Avoiding running injuries to make the finish line



It’s a busy time on the streets all over New Zealand as runners get ready for marathon season. Runners often begin with a “hiss and a roar”, go too hard too soon and end up injured. We get some expert advice for runners on how to stay injury free as they build up to race day.  

Photo Credit Up&Up Photography & Film

Auckland runner Chris Baker knows how important it is to prepare properly for an event.


The 40-year-old, who has completed a number of half marathons over the past 15 years, including the Auckland Half Marathon five times, has missed the last two race days in November due to suffering injuries just as he was getting started.  


“There is nothing worse than signing up for a run with some mates and just getting into the training and you strain your calf, or other niggles just don’t get better and you have to come to terms with pulling out of an event you have set as a goal,” says Baker.


“I’ve learnt the hard way and watched too many races from the side-lines. 


“While my mind still tells me that I can run the times I did when I was in my 20s, my body tells me something pretty different.  I now follow a realistic training programme and build into my running to make sure I get to the finish line in November.”


Runners all over New Zealand are getting ready for a number of major events like the Wellington Marathon (30 August), Rotorua Marathon (26 September), Auckland Marathon (1 November) and Queenstown Marathon (21 November).


A spike in running injuries in spring

Baker is not alone. In 2019 there were over 16,000 active claims for running related injuries which came at a cost of $8.6m for ACC to help them recover.


ACC Injury Prevention Partner Natalie Hardaker says staying injury free is a key part of performance.


“We want to support all Kiwis in doing the sport and activity they love, and as with any other sport, good physical preparation combined with rest and recovery will help you stay injury free and achieve your goals,” she says.   


Every year for the past five years there has been a lift in running injuries coming into marathon season.   


Over the past five years the average for running related injuries in July was 988 and this climbs in August (on average 1232 injuries) and September (average 1200 injuries).  


A total of 91 percent of all claims in 2019 were for soft tissue injuries.


Justin Lopes, who is on the National Executive of Sport and Exercise Physiotherapy New Zealand (SEPNZ) and is the Director and Principal Physiotherapist of Back to Your Feet Physiotherapy Ltd, says every year they see a spike in running injuries in August.


“We are coming into spring and people get pretty excited about getting fit and preparing for a big running event,” he says. 


“They come out with a hiss and a roar, but they don’t have a plan and can put their bodies under too much load too soon, which can contribute to them getting injured.” 


“There’s no fast track”

Lopes, who has worked with the Football Ferns and the NZ U-23 Men’s Football team, says there is no fast-track to the level of fitness needed to complete a half marathon or marathon.


“You need to put in the training and build up your strength over time, but if you can’t put the hard work in then you need to lower your expectations.”


He says working out your ‘perfect training load’ is a hard thing to gauge.


“Running is great because you get out for a work-out and you release some endorphins and you feel really good about it, but you need to design a plan.  I’d recommend talking to a professional [coach or physio] to discuss your training plan and work out what is your optimal load.”


Lopes says it is crucial to listen to your body and not force the training if you have any niggling injuries.


“Patience is the key and it will pay off in the long-term if you hang in there,” he says.


“If you do get injured, talk to a physio about when is the right time to get back into training. We want all runners to experience that awesome feeling of crossing the finish line on race day.”


Take the time to get your training right

Hardaker says there are some encouraging trends – over the last five years ACC has seen a consistent decrease in running related injury claims.


In 2015 there were 16,065 running injuries compared to 13,397 injuries recorded in 2019.


“This is encouraging as the popularity of running events and running for general fitness seems to be increasing,” she says.


Hardaker says it is also important to note that most running related injuries are chronic overuse type injuries that wouldn’t necessarily show up in ACC claim data.


“I recommend all runners check out the injury prevention principles at ACC Sportsmart to help improve their preparation for their event.”


The COVID-19 effect

Lopes said it was important for runners to think about other factors in their life as they often see a spike in running injuries during times of stress.


“During COViD-19 we have seen a higher level of running injuries because people are stressed and might not be sleeping as well as they normally would, and then getting out for a run and their body isn’t in a good shape to take that load.” 


Hardaker added that running is one of the few activities Kiwis can do in Alert Level 3 and this could have contributed to a higher prevalence of injuries observed as people get out and push themselves when they are not prepared.


“It has been an unsettling time with COVID-19 but you can still keep progressing your training,” says Hardaker.


“Take the time to physically prepare your body for the demands of running and gradually build up your running build up your running volume and distance over time and include rest days to recover.”


As for Baker, he is into week four of his training programme and feeling good to take on the Auckland Half Marathon.


“I can’t wait for race day in November. I’ve got a time I’m targeting and there is good banter amongst some of my mates who are doing the run. I’m looking forward to seeing them at the finish line.”


Advice for preparing for a running event

  1. Get a professional (physio or coach) to help you design a training plan
  2. Gradually build up your training load (amount and intensity)
  3. Ensure there are rest days in your running schedule
  4. Buy a good pair of shoes – comfortable and supportive
  5. Train on the terrain you are planning on competing on
  6. Consider other factors – stress, lack of sleep (you should be getting 8.5 hours or more per night)
  7. Eat a balanced diet with enough energy to replace the amount you are burning with your training
  8. Make sure you are well hydrated before and after your runs
  9. Incorporate regular lower limb and core strength training into your routine, it can help reduce injuries and improve your performance
  10. Watch where you’re going, and be mindful of your surroundings especially on roads or at night
  11. If you get injured, make sure you talk to a physio on the right way to return to training. Physio’s are open in Alert Level 3 and can do consultations via video conference (telehealth).
  12. Visit: https://www.accsportsmart.co.nz/ for injury prevention principles.