Don't let it hurt


MARATHON COUNTDOWN:In the second of our articles in the build-up to this year's Dublin marathon, chartered physiotherapist Catherine Cradock provides some dos and don'ts to help you avoid injury where possible, and manage it when it's not

YOU ARE probably aware at this stage that training for a marathon is as much an exercise in avoiding injury as it is in distance running. Running injuries tend to be related to overuse, or pushing your body too hard, too quickly, for too long.

If the tissues do not have enough time to recover, they are susceptible to strains and tears. The best course of action is to prevent the injury occurring in the first place.

So, when preparing for or recovering from the final, long outing of your training, the following points are even more pertinent than usual because doing things "by the book" will serve you better in the long run (if you'll pardon the pun).

Check your footwear

This is your main defence against injury. Guidelines advise changing running shoes every 400-600 miles, or every six months, whichever comes first. The weather can affect how your shoe wears, and as we know well this has been an exceptionally wet training season!

Running in wet or over-worn footwear, or inappropriate footwear for your foot type, affects the support offered by the shoe. This alters your foot control and the way your body moves.

Look at your running shoes; when you're wearing them, your arch should be well supported rather than flat or too high. With them off, try bending up the front - it should move but still be a little rigid.

If it folds over from toe to heel, it's time to go shopping. The same applies if the heel is worn down and uneven. If you need to replace your footwear at this stage, do so immediately - guidelines for mileage covered in your running shoes before racing in them vary from 60-100 miles, including a long run.

Do warm-up!

This is particularly important if you are running first thing in the morning or have been sitting down for most of the day. The aim is to increase body temperature and blood flow to your muscles and joints to allow them to work at their best and prevent cramp.

Do a slower than race pace jog or brisk walk to get the blood flowing. A common misconception is that people need to spend a lot of time stretching before they run- in fact, static stretching is more important as part of your cool-down and recovery.

Do cool down

Static stretching of the leg, particularly calf, hamstring (back of thigh muscles), quadriceps (front of thigh muscles) and hip muscles will make the muscles more flexible, allowing them to work more efficiently.

These muscles will tighten up after your long run, but stretching them several times daily in the few days after, and in the build-up to the race, will allow them to return to their normal flexibility.

While a hot shower or bath may seem inviting, in reality your muscles are already too warm. A lukewarm or cool/cold shower or short bath, and 10-20 minutes stretching afterwards will better serve your recovery.

A massage may also help. Allow adequate time for warm-up and cool-down - this can vary from 5-15 minutes, but feel the benefit before you stop.

Alternate your running

Alternate your running surface between road and grass to lessen the impact on your joints.

Ensure you hydrate well before, during and after a long run. If you wait until you are thirsty, you may already be dehydrated, making you vulnerable to cramp and muscle strain. Include sports drinks or gels in your fluid intake.

Recovery time

Do allow recovery time from your long run. You need this rest so that your muscles will regenerate and get stronger.

Don't ignore your body! Pain persisting during or after a run will more than likely flare up over 26.2 miles, so seek advice from a suitably qualified health professional. The sooner you get it looked after, the less of a disruption it will be to your training schedule or during the race itself.

Don't run when overtired

This can result in a loss of co-ordination, making you vulnerable to an overuse injury or to spraining a joint. A good sleep is more valuable than mileage in this case.

Don't run when sick

Running with a cold or chest infection, particularly, could damage your heart. Take the time needed to recover; it's not worth the risk.

Don't over-train

There is a good reason training programmes taper in the final few weeks - your body needs to stock up on its reserve fuel. Making up for lost mileage or trying to build speed in the final few weeks is a recipe for injury.

Stick to your schedule, and if you have to take time off from running, cross train with a low-impact exercise. Cycling, swimming, elliptical machine training and water running are all good ways of keeping up your fitness while giving joints a break.

Don't make any last-minute changes

Altering footwear, running gear or nutrition approaching race day can cause unexpected problems such as blistering, chafing, lethargy or injury.

A programme with suitable warm-up and cool-down has been designed specifically for runners, and can be found on the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists website at

Catherine Cradock is based at the Portobello Clinic (; tel: 01-476 3330)