What are your changes of getting injured during triathlon training? Pretty good, actually…

After my PR year of marathon and IRONMAN Triathlon in 2007 where I went 2:46 at Disney Marathon and 8:51 at Challenge Roth, I wanted to go faster in 2008 so I kept training hard through the summer, fall and into the winner with the goal to PR again in a February marathon. In October, I started to wake up with stiff legs and they would hurt when I walked down the stairs. My legs felt sore all of the time. Rather than recognize that my body needed a break, I kept training and ignored the signs of overuse.

I start my February marathon at a PR pace and led the race. Within a few miles, my legs began to hurt and I intuitively knew something was wrong. I kept running. Just before the halfway point, I had the opportunity to turn off the course early for a half marathon. I kept running and my legs kept hurting. Yes, I won the race (albeit not at a PR time), but I tore my right hamstring in the process. I wasn’t able to to run again for about six months. If I could do over, I would have taken the time in training to heal the injury and not run the marathon.

A 2003 study of the training patterns of 131 triathletes1 found that:

  • 50% sustained an injury in the 6-month pre-season and
  • 37% injured during the 10-week competition season.

In both cases (71% and 73% respectively), running was associated with the the majority of injuries and the injuries were due to overuse. Risks associated with higher rate of injury included history of injury, high running mileage, longer history of training and improper warm up or cool down.

So, assuming some part of your leg is injured from running, now what?

Your primary focus should shift to healing the injury instead of layering on more volume/intensity (like I did) that will worsen / prolong the injury and perhaps end your season early. Things to do include:

  • Rest. Easy to say but can be tough to do. This may mean not running (or not biking) for a few days or few weeks to give the injury time to heal. One thing that helped me was to focus long-term: “Let me heal this season so I can be 100% and faster for next season.”
  • Roll your legs with a foam roller. Here are nine excellent foam rolling exercises that can also be done as warm up prior to running or cool down after running.
  • Consider massage, Active Release Therapy, dry needling or Rolfing as treatment options. I’ve had excellent experience with all four. The key will be to find a practitioner who has experience with athletes.
  • For low or no impact running substitutions and depending on the injury, try using an elliptical trainer or aqua jogging (wear a flotation belt or not) in the pool. I like aqua jogging because you can simulate the running movement (including intervals) and do laps around the deep end of the pool.

Unfortunately, because you’ve been injured, you’re at greater risk of future injury. Two more important things to think about:

  • Identify the cause of the injury. This may be tougher than you think. Do the research and talk to health and medical professionals who have experience working with endurance athletes.
  • Pre-empt future injury with appropriate strength training and flexibility. I’ve found yoga and Foundation Training to be very helpful.

Good luck!

David

david glover headshotCoach David Glover, MS, CSCS has completed 28 IRONMAN distance triathlons, which includes two sub 9 hour finishes and winning Vineman Full twice. Now, David’s passion now is helping triathlete and other endurance athletes achieve their dreams through his online triathlon education and training company, ENDURANCEWORKS. David has an MS in Exercise Physiology and is certified as a coach by IRONMAN Triathlon, USA Triathlon and USA Cycling plus has his CSCS from NSCA. After six years of living, training and coaching in the triathlon mecca of Boulder, CO, David currently resides in Southern California.

1 Burns J, Keenan AM, Redmond AC. Factors associated with triathlon-related overuse injuries. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2003:22:177-184.

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