This week I have been taking part in a laboratory report preparation for a project thats looking into predicting marathon pace and finishing times. We were looking into potential indicators (other than the obvious VO2 max) that would indicate the ability to complete a marathon, and the speed in which they would be able to do it in, when I came across an article from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. The article, for anyone who wants to look it up, is here. The part of the article that caught my eye was that running past a certain speed, also known as tempo running, in the first 6 weeks of training indicated a much greater risk of running injuries.
The article analysed over 100 runners as they prepared for a marathon over a 12 week period. The runners were given a interview/questionnaire at 4 phases (pre-training/6-week/12-week/Post training). The scientists found that the participants who undertook tempo running in their first 6 weeks were 3.96 times more likely to receive running injuries. The scientists also found that 43% of the runners who carried out interval training in their first 6 weeks were also likely to receive running injuries.
Tempo running is running at just under 10k pace. The way to gauge this is when you run your breath will be in, in, out, out. You now think I’ve lost it but trust me on this one. Each time one of your feet hit the floor is a beat. Like in music there are 4 beats to a bar (1 left, 2 right, 3 left, 4 right). So when you tempo run your rate of breathing will be start breathing in (1), finish breathing in (2), start breathing out (3) finish breathing out (4). Your breath should naturally fall into this rhythm and you certainly cant talk while going at this pace. It is most definitely hard work.
Jogging works in a similar fashion except we are now in 6 beats a bar (6/8 time for you music nuts). 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Breathe in for 1,2 and 3. Breathe out for 4, 5, and 6. At jogging speed you should be able to talk and day dream without finding it hard.
The reason tempo running and interval running could cause these running injuries is for quite a simple reason. When you first undertake a training regime from an untrained state the first 12 weeks are largely nervous system improvements. This is where the brain learns to control the muscles to a higher degree and you learn the motor control programmes. During this time nearly any exercise will cause overload. This is what causes hypertrophy and nervous system adaptation.
In the first 6 week period your body is learning the motor patterns and the basic jogging will cause your muscles to overload and induce small amounts of hypertrophy. Therefore, should you suddenly whack in an advanced training session which is used to overload participants that have already adapted past the central nervous system advancement period and you can see why your likely to get yourself some running injuries.
However, this doesn’t mean that you can no longer interval train or participate in tempo running! After the 6 week period, it was athletes that introduced interval running, tempo running and the participants that put in more miles a week that were more likely to finish and they had the better times when they undertook the marathon.
In conclusion, for the first 6 weeks of training make sure that you just stick to light jogging and slowly increase the distance. from week 6 onwards add one tempo running session to your schedule and week 9 add an interval session.
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Stephen Nash is the lead Exercise Physiologist at Faultless Fitness. With a wealth of experience in delivering clinical and sports interventions, he has helped scores of people achieve their health and sports performance goals.