Listen to your body: How its the key to injury prevention

It’s now February apparently which has come far too quickly, frankly my start to the New Year running wise has been a bit of a disaster. The worst thing about it is I knew I wasn’t right before Christmas, I just wasn’t running well or like me. I wasn’t injured or in any pain but while I knew from my mileage I was getting fitter the workouts seems to be getting harder especially my recovery and long runs. I simply put it down to over training and taking too much on. Strangely my running was the key to knowing I was in fact unwell. So I am going to tell you some of my rather extreme story and then a bit about why generally you SHOULD be listening to your body to prevent injury and getting into a situation like me.

My Story:

So I’d been feeling tired, warn down and just generally not me. I wasn’t doing anything different, I am a perfect example of a runner, a complete creature of habit. I know the day of the week just based on what training I am doing that day. At first I thought I was fuelling wrong not taking in enough before my runs so was just running on empty. However it just wasn’t right, my easy runs while my GPS showed my pace easy, it wasn’t feeling as easy as it should been for the times. I was running an easy recovery 5km lower than my 15km long run pace and struggling. However I just thought it was lack of motivation or me finally taking the ‘easy’ run easy. My symptoms soon escalated I was getting ridiculous tired I mean in bed by 8pm tired but I was still able to go to work, study for my masters and continue to train 6 days a week, so I thought no big deal you just need a holiday.

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I did my 15km long run I don’t ignore it any longer and knew something was very wrong. It was a disaster I could hardly run continuously for 1km without feeling like I needed to stop and the pace was terrible! My legs were tight, ok I had done a hard workout the day before but more than normal and at one point I was getting dizzy. I used to not use gels but I was using it as a lifeline just to get home. I got home and I looked like a ghost completely pale. When I looked at my data for my run my heart rate was averaging 156 and was going up to 200 at times normally my resting is 42 it just wasn’t right. I rang up and got some old test results back and got an answer, it made sense and I stopped training.

However a week later it was still getting worse now I was getting breathless going up stairs, I went back to the GP and said this isn’t right. They did the usual tests oh well your fit and healthy everything seems fine you blood pressure is normal ect, its just a side effect from the tablets or muscular. I did mention that normally I can do 15km before breakfast no problem now I am getting breathless and my heart rate is higher after putting the washing away. It maybe normal for everyone else but it isn’t for me.  I went to get a pint of milk from the shop a few days later  and ended up having chest pain and completely struggling to breathe. That was it, I knew this wasn’t fine, I never  really thought it was but now it was getting crazy. The fact I could actually still run to 5km in two sets adding up in 22 minutes which isn’t bad for how I was feeling generally was irrelevant, this just wasn’t right. No say in the matter it was “get in the car your going to A&E”, turns out my boyfriend saved my life. Even in A&E I got “you’re too fit and healthy for this to happen to you but we might as well check”. I was in hospital for 5 days… I should have fought for my body sooner I knew it wasn’t acting normal but my normal was still better than most of the population so I let it slide. Please DON’T take no for an answer, fight for your body you know it better than anyone!! Just cause your normal might not be the norm doesn’t mean something not wrong even if the chances  of it being serious are 1 in million.

Me in Hospital

The Pros and Cons with Technology:

The world of sport technology has drastically increased over the last decade. It’s not uncommon to see people walking round with the latest GPS watch or fitbit, everyone seems to have them no matter who you are.

I love my Garmin and it gives me so much information on the breakdown of every aspect of my run that I could ever want from pace, heart rate, cadence, elevation you name it. However at the end of the day I don’t need to look at my watch or the data to know if it was a good run I just know. Your body will recognise effort not numbers if you have a recovery run, run to how you feel don’t look at your pace just run. If you look at any technology then look at your heart rate and the distance only. There are many different things that affect your workout especially if it is outside, the weather and terrain will play a huge role but even if your in the gym the amount of sleep, your diet, stress level ect will all make a difference some days you will just be tired and that’s fine.

If it is an easy or recovery session doesn’t push it, do the session comfortably you should be able to talk. Some days your comfortable may be a lot faster or slower that’s ok and completely normal. If you run strictly on pace you could either push it too much on days where your body is saying to take it easy and the same the other way you could be limiting a session by not pushing it hard enough when your feeling great. I’ve looked at my watch before and though what thats my pace but I feel great oh god I better pick it up. Frankly is stupid because it was a recovery run and it was meant to feel great, I was stressing over nothing.

If your in the middle of your harder session but feel awful, change the session don’t push through it switch it around do a easier session then later in the week do the harder one when your more up to it. If you back from injury split it up if you want to run 10km but are struggling stop at 5km and do the other half later if you feel up to it just listen to your body.

When researching this I found an interesting article given by Mary Keitany, lets face its she won numerous world titles, famous marathons and world records so she knows how to run and how to train for her sport. The Kenyans in general are famous for listen to their body and going by how they feel. She got asked simple questions like how many miles do you run the response was I don’t know I run twice a day once for 40 mins and in the evening an hour. She’s the best in the world and doesn’t even record how much she is doing, she just runs by how she feels.

