kg–1·min–1 in parallel to increasing her annual training hours from 335.5 to 745 hours.  But Bente was not a runner, and, therefore, didn’t have to cope with the forces of approximately 3* her body mass with every step (for a 65kg runner = 195kg/step), allowing her to sustain a much greater volume of training hours than a runner ever could (1).

 

How To Increase Your Weekly Kilometres Without Getting Injured?

The value of increasing your weekly km to the heights of 160km/week is clear and undeniable. But HOW do you get to where you want to be from where you are now. Should you simply try running 160km next week? In one word, no. A dramatic increase in your running load is likely to result in one outcome – injury. Such injuries include but are not limited to, Achilles tendinopathy, calf strains, and stress fractures. Indeed, as many as 1 in 2 runners suffer from Achilles tendinopathy at some stage during their running endeavors (2). The consequence of an injury is clear - an inability to run and thus an inability to improve, preventing you from running faster. But does this mean that you should wrap yourself in cotton wool until race day?  

 

Running Smarter Wins The Day

Running more will likely improve your race day performance, but can running more also reduce your risk of injury? It seems like an odd thing to say - doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what the science tells us (3). By running more, you will increase your ability to tolerate variations in your running load, thus this will act as ‘vaccine’ against injuries. The trick, however, is the HOW? How do you get there?

 

You can achieve this by training in the ‘sweet spot’ - maximising your running performance by utilising an appropriate training load, whilst simultaneously limiting the negative consequences of training (i.e. injury, illness, and fatigue). You can achieve this by calculation. Divide the workload that you plan to do next week (acute load) by your rolling average workload over the past four weeks (chronic load), otherwise known as your acute: chronic workload ratio. To minimise your risk of injury and to maximise your running potential you should aim to maintain an acute: chronic workload ratio between 0.8-1.2, considered the ‘sweet spot’. Conversely, a ratio above 1.5 would be considered the ‘danger zone’, increasing your risk of injury (3). But what metric should you use to calculate your acute and chronic workload?

 

As a runner you could use distance ran time spent running, average running intensity. Or you could plan and monitor your training by using one neat metric, your T-Score. A T-Score will consider both the time that you spend running and your average running intensity, providing you with a more accurate acute: chronic workload ratio, and this is what I use for the runners that I coach.   

 

Summary

Richard can increase his chance of running a new personal best without getting injured by running smarter. To do this, however, Richard will need to set some time aside to carefully plan his journey to success at the onset. A process that will require careful monitoring throughout to recalculate his acute: chronic workload ratio, as his training plan is adapted and changed in view of his response to the training and when real life gets in the way, meaning that he misses a session or two.

References

(1) Vickers, A.J. and Vertosick, E.A. An empirical study of race times in recreational endurance runners. BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2016; 8(1) 26.​

(2) Scott, A., Huisman, E. and Khan, K. Conservative treatment of chronic Achilles tendinopathy. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2011; 183(10) 1159-1165.

(3) Gabbett, T.J. The training—injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder? British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2016; 50(5) 273-280.

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