Running: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Running: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Richard Johnston is a musculoskeletal physiotherapist and completed a PhD which investigated training load and injury associations within an endurance athlete population. He is also an avid long-distance runner and currently trains with Hunter athletics club.

Combining his passion for running and his expertise, he has some top tips for anyone looking to run long and strong as you train for your next event.


Running remains one of the most popular forms of physical activity globally and its health-enhancing effects have been well documented. Pain and injury are common among marathon runners, especially for novice runners. To reduce and control this risk, it is important that the training volume and intensity is progressed in a gradual manner.

This is especially true for individuals with a low baseline fitness level or who are unaccustomed to running. It is important to remember that pain and injury can be delayed. That is, you might not experience symptoms for up to four to six weeks following an increase in training loads.

Building up slowly to being able to run moderate to high training volumes consistently in the long term might reduce the risk of sustaining an injury. The route taken is more important than the destination!


For the more competitive runner, an appropriate distribution of easy and hard runs is also something to consider. Speed sessions (intervals, fartlek, tempo runs etc.) need to be balanced with easy runs. For many elite distance runners, as much as 80 percent of their training runs are “easy” with the remaining 20 percent completed at high intensity.

The easy runs allow sufficient recovery to both tolerate and execute the more demanding sessions. The most common mistake is running too quickly on the easy days leading to diminished performance and a higher risk of injury.


The demanding nature of training for a marathon imposes stress on the body, therefore Sufficient recovery is essential to maximise the benefits of training, to improve performance, to reduce the risk of injury and to prevent overtraining. Additional stressors such as everyday life stress, a demanding work schedule, anxiety and poor sleep habits further add to the physiological stress of marathon training.

It is therefore important to recognise such factors as the emerging evidence suggests that such stressors can interfere with the adaptations to training and increase the risk for injury. Sleep is a fundamental process required to optimise recovery, as adequate sleep is linked to a reduced risk of injury, improved performance and improved mental health. Nutrition, relaxation techniques such as mindfulness and stress management techniques can further aid recovery.


Running related injuries can be multifactorial and it is important to identify potential injury drivers, therefore, you should work alongside a physiotherapist who can assess and determine injury contributors. Physiotherapist assessment will identify areas in your biomechanics and strength that can be targeted to reduce running-related injury risk.


A common belief among the distance running community is that strength training will slow you down due to an increase in muscle bulk. However, scientific evidence has shown that strength training can lead to improved running economy and performance. When strength training is added to a well-designed running training program, any increase in muscle bulk can be avoided.

It is important that the training is gradual and progressive and should be tailored to the individual depending on their performance goals, injury history and general health. Strength training is an important part of injury rehabilitation and prevention programs. It helps to build capacity to tolerate the demands of running.

In summary, progress your training gradually, ensure your easy runs are easy enough, work on optimising your sleep routine and consider adding strength training to your routine.