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marathon training; 8 practical tips on preventing common running injuries

November 3, 2022
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A runner after a marathon training run in Eldoret. Photo by Justin Lagat

One of the most challenging decisions for any runner to make is to cancel their marathon race due to common running injuries derailing their marathon training. Unfortunately, injuries are usually the leading reasons most runners have had to cancel their races, and there are a lot of inconveniences involved from having to try and get refunds from hotels and airlines, contenting with the months wasted in training for the races, disappointing your fans and race organizers as an elites runner, among others.

Although, some runners will still live in denial; they attend their races only for them to step out of their races before reaching the finish line.

The proper thing for any runner to do is to try their best to avoid common running injuries during their marathon training by making some of the tips below part of their daily routines in their marathon training.

  • Warm up before your workouts.

Many running injuries in marathon training occur due to inadequate stretching, especially calf and hamstring injuries. Before and after your daily morning or evening runs, stretching your muscles for about 5 minutes is good.

It is also good to warm up for about five minutes before doing the stretching. You can do this by walking or by jogging very slowly. Sometimes, stretching cold muscles may cause injuries.

Warm up before you start running by doing an easy jog or dynamic mobility stretches such as the arm or leg swings for 5 minutes. You will need to warm up longer ahead of more demanding workouts like track intervals, Fartleks and Tempo Run. I usually recommend 15 minutes to my runners that I coach online on my Online Coaching Programs for Marathon training and Long Distance Running.

Runners training for a marathon in Kaptagat, Kenya. Photo by Justin Lagat
  • Increase your mileage gradually

Running requires patience. The body has to adapt to the harsh training conditions necessary to run well in a marathon. Therefore, a runner needs to have a long-term plan well ahead of their marathon race with a gradual approach to the long runs.

Most coaches will recommend the 10 percent rule. Runners should increase their weekly running volume by not more than 10 percent.

  • Listen to your body

There is an urge among runners training for a marathon to keep beating their times in training every week. Unfortunately, this may force one to overtrain, and one of the ways that the body signals you could be doing too much is by either getting ill or getting injured.

Don’t ignore pain. Address some nagging injuries right away before they develop into more serious ones. If you notice consistent pain in a muscle or joint, reduce your training intensity, or go off for a while. If it doesn’t get better with rest, seek advice from a certified physiotherapist.

A physical therapist can give you a proper diagnosis and provide you with a customized treatment plan.

  • Create a marathon training plan

If you are not working with a coach who understands your long-term plans and goals, you can make plans for yourself.

But I would highly recommend that you talk to a trainer because there are six reasons you need a running coach. First, a coach can help you create a running plan that aligns with your current fitness abilities and long-term goals.

  • Work on your running mechanics

Running happens through a mechanical process that yields kinetic energy. Therefore, force, effort and speed are all essential elements to work on to get the best results.

A poor running posture can increase the amount of stress on your muscles and joints. Working with a running coach or any other running expert can help you rectify some of your body movements that may need to be rectified.

  • Add strength training to your weekly marathon training program

Setting aside a day or two weekly to strengthen your core and other parts of your body is advisable.

Stretching after training runs help curb common running injuries

Include stability exercises in your marathon training program, such as pushups, planks, glute bridges, and squats, to help you protect your knees and ankles.

  • Run often on softer surfaces

Running on grass, rubber tracks, sand, or gravel is easier on your joints than on pavement. If you’re dealing with a nagging injury, try running on a soft surface until your pain subsides.

  • Do some cross-training

 Some injuries are caused by repetitive wear and tear on specific body parts like the knees and ankles. But, adding some low-impact workouts into your schedule, such as hiking,  cycling, walking or swimming can help improve your aerobic fitness while at the same time giving your joints a break from the repetitive impact of running.

Below are some of the common injuries during marathon training

Runner’s knee, or patellofemoral syndrome, is a general term that refers to pain in the front of your knee or around your kneecap. It’s a common overuse injury in sports that involve running or jumping. It causes cracking or popping sounds after prolonged periods of being stationary.

Weakness in your hips or the muscles around your knee can put you at a higher risk of developing a runner’s knee.

Achilles tendinitis refers to inflammation of the tendon that connects your calf muscle to your heel. It may happen after increasing your mileage or the intensity of your running.

If left untreated, Achilles tendinitis increases your risk of rupturing your Achilles tendon. If this tendon tears, it usually requires surgery to repair it.

IT band Syndrome. Your iliotibial band commonly referred to as your IT band, is a long piece of connective tissue that runs from your outer hip to your knee. This band of tissue helps stabilize your knee when you’re walking or running.

Repetitive friction of the IT band rubbing against your leg bone causes the IT band syndrome. It’s widespread in runners due to tight IT bands. Weak gluteal muscles, abdominals, or hips may also contribute to this condition.

IT band syndrome causes sharp pain on the outer side of your leg, usually just above your knee. Your IT band may also be tender to the touch. The pain often gets worse when you bend your knee.

Shin splints (tibial stress syndrome) refer to pain in the front or the inner parts of your lower legs, along your shinbone. Shin splints can happen when you increase your running volume too quickly, especially on hard surfaces.

Shin Splints are among common running injuries that affect the lower leg

In most cases, shin splints aren’t severe and go away with rest. However, if left untreated, they can develop into stress fractures.

Hamstring pull. Your hamstrings help decelerate your lower leg during the swing phase of your running cycle. If your hamstrings are tight, weak, or tired, they may be more prone to injury.

Unlike sprinters, it’s pretty uncommon for distance runners to experience a sudden hamstring tear. Instead, distance runners often experience hamstring strains that come on slowly and are caused by repetitive small incisions in the fibres and connective tissue of the hamstring muscle.

Strengthening your glutes, stretching and strengthening your hamstrings and working on your running posture will help you avoid hamstring injuries.

Plantar fasciitis is a foot injury that involves irritation or degeneration of the thick layer of tissue, called fascia, on the bottom of your foot.

This layer of tissue acts as a spring when you’re walking or running. Increasing your running volume too quickly can put your fascia under increased stress. Muscle tightness or weakness in your calves can also put you at a higher risk of plantar fasciitis.

A stress fracture is a crack that forms in your bone due to repetitive stress or impact. For runners training for a marathon, stress fractures commonly occur at the top of the foot, in the heel or lower leg.

When suspected of stress fractures, it’s advisable to see a doctor immediately. A runner will need to undergo an X-ray to diagnose a stress fracture.

Ankle sprains are caused by overstretching the ligaments between your leg and ankle. Sprains often happen when you land on the outer part of your foot and roll your ankle over.

Often, ankle sprains improve with rest, self-care, or physical therapy. However, they may take weeks or months to heal.

Blisters are fluid-filled sacks on the skin’s surface caused by friction between your shoes/socks and skin.

Ingrown toenails occur when the edge of your nail grows into your skin. It can cause pain and inflammation along your toenail and may ooze pus if it becomes infected.

Bursitis. Bursae are fluid-filled sacs beneath your muscles and tendons. They help to lubricate your joints. Repeated friction against these sacs from running can lead to irritation in your hip or around your knee.

Meniscal tear. A meniscal tear refers to a tear of the cartilage in your knee. It often causes a sensation of your joint locking.

Anterior compartment syndrome. Anterior compartment syndrome occurs when the muscles in the front of your lower leg put pressure on your nerves and blood vessels. This syndrome can be a medical emergency.

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