Or should I say, D'oh! Summer!
Marathons, triathlons, cyclethons. They're the things of lore. Popularity of these events grows every year, which is great because we need more people getting into active, healthy lifestyles.
Do you sense a "but" coming? You're right. If you take on one of these challenges there is a very good chance you will be injured. Not in the event its self (although that happens too), but in the training leading up to it. It doesn't need to be this way. When properly prepared these events are very rewarding and health promoting.
Studies show that many people enter the events and training for these events without enough preparation.
A study done at the University of British Columbia showed that 30% of runners participating in running clinics designed to minimize injury became injured during a 13 week program. Moreover 50% of runners had previous injuries when they singed up for the clinic.
Ok.. I can see those who have been injured before enrolling in a clinic designed to minimize risk of injury. Once bitten, twice shy, right? How about, "please bite me again.. no really.. bite me now, pleeeaassse bite me!". A little masochistic.
I'm exaggerating. Trying to poke a little fun at the running/ injury myth. :-)
Actually.. no. 42% of the previously injured runners reported that they were not completely rehabilitated upon starting the running clinics.
Been reading the popular news articles extolling the apparent super benefits of intensive interval training? Are you thinking you can train for mega events with half the training via doing high intensity training?
A study on triathletes showed that those who did more intensive running and cycling intervals had more injuries.
Recently I was talking with a person who was preparing for a half marathon in a few months. They had not been a regular runner prior to taking on the "challenge". They were injured within the first four weeks. The pain from their foot injury is intermittent.. hurts on some days not on others.
The question they had for me? "How do I keep running with this injury?" SMACK! It's like I was slapped in the face with cold fish. After I did the brief change in posture and blank facial expression that says, "are you kidding me?" I asked, "why do you want to run when you're injured? Why not fix the injury?"
They weren't prepared to consider that option. To them the days they had no pain were reason to continue running. To them pain free days meant they were not injured.
More importantly after 10 minutes or so of talking about it the neophyte runner admitted the idea of delaying this years half marathon in favour of being healthy did not sit well with them. It was emotionally disturbing.
And such is the case for many who exercise regularly or are in preparation for pretty much any sporting event.
There is a strong sense of guilt when injured or fatigued and a strong sense of anxiety when confronted with the idea of training less or taking a break when fatigued or injured.
It's true that some minor injuries have only a minor influence on training programs. With some careful modifications to the program and rehabilitation you can work around and through some injuries.
You have to have the mind for it though. If rehabilitating an injury is seen as interfering with performance instead of enhancing it, you're not a good candidate for a successful outcome.
There is so much hype around overcoming all odds associated with these events that the event takes on its own persona and becomes more than the person. This is supposed to be fun and rewarding, but when injury and pain are perceived as rewards, something is wrong.
The best advice is to start slow. Build a base of health and fitness. See your doctor for a check up. Don't think you can get fit in 13 weeks because you can't. You can increase your fitness over 13 weeks, and if you're already really fit you can do a 8, 10, 12 week program to help fine tune your existing fitness for a big event.
Marathons and cyclethons will be here likely forever, with a large variety of choices from shorter to very long events to choose from every season. There is no need to start with longest, hardest event right away with the sentiment that the next event is the one you must do. That makes no sense.
What about after the event? What we usually see, save for the minority, is a return to far less physical activity after the event. Was all that love for the event in vain? Why go through the same cycle every year?
How 'bout this.. "yeah.. I ran the marathon/ did the cyclethon.. it was tough, but I finished" (boasting). Ok. But you're out of shape and rarely exercise now. So what good did it do you?
The health and fitness benefits of regular exercise far outweigh the temporary sense of bliss from completing one or two of these events here and there. Why not get healthy, get fit, and enter these events well prepared and without injury?
Why not give yourself a lifetime of gratifying physical accomplishments?
Yeah.. I'm lecturing. I know. I'm sort of sorry about that and not really sorry at the same time.
Hear's how I see it. The vast majority of our population is totally out of shape and suffering because of it. Many who start fitness routines or take on mega event challenges continue to suffer when they become active because they push too hard too soon.
This makes no sense. Being fit isn't about suffering. Maximizing human performance on the other hand.. yes, that is hard work and involves some controlled suffering, but this is reserved for those who are fit enough already to safely tolerate such intensity.
You don't need to suffer to finish a marathon or cyclethon. These events are no problem for the average person to prepare for and enjoy. Just take your time, form realistic goals based on your current fitness level, and think about being active for the rest of your life. You don't need to rush into these mega events, they are annual events and will always be there.
Br J Sports Med. 2003 Jun;37(3):239-44.
A prospective study of running injuries: the Vancouver Sun Run "In Training" clinics.
Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Jan;24(1):30-6.
Triathlon event distance specialization: training and injury effects.
Faculty of Human Kinetics, Technical University of Lisbon, Cruz Quebrada, Portugal.