Q+A: I get sore if I increase my training. Help!

Q. I train four to five times a week, including hills and a couple of interval sessions. However, each time I increase my training, by even a modest distance or pace, my muscles are too stiff and sore to undertake the next day’s session. What can I do?

A. You need to ask yourself if you’re allowing your body sufficient time to recover. Your body needs rest after hard runs so that it can mend the micro-traumas to your muscles, and restock its glycogen stores. The common advice from most coaches is to follow a hard session with an easy session or a complete rest. I’d say it’s worth considering leaving two days between hard sessions. That could either be two days of easy running, or one day of easy running and one of complete rest. You should also make sure that you run off-road as often as possible. The repetitive impact of hard surfaces is a sure way to get sore muscles. In particular, try to do your speed sessions on a forgiving surface such as grass.

The real key is in listening to your body and not in sticking to a set schedule. If, after a speed session or some hillwork, you feel tired or sore, it is your body telling you to take it easy. Trying to run through it is only likely to leave you feeling worse or cause an injury.

Before a run, make sure that you warm up with gentle jogging (and cool down the same way afterwards). This will help get your muscles prepared for the work they’re about to do. Regular stretching – particularly after a session – will improve your flexibility, which should in turn reduce those muscle aches. On those days where you do feel sore, but you still want to exercise, consider cross-training. Low-impact sports, such as cycling and swimming, work different muscles from running, but will still help your endurance.

Something else you should consider, if finances allow, is a regular appointment with a sports masseur – especially after long runs or tough interval sessions. A massage will certainly relax you, and may cut recovery time, flush out the toxins that cause muscle stiffness, and help relieve muscle pain.

Bud Baldaro, coach and RW Contributing Editor