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Taken up running in January ?

Here's what you need to know to make it to the end of February !

This is a common sight in so many parks and cities across the land every January. The New Years Day hangover hits, the resolutions kick in and millions decide they will have done their first 10k by the end of the year. Yet many new runners fail in the first few weeks and retreat back to the couch or end up nursing an Achilles problem or shin splints ? What's going wrong and what are the pitfalls for new runners in the first few weeks.

Hang on, I thought running was good for me ?

A quick preface, this article is all about the physical issues of why someone may give up early on their running, not the " my bed is warm and it's raining so I'll go for a run later " problem. Don't get me wrong, that stops a lot of people but that's less to do with the stresses placed on the body and more those placed on the willpower....... important, but not what this article is about.

In so many ways running is superb for our physical, mental and emotional health. With ParkRun and running clubs it can also be a great social sport or the ultimate solo activity where you can lose yourself in your own headspace for an hour's thinking. But just like starting any new activity it's all about the body's ability to adapt. Much like life itself really !

Quick improvements and early gains.......

As a general rule our bodies don't adapt quickly to sudden repetitive changes in stresses.

Different systems in our body will adapt at varying rates and this can be influenced by intrinsic factors such as age, previous injuries, underlying illnesses etc.

As you lace up those trainers and hit the pavements the first systems to show adaptation are the muscular and cardiovascular ( CV ) system. Muscles rebuild and recover in a matter of days which is why your DOMS clears quickly. Within the matter of a few runs you become noticably less out of puff as your heart and lungs improve, your running becomes more efficient and easier..... Yes, you can do this !! ..... and this is where the first stumbling block often appears....

....... to finding the ' Goldilocks Zone '.

However fast the C.V and muscular systems adapt the soft tissue tendons and ligaments are usually at least two, if not three, weeks or so behind. It all comes down to tolerance and resiliance. For the tendons and ligaments to get ' fitter ' and adapted to running then they need to be stressed enough to be stimulated to adapt and build resiliance but not so much that they become overwhelmed. It's called the Goldilocks Threshold and is also much, much more variable from person to person.

Rather like breaking in a new pair of shoes or a callus developing on the skin - too much stress early on will just cause the tissue to break down in a blister, just enough will stimulate it to toughen up and a callus to form so you can wear those new killer heels ! Exactly the same process is happening on the inside.

Week 4 onwards. Patience required !

The slowest system to show adaptation is the bony skeleton, in the same way that broken bones take longer to heal that a paper cut - bones thicken and strengthen far slower than soft tissues. As the weeks progress the physical impact forces of running are transformed into chemical changes in the body, stimulating new bone to be laid down along those stress lines ... eventually !! Bone destruction or erosion has to take place first before remodelling can take place so in actuality the bones become a little weaker before they become stronger in theses early weeks. This is the danger zone as this process happens almost at the same time as you start to feel stronger and fitter and it's often a phase when we pick up runners that have hit an early wall. It's one of the major risk factors for developing bone stress injuries which may lead to stress fractures if the load isn't managed well.

Week by week - what's happening to your new running body.

  1. Week 1 : CV and muscular systems adapt to new stresses and strains of running. Breathing becomes easier and less muscle pain is felt.

  2. Week 2-3 : The tendons and ligaments collagen begins to show adaptive changes to the stresses of a new running habit. Bones actually become weaker in this phase, remodelling means existing bone is eroded before being rebuilt.

  3. Week 4 + : Bones now begin to show adaptation and increased density as the new bone forms along the stress lines but will always be a good few weeks behind the other systems. This is a continual process but much more gradual than the other two systems.

Couch 2 5K is actually a really great programme - it builds in plenty of rests and gradually increases the load on the tissues over a number of weeks. It may seem tempting to push it and do more than the App suggests but the rests and slow progressions are there for a reason so listen to what the programme tells you. Equally, listen to your body. If you're feeling pain anywhere and don't feel strong enough to progress to the next week of the programme then don't do it, repeat the current week or dropback to interspersing walking with running. Remember the tortoise often eventually wins the race in the long term.

How can we help to keep you get that 10k.

Don't let your enthusiasm run away with you ( pun intended ! ). It's always easier to head problems off and stop them developing rather than dealing with an issue after the fact. Injury not only causes scarring in the tissues but it's frustrating too and it's easy to get disheartened.

The tissues need a bit of stress but it's about listening to your body and not pushing and doing too much too soon. Knowing when to run through and when to rest an injury is imperative, especially if you want to build on your running and make that 10K a reality and not just another failed New Year resolution. We are always happy to help advise you if you are finding it difficult to find your personal Goldilocks Threshold.

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