Last updated: 22-Mar-19
By Karina Teahan
Many of us are well into our 2019 training plans with various races and long training runs on the horizon.
With this in mind, rather than focus on a specific injury, this month’s article takes a broad view of what we can do leading up to race day and what to consider if you get an injury in those final few weeks/days.
Preparing for race day starts long before the actual event – what we do in the lead up can greatly help or hinder our final performance. Tapering should begin a few weeks prior to the race and means starting to cut your mileage.
Your last long run should be three weeks from race day and it is a good idea to do a final check on race gear (weather permitting) to ensure there’s no risk of chaffing or blisters.
You could also try your nutrition and hydration to make sure it will work. Do one session during this week at your proposed race pace over 6-7 miles (if training for a marathon) to reinforce how you will run on the day.
Two weeks before, cut your mileage by 50%. Now is also a good time to have a pre-race massage – having one too close to race day can leave your legs a bit heavy and temporarily sore.
As you approach the final week leading up to race day, your priority should be to get to the start line fresh and sharp so it’s best to resist the urge to fit in one more session.
You will not get any fitter during this week, but you could make yourself slower by adding fatigue to your legs. My pointers for the final week are:
Keep to low mileage and do not run every day, further reducing the intensity and volume of your training.
Keep running at your normal pace so that you don’t alter your usual run pattern. I find trying to run slower than usual feels awkward.
Add strides at the end of your runs – 6-8 x 30 second strides
Do mobility work for your hips, ankles, knees and lower back to keep everything loose and comfortable.
Exercises include: hip flexor stretch, calf stretch, glute 4-point stretch and trunk rotations (see photos below).
Foam rolling is useful for those annoying little niggles that crop up but do not be too aggressive.
Activation exercise to keep the muscles feeling alive & strong. Try the shoulder bridge with a theraband just above your knees, planks (front & side planks), single leg sit-to-stand activation of hip flexion and into extension, alternate arm/leg raises on all fours and crab walk with theraband and alternate knee (x10) then ankle (x10) lifts with legs at a 90-degree angle (see photos below).
Avoid heavy weights sessions – now is not the time, they will just leave you with heavy legs.
Try not to spend too much time on your feet. If your race is somewhere abroad you should try and resist the temptation to explore the city on foot before your event.
The day before the race I just do a 20-minute easy jog with a few strides. I usually feel terrible but I think this is common.
Hip flexor stretch
Glute 4-point stretch
Shoulder bridge with a theraband just above your knees
Alternate arm/leg left on all fours
Crab walk with theraband
Alternate knee then ankle lifts
What if you get injured leading up to race day?
As athletes we are generally very driven and focused and can tolerate a lot, often thriving on the toughest of sessions. However, this can also be one of our downfalls as it can be hard to know when we shouldn’t race.
Sometimes opting out of a race is a much wiser decision than thinking we “might get away with it”. Self-diagnosis is not always a good thing even with the wealth of information on the internet. It is very difficult to be objective about yourself as the importance of a race may sway your better judgement. If you find yourself in this situation it’s worth consulting with a physiotherapist to help identify your injury, the stage it is at and whether racing on it will make it worse or actually with brief intervention you will still be able to compete.
There are a few examples of when you absolutely should not race but this is not an exhaustive list:
Reactive tendon – it will get worse if you train or race on it inappropriately and lead to a much more prolonged tendon injury. With early treatment you can get back quickly so ignore at your peril.
Muscle tear – this may seem obvious but some try to tape themselves up but a full tear needs full rehabilitation.
Severe ligament injury.
Nerve injury with severe pain/numbness/pins & needles/leg giving way.
Acute joint swelling (knee or ankle).
Systemically unwell: flu, infection etc.
You may be able to race if your injury is milder and responds quickly to treatment, such as myofascial pain, trigger points or tight/sore muscles. These may be sore but structurally you are sound and with the correct treatment you can resolve them quickly.
It is a good idea to take a step back and assess what this actual race means to you and what risks you are willing to take if you do race. If you decide to take a chance and compete with one of the above injuries/sickness then you need to accept that you’re taking the risk that:
You may not be able to complete the race.
You will complete the race but poorly.
You will exacerbate the injury and put yourself out of running action for a long time.
Is it worth the sacrifice? It may be if it is a big championship race that you have been focusing your career on, so think about your running goals. Is this race a stepping stone to a bigger event? If so, then missing it may actually allow you to get to the start line of that race. Additionally, if you feel you have improved but have missed a lot of training you need to decide if your current level of fitness will carry you through your chosen race because you cannot cram training at the end.
Coping with issues on Race Day
Sometimes, mild pain before a race may disappear once you start running and your body warms-up. You could also ice any affected areas on the morning of the race. If your pain gets worse during the race but you are relatively close to the end then you could complete the race and deal with your injury afterwards.
Severe pain is a warning sign that something isn’t right and you must stop. Severe pain is a rating of greater or equal to 7/10 on a pain-rating scale and with pain levels this high it’s likely you wouldn’t be able to continue running anyway.
Here are a few tips to get you get to the start line in a relaxed ready state.
This is as vital as training and nutrition. If you find it hard to sleep the night before your race then put your legs up anyway and read a book or do something relaxing.
Stick with what you have tried and tested and don’t try anything new. You may need to carb load for a big ultra but you do not need to do this for ten miles and under as it will just leave you feeling heavy and sluggish.
Get to the race on time and allow yourself extra for any unexpected delays. I have a general warm up routine of easy jogging x 15 minutes, 6-8 x 30m strides and lots of activation work & run drills such as high knees, bum kicks, hip circles and gentle bounding. I cover 20-30 metre per drill and do two of each but usually the longer the race the shorter the warm up that is needed.
If you are inclined to get anxious in the hour before the race then try some yoga style deep breathing, in through the nose filling your abdomen and lungs and breath slowly out. Even four reps of this will help calm everything down.
Stick with your planned race pace. We have all made the mistake of going out to fast and paying for it. Initially we feel amazing because of the race atmosphere and all the race adrenaline flowing through out bodies. Consider external factors such as the course being particularly hilly or if there is a strong head wind then you may have to modify your expectations of a PB.
When injury free enjoy it! Running is amazing. Being able to compete is even more amazing so savour the experience, even the nerves. Take it all in, the surroundings, the race atmosphere, the selfless race organisers & marshals, your competitors and any supporters you may have brought along. I think having had lots of injuries over the years has made me enjoy the races I do even more, so I don’t get as anxious but feel excited instead!!
All photos courtesy of the author.