The research:

As usual being from a medical background I have some research to back up my claims. The British Journal through Deakin University did a study comparing 56 studies monitoring all aspects of an athletes health some had subjective measures like how did it feel during, how was the recovery, did you feel stressed and the others had physiological testing of everything from lactate levels, hormonal markers, heart rate, VO2 max you name it they did it. The research showed that actually the subjective measures were better in both accuracy and sensitivity in evaluating the athlete’s performance than all the data. The athletes knew when they were pushing hard and when they weren’t they didn’t need the tests to tell them that. They were also able to pick up the subtle changes quicker than the tests noticed them. This can actually be reflected in my story I knew from my running that I wasn’t 100% right even before the tests showed I was ill. Listen to your body!! Its something I say to patients a lot you are the one that knows what’s normal and best for you. Deep down you know when you are pushing it too hard whether you listen or get carried away is a different thing all together but you do know.

I’m not saying that technology is bad and we shouldn’t run with GPS watches or use fitness trackers, I still wouldn’t run without mind but maybe silencing it or not showing all the data while your doing it might not be a bad idea every now and again.

Avoiding Injury and Overtraining:

Over-training happens slowly over time, it’s like lighting a tea light, which then develops into a complete outback bush fire devastating everything around it. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to over-train either, 33.3% of non-elite runners get over training syndrome at least once in their running careers and the rate is double with two thirds of elite athletes suffering from it. (Meeusen et al 2012) It also seems to be 4% more common in men. If you are an endurance athlete whether that’s a runner or cyclist ect. most of the common injuries are normally overuse so avoiding over training is essential.

If you let yourself be completely over trained you will have no choice but just to take time of and have complete rest. Therefore it’s not worth the risk in letting it build up to that point. You need to strike a balance between training hard and letting your body recovery and only you will know that.

You body will tell you that your pushing hard, you’ll be out of breathe, hot, sweaty but hopefully feel amazing after! Use your breathe as a tool it will often tell you when your starting to push it you’ll feel your heart beating faster and your breathing get quicker and heavier. However there is a point where pushing through fatigue don’t help your body at all you won’t get any fitness gains from it you’ll only run yourself further into the ground. You body needs rest and recovery in order to get stronger and that simple won’t happen if you’re too fatigued in the first place. (You can see more in my previous post about rest and recovery.) More is not always better, I am not a fan of no pain no gain sometimes it IS just too much. Yes you want to train hard and improve but that doesn’t mean pushing your body into the ground to do so, it will only lead to having more time off in the long run (excuse the pun).

I am the first to admit I am the worst at this but having the confidence to say no I am not right, it takes more than simply pushing through it. So don’t cut yourself short or think you’re a failure or pathetic you have actually done the hardest thing by simply listening. It’s not about training harder it’s about training smarter.

So what are the symptoms of over training?

  • Increased heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Weight change
  • Mood changes
  • Increased muscle aches after exercise (DOMS)
  • Frequent cold or taking longer to get rid of colds
  • Struggling to complete workouts that are normally fine
  • Insomnia or trouble sleeping
  • Loss of motivation to exercise

If you have any of these stop and think “is there a reason?” and if you have several of the symptoms take some time off. Having a low week or a week off won’t really affect your fitness (10 secs on a 5km if you run it in 20 mins) but having to take several weeks off will. This is where a training log comes in, compare the workout to previous equivalent sessions, if everything is similar the weather, terrain, what you ate before, stress levels, sleep ect but you still not completing the exercise like you used to then take a break. A training log is great to show your improvement and is reassuring when you have a bad run if there is a rational reason. However, it should also be used to used to show when your doing too much. For more on training logs read my previous post.

Adapting your sessions:

If your planned session isn’t going great then listen to your body and change it. It’s normal to have a bit of stiffness or tension in the warm up if you have had a hard workout the day before. However the tightness should go by the end of the warm up or ease off. If you still get the pain especially if it is getting worse then change the workout, cut the intensity whether it is the distance, intensity or number of reps. Otherwise stop stretch it out and continue if it continues then listen to your body and stop, and rest. Leave it a day or two put some ice on it, foam roll or stretch then test it out again. If it’s an on-going injury stop and cross train or change it up maybe its fine on grass but painful on concrete listen to your body and adapt. Just play around with it and listen to how you feel.


Saw AE, Main LC, Gastin PB. Monitoring the athlete training response:subjective self-reported measures trump commonly used objective measures: a systematic review. British Journal Sports Medicine. 2016

Meeusen, R., Duclos, M., Foster, C., Fry, A., Gleeson,M., Neiman, D., Raglin, J., Rietjens, G., Steinacker, J., Urcausen, A. (2012) Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment of the Overtraining Syndrome: Joint Consensus Statement of the European College of Sport Science and the American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine

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