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“Not even Wensleydale?”

Some members of the Club, especially the extra mature ones, may have disagreed with my Need for Speed premise articles. When I encourage members to do speed sessions I often get a negative response, with the excuse: “I’ll get injured if I do speed work”. Well, sadly, it’s an excuse, not a good reason. And as Mark Twain said “for every failure there’s a thousand excuses but no good reason”. As you can tell I think they’re wrong. And here’s why.

Firstly, nothing in life is certain and everything we do is a balance of risk and reward. There is a risk of getting injured if you do speed work not correctly, but there’s great reward to your running. Not doing speed work is also a risk. It results in less strength and diminishing range of movement. The consequences of those are slower races and increased risk of a chronic injury.

So if you are thinking, “Oh no, not speed. Sorry. Brings me out in a rash. Can't stand the stuff”, I hope to address your concerns so that you don’t miss out on this really important opportunity to improve your running and reduce your risk of injury.

So, what is the risk of injury from speed training and how can we reduce it to an acceptable level? As you know from my previous speed related blogs, when you run faster you apply more force into the ground and move further in the air each stride. You may increase your cadence but most increase in speed comes from a longer stride, and that’s where the risk comes from. Running faster than your race pace means you must apply more force into the ground and absorb more force on landing your foot. This results in more “shock loading” on your joints and the stabilising muscles and tendons than they are used to. It also requires your muscles to contract faster and probably over a greater range of movement. Now when you run at race pace, your body can manage these forces and movements, so it should be able to do so at a slightly faster pace but for a shorter time. Also, this is how the body develops, from “progressive overload”. In running faster than your race pace you are slightly damaging the muscles’ fibres and when you stop, your body repairs them in a way that makes them stronger than before. And that’s why training works.

Since I have been sprinting I have really begun to understand the importance of the warm up and what you do to ensure your body is ready to train. In sprint training there are two main types of training: training to be able to sprint and sprinting. I believe that this also applies to endurance runners. The "ability to train" is everything you do that is not running at race pace, eg gym work, cycling and so on, plus your long slow (HRZ 2) run and even tempo runs. All of these activities not done running at race pace enable you to have the strength and fitness to train to maintain/improve your race pace. Then to train to improve your race pace you need to run faster than your race pace.

Where endurance runners, in particular, go wrong is in two aspects: firstly, the warm-up; secondly, training when already fatigued. I will produce another article about Warm-ups (did I hear groaning?) as my observation is that most runners don’t really know what they’re doing to make sure their body (and indeed mind) is ready for the activity they’re about to do. So, here I will be brief. You need to warm the body up and move your limbs over and slightly beyond what you will need them to do in the session. So, a couple of laps jogging is not sufficient or appropriate for a warm up for an intervals or hills session. That’s why there a range of dynamic stretches and drills available to help prepare your body for the task ahead. Also, if arriving late for a session, it’s usually the warm-up that gets dropped rather than the first couple of efforts. Needless to say, you run a risk of getting injured or you run within yourself and so actually don’t get the benefit of the session. How do I know these things happen? "Guilty, as charged!"

One thing to consider is the amount of time required to warm up is inversely proportional to the distance of the efforts, or put another way, the higher the required intensity, the longer the warm up required. For example, this week I joined Luke’s Berry Hills session which included some short fast efforts. Now I could have driven to the Leisure Centre and jogged to Berry Hill, but knowing I was going to be running fast (for me) and after a couple of weeks off, I ran the mile to the Leisure Centre to ensure I was really warmed up. Consequently, while the other runners were running up and down Berry Hill to warm up (Please note that I adapted Luke’s session and that what he planned as a warmup was totally appropriate for the session), I was doing some mobility drills to ensure the big motive muscles were really warmed and mobile for the sprinting I intended to do. NB I also tire easily! This meant I had quite a long warm-up and although I was slightly sore from the efforts a day later, at no time did I feel that I was on the limit of what my body could do, despite being at 95%+ of maximum speed effort. So a good warm-up is one requirement for avoiding injury when running, whether speed or going for a long steady run.

The other thing about my running this week was that because I hadn’t trained for a couple of weeks, I was well rested and my muscles, although probably a little weaker from the exercise abstinence, were really “refreshed”. And that’s important. Some Endurance runners have a tendency to go running at almost every opportunity! This is generally a waste of their time but is mostly harmless - “junk miles”, as they’re called in the business. However, if too frequent training means you turn up to do a faster session, eg tempo or intervals, then there’s an increased risk that your muscles will not only fatigue quicker but also tighten up, despite your now excellent warm-up, because some of the muscle fibres are already damaged, leaving the fewer remaining fibres to be used, and this makes your muscles weaker and so more liable to overload and tearing. This is why I recommend ensuring you monitor your recovery, so you know that your body has fully recovered from the last activity before doing the next one. To improve, quality is far more important than quantity, so ensure you have high quality training sessions by being properly rested, rather than doing lots of training at lower than ideal effort or form, as technique really suffers when training tired (anyone seeing me do the last ten seconds of the full Berry Hill sprint will know exactly what I mean!).

In summary, I can understand why some members worry about injury risk from speed work, as the body is put under greater strain than for all other types of running, but there’s simple means of reducing the risk significantly by good quality warm-ups and ensuring you’re not already fatigued, that will get you the significant improvements you desire and actually help reduce your risk of injury from all the other running you do, including, especially, going after that PB in a race.

PS Apologies to Aardman Animations for adapting their dialogue from “A Close Shave!”

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