Training for a Road Race: How to Avoid Bumps in the Road

Training for a Road Race: How to Avoid Bumps in the Road

Runners should add stretching to their daily routine, making sure their calves and Achilles tendons aren’t tight to avoid injury.

This article was originally featured in HealthHub: The Brigham and Women’s Hospital Health Blog.

    Written by:

    Elizabeth G. Matzkin, MD, surgical director of the Women’s Sports Medicine Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and team physician for Stonehill College Athletics, and Emily Brook, research assistant in the Women’s Sports Medicine Program at BWH.

Every runner should have a training plan that gradually builds intensity as race day approaches. As any runner knows, there are almost always physical setbacks during training. Some injuries may go away quickly, while others may linger. In this post, we explain some of the most common running overuse injuries and what you should do to get back on track.

Runner’s Knee:

What is it and why does it happen?
Also known as patellofemoral pain syndrome, runner’s knee – which can occur in one or both knees – is one of the most common training setbacks. When your thigh muscles are weak, it causes your knee cap (patella) to be slightly displaced and rub against other structures. This can lead to pain around the knee cap during running or walking, grinding or crunching noises as your knee moves, and difficulty going up or down stairs or getting up from a chair.

How can I make it better?
Rest and rehab are the keys to getting back to your training plan. Running through the pain will often make it worse. Reduce your mileage and cross-train with a swimming, bike, or elliptical workout. It’s important that your daily routine includes exercises that target the weaknesses in your thigh muscle groups – quadriceps, hip flexors, glutes, and hamstrings – to get your knee cap back in its optimal position.

IT Band Syndrome:

What is it and why does it happen?
Illiotibial (IT) band syndrome symptoms include pain on the outside or lateral aspect of the knee, pain when walking or running, swelling, and difficulty going up or down stairs. The IT band runs from the hip and attaches to the outside of the knee. IT band syndrome is a common overuse injury, often caused by logging too many miles too quickly or adding hills to the training program. It also can be caused by poor running form. Overuse or improper form causes the IT band to become irritated and inflamed where it attaches to the knee, causing pain or localized swelling.

How can I make it better?
Similar to treating runner’s knee, rest and rehab are both important for resolving IT band pain. First, reduce mileage and cross-train. It also is important to stretch and maximize strength in your hip flexors and abductors to reduce stress on the IT band. You also may want to see a running coach or have your gait analyzed to ensure proper running form.

Shin Splints:

What is it and why does it happen?
Shin splints are often the catch-all term for pain in the lower legs during running and are the hallmark of overuse injuries. Symptoms include pain on the front or inside of your shin during or shortly after a run. Shin pain also can be indicative of a more serious problem, such as a stress reaction or stress fracture.

Shin splints are caused by doing too much, too soon. Trying to increase mileage or add hills too quickly are common culprits. The resulting overuse places excessive stress on bone and muscle tissue, causing irritation and pain.

How can I make it better?
Tone it down! Your body needs a balance of training, rest, and proper nutrition to get ready for race day. If you feel persistent shin pain while running, stop and stretch. Cross-training workouts, like swimming, biking, or elliptical workouts, can take the impact off of your shins, while still providing you with a solid workout. You also should add stretching to your daily routine, making sure your calves and Achilles tendons aren’t tight. If pain persists, consult a doctor immediately to rule out something more serious, like a stress fracture.

Training for a road race should be challenging and fun. The most successful training plans are those that strike a balance between rest and training. If you feel persistent pain, you should consult a medical professional to diagnose the source of your pain and get you back on track. It is a long road to race day – be smart with your training, listen to your body, and have fun!

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