Beat Your Health Fears

Knock down your injury fears and keep running whatever the terrain or temperature



by Bob Cooper

injury running

The Fear: Getting Injured

The Fix: Train Smarter

What is a runner's number one fear? No, it's not being pursued by the giant octopus on the previous pages, but injury, according to two-thirds of RW poll respondents. Start winning your battle with the injury demons by increasing weekly mileage by no more than 10 per cent, separating long runs, tempo runs and speed workouts by at least 48 hours, and understanding that more isn't always more. "There is evidence that clocking over 45 miles weekly can increase injury risk," says Dr Evan Teplow, running injury specialist. He also advises running on soft surfaces and replacing your shoes every 500 miles. No guarantees, but lower odds of injury.

Think Positive:
"Good things come slow - especially in distance running" Bill Dellinger, running coach and triple Olympian

The Fear: Not Losing Weight

The Fix: Check Your Diet Diary

Running does burn calories. Lots of them, in fact. It also increases your metabolic rate for 14 hours after you stop, according to a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, so you're still shedding lard when you're snuggled on the sofa. But that doesn't mean you can eat like a sumo wrestler. "Some runners overcompensate by routinely treating themselves to big meals or desserts, thinking the extra calories they've burned justify it," says Dr Laura Kruskall, a sports nutrition specialist at the University of Nevada, US. "Unless you do a long run, it doesn't." Despite evidence of carb intake boosting performance before, during and after running, you'll add pounds if you overdo it. "You don't need extra carbs for runs of an hour or less." If you have run long, on the other hand...

Think Positive: "Without ice cream, there would be darkness and chaos" Don Kardong, Olympic marathoner and running author

The Fear: Trail Dangers

The Fix: Plan Ahead

Have you been watching 127 Hours by any chance? Getting in trouble on an out-of-the-way trail is a rare scenario, and self-amputation thankfully rarer still. However, you can use your fears as a positive spur to take the simple steps required to make it even less so. "Firstly, map out your route before you leave home," says Justin Walk, a running coach in the trail Mecca of Colorado. Ideally don't go solo, take a mobile phone with you and consider upgrading your gadgetry to include GPS and OS mapping capability. The Garmin Dakota 20 (£289.99, garmin.co.uk) is small and lightweight enough to carry easily in a backpack.

As for injury, twisting an ankle is the likeliest scenario, but you can make it less likely if you improve your on-the-run balance. Twice a week, reach slowly to touch your left toe while balancing on your left leg, repeat 10 times, then switch legs. To avoid falling on trail runs, take shorter strides and keep your eyes a couple of metres ahead to spot protruding roots and rocks.

Think Positive:
"Stadiums are for spectators. We runners have nature and that is much better" Juha Vaatainen, European champion over 5K and 10K

The Fear: Fading with Age

The Fix: Set Different Goals

"Everyone slows down eventually because aerobic capacity drops off as we age," says Jeanne Hackett, a running coach who also has a master's degree in counselling psychology. "Once you've run your last personal best, you may have half a lifetime left. So if you choose to stay in the running game, you need to renew and review your goals." One way to do that is to set age-based time goals each year. Try to beat the best time you've run for each distance while in the 45-49 age group, for example, or aged 47. View the statistics as narrowly as you like. And if you still crave a lifetime best, enter a triathlon, or a road race at a new distance. Or get a watch that's slow.

Think Positive:
"Time is the one immaterial object we cannot influence - neither speed up nor slow down" Maya Angelou, author

The Fear: Catching a Cold

The Fix: Relax and Sleep

Running should make you less prone to illness because it boosts the immune system, helps you sleep better and reduces stress. So why do some runners get colds all the time? Perhaps they set the alarm an hour earlier for daily morning runs or do marathon training while putting in marathon working weeks. "Research has shown that both lack of sleep and frequent periods of high stress can severely reduce immune function," says immunology specialist Dr Laura Stewart. "One of the best ways to reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infections is to be sure you aren't overtraining. Moderate exercise reduces this risk, but speedwork, long runs and races appear to increase it." It's also believed that the more intense the workout, the longer and greater the immune system is suppressed - one more argument for having easy or rest days after these sessions.

Think Positive:
"A healthy body is a guest chamber for the soul; a sick body is a prison" Sir Francis Bacon, philosopher

The Fear: Not Running Again

The Fix: Diversify

Not ever being able to run again is a fear that torments absolutely everyone who loves running. "It can seem irreplaceable," says behavioural health consultant Joyce Hanna. "But it's not the only thing that can give you that exercise high." Taking up new and diverse activities - such as swimming, cycling, yoga or strengthening classes such as Body Pump - now is insurance in case you ever have to stop running for health reasons. The bonus is that cross-training gives your body a welcome break from the impact stress of running, so it can also extend the longevity of your running lifespan and make you a better runner in the short term.

Think Positive: "I never retired... I just did other things" Ed Moses, double Olympic gold medallist

Illustration: Ryan Heshka


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Discuss this article

Should i run with a chesty cough?


Posted: 04/03/2012 at 09:54

Probably not.

General advice seems to be: If your symptoms are above your neck, you're okay to run. If they're below your neck (i.e. in your chest) you should back off and take it easy. You'll most likely recover quicker by giving your body a chance to fight off the infection without overstressing it further...


Posted: 04/03/2012 at 12:51

I had a chest infection end of last year. A chesty cough, but not many other symptoms. It took me quite a while to recover from it (ie weeks, not days) and only now, about 2 months after it went, am I actually getting back to running at my previous pace.

My problem was that even once the cough had gone in day-to-day living, it would return once I started doing anything strenuous. It made me very short of breath even after a short run.

I'd advise not running until the cough has gone, and then take it very easy and build up very gradually.


Posted: 05/03/2012 at 09:25

I agree with the above the neck principal, if in doubt dont bother you will regret it I have made the same mistake more than once and felt awful because of it.


Posted: 25/06/2012 at 13:34

I don't think it's about fears, it's about laziness, let's be honest. A lot of people would pay an important amount of money to get a Seattle plastic and cosmetic surgery instead of jogging and losing weight the hard, but free way. We all search for excuses as if our life depends on them .


Posted: 30/09/2013 at 18:29

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