One of the biggest fears for any dedicated endurance athlete is the risk of injury. The most common injuries for runners and cyclists spawn from a mix of overtraining and inadequate recovery. On a cellular level, tissues break down over time and the damage begins long before the athlete begins to feel pain or notices any other symptoms. Tendon injuries, typically covered in the large category of “tendonitis”, can be either acute - caused by a specific injury - or have developed over time with degenerating tissue. The best way to prevent a tendon injury is through adequate warm ups and stretching. Focus especially on your hips, knees, and ankles – all areas that take the hardest beating for runners. Cyclists may find it helpful to gently stretch their wrists, elbows, and shoulders, to avoid any upper body injuries from riding.
Like tendonitis, runner’s knee is a broad term for a number of injuries in the knee that typically occur in runners. Runner’s knee, too, can be acute – caused by a fall or other injury, or can build up overtime. Often, knee problems in runners can reflect foot problems, poor musculature in the legs, or even misaligned bones – not necessarily a problem that originates in the knee itself. If you’re noticing pain around your knee cap while you do everyday tasks like walk up and down stairs, then you may be pushing yourself too hard. One way to prevent runner’s knee is by creating an exercise plan that incorporates strength training and low-impact, high aerobic exercise like swimming. This will minimalize the cartilage breakdown in your knees while you heal.
Other injuries common to endurance athletes have much more direct causes. Shin splints, for example, are caused when the athlete changes the intensity of their work out too quickly, or can also happen if a runner switches from a dirt path to asphalt. The prevention of these painful, but typically harmless, injury is to always make small, consistent increases in the intensity and duration of your workout. Slow and steady progress is much more satisfying than having to take a week or two off due to shin splints.
More superficial, “race day” injuries range from ‘annoying’ to ‘dangerous’. Blisters, for example, often form during a race due to excessive friction on the feet. Bad blisters can even develop infections. Preventing blisters is actually a breeze. Choose breathable, moisture wicking socks – some runners even double up! There are powders and creams available to prevent blisters, though a heavy dab of petroleum jelly will do the trick as well.
Let’s talk about environmental factors for a minute: Sun and Heat. Don’t ever forget a thick coating of waterproof, sweatproof sunscreen before a race. Even if it’s cloudy when you begin, you could find yourself sizzled by the end of the race. Dehydration and overheating can happen so easily to runners, and can lead to collapse during a race. So it’s important to stay well-hydrated and energized during your race. Planning your rehydrating and refueling schedule before a race is crucial to avoiding dehydration and fatigue.
Overall, the most important advice for any endurance athlete is to listen to your body. Pushing ourselves to the limits is what we live for – but going too far past them can lead to temporary and lifelong injuries.