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Injury Prevention Strategies For The 9 to 5 Runner

By Coach Peyton Hoyal
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Unlike the pros who have all day to train and rest between sessions, most people work full time in some capacity or another.  Many runners serve as desk warriors, school teachers, 24hr parents, and more while preparing for a big race or pursuing their fitness goals. However, that doesn't mean we have to automatically sacrifice our running goals.  You can still run injury-free and enjoy your training while burning the midnight oil, so to speak.

This article will present you with a series of strategies to prevent injury, improve performance, and stay motivated to tackle your running goals despite a rigorous work schedule. 

Preventing Injury

One of the biggest underlying contributors to running injuries can be so subtle that you might never think of it. No, it isn't footwear or high-mileage. It isn't even speed work or hill training. One of the most profound causes of running injuries for someone who works full time is sitting at a desk for long periods of time.

You may be wondering why that may be an issue since you are off your feet and seemingly relaxed while working at your desk. Well, let's look at the dynamics of sitting versus running.

When you sit, most people tend to disengage their core, over-activate their hip flexors, shut-off their gluteal muscles, and fold inward with their shoulders high. If this sounds like the exact opposite of good running form, that's because it is! In order to counteract these negative effects of sitting for 4-8+ hours a day, we have to reverse the bad postural habits that sitting can cause, and look at how they may impact your running.

In order to accomplish the goal of preventing running injuries while working full-time, you will need to take an active approach in identifying what is tight and what is weak. Be mindful of how you are sitting in your desk chair. Your feet should touch the ground comfortably, and your back should be straight. If you cross your leg when you sit, be sure to switch which leg you cross from time to time. Avoid any unnatural repetitious movements when possible. Running can be repetitive enough by itself!

It is easier and less expensive to act as a “body detective” than to dish out hundreds of dollars to a physical therapist, but you have to be willing to take about ten minutes a day to do some injury-prevention exercises. Ten minutes is nothing compared to weeks and months of chronic pain, after all!

Use a yoga mat to do these exercises daily in order to help prevent IT band syndrome, sciatica, runner's knee pain, and even problems in the foot and lower-leg. Another option is to use a stability ball.

Training Smart

Once you have established a solid strength and flexibility routine as noted above, you can start enhancing your performance. Putting-in 40+ hours a week can be exhausting, and running 30 or more miles on top of that can seem daunting. However, it can be done with the right approach! Here are a few pointers you can use to improve your fitness when preparing for a race or to further help you prevent injuries.

•Focus on Quality Training- If you are pressed for time, it is almost always better to go for a shorter, higher intensity session than to try and fit in high-volume work in a condensed time frame. Try the below session whenever you only have a small block of training time.

Easy 5-15min Warm-Up + Light Stretching and Form Drills, then run 20x 30sec at a ‘Fast' Effort, Alternated with 30sec at an ‘Easy-Moderate' Effort, and Warm-Down for your remaining block of time

This session builds stamina and speed at once, and can be completed anywhere from the trail to the track to the treadmill.

• Use Your Free-Time Wisely- Save your long runs for weekends or whenever you have a break from work. Use extra training time to do some more core work, stretch well, and rehab any injuries that you may be dealing with at the time.

• Rest When Too Tired to Train- While you can't rest too often and expect to increase fitness, never try to cram-in a run when you know you are too tired or stressed to get anything out of a session. Life and work can be their own “training” stimulus, and when you neglect this fact bad things can happen. You warm-up inadequately before a hard run, you forget to stretch that tight calf muscle, you run too fast on a recovery day, and the list goes on of possibilities that may work against your goal of preventing running injuries. Sometimes it is truly better to live to fight another day than to regret doing a run when you weren't mentally or physically prepared. 

   As noted above, it is important to avoid too many repetitious movements to help prevent running injuries while working full time. Vary your training distance, terrain, route, and pace from day to day to use different muscles and avoid overuse. You can even do this mid-run by altering your stride cadence for a few hundred meters at a time. Speed up, slow down, surge a hill; it doesn't matter what aspect of your routine you change from day to day, but the important thing is that you change something to stay healthy while training and working full time.

Living Well

The above advice only works if you have a sound lifestyle pillar for these things to rest upon. One key thing to remember while working full-time in an office or similar environment is that the air can be drier than you think. If you don't take this into account, you may begin afternoon workouts dehydrated without realizing it. Even mild dehydration in runners can lead to GI distress, muscle cramping, tissue damage, and decreased performance, so this is a key variable. Stay on top of this by drinking 8oz of water, juice, or sports drink every hour that you are at work. The body prefers things in smaller doses, and consistency is the key. That leads to the next point.

“Eating well” might be one of the most ambiguous phrases one can muster when talking to runners and other athletes. To some, eating well is having two carrots dipped in low-fat ranch for lunch. For others, it means getting massive amounts of calories to sustain your exercise level no matter the source. At its simplest, eating well means to balance energy intake with output, eat a variety of wholesome foods, and to not feel obliged to maintain any particular media-based fad diet. Use common sense when choosing snack foods and meals for the workplace, and take time to enjoy the foods you eat to enhance performance and recovery from both training and life stress.  The below snacks make great work place mini-meals that are portable, nutritious, and beneficial to your running.

•             Plain Greek Yogurt with Honey and Granola

•             Trail Mix and a Piece of Fruit

•             Energy or Protein Bar

•             Natural Pop-Corn and a Fruit Smoothie Drink

•             Oatmeal with Raisins and a Tablespoon of Nut Butter

Lastly, if you want to prevent injury while running and working full-time, you have to find balance in your life. Be sure to make time for family, friends, hobbies, and whatever else brings you pleasure amid your busy schedule. Don't let work stress you to the point that you have to neglect your training regimen, and don't feel so bound to a particular exercise routine that you lose its enjoyment. Running is a fluid, dynamic activity meant to be enjoyed anywhere, anytime. Keep the above ideas in mind, practice healthy lifestyle choices daily, and run strong while you work hard.

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