Preventing Backyard and Balcony Running Injuries

Backyard or balcony running has become a thing. With lockdown arrived some challenges “Mzansi challenge- 2km/ day for 21 days. It had a nice feel about it- a marathon over 21 days. (It has now been extended to an Ultra marathon). The goal was to cover this distance in a small space- around you house or garden.

So started other challenges. Running lockdown half marathons, marathons, and even Comrades through your garden. Probably all inspired by the French runner who ran a marathon on his 7m balcony.

A few considerations to prevent injuries.

  1. The size of your garden/ balcony/ passage. The last few weeks I have taken part in the KZNT garden series. People have very different sized garden- some have a perimeter of about 1km, and others are perhaps similar to the 7m balcony, and anything inbetween. The 7 m balcony/ living room has lots of tight turns and no ability to get into a stride. The garden can also be tight and narrow but for those not used to running trail this present different challenges, and potential injuries. My friend had to do 325 loops of her garden to make 5km. That is a lot of turns. The marathon guy did 6028 loops.
  2. The surface: the balcony/ basement parking garage/ passage are hard surfaces, and different to what we are used to. Also they are totally flat. No variation into a sneaky uphill, a bit of relief on the down hill etc. The garden is a bit more varied, and may include a driveway or paved area.
  3. How fit were you before lockdown? Some people were training for two oceans and comrades, some were regular park runners, others have literally been inspired by the challenge and starting from a zero base.


If you Strava feed currently looks like this, then here are some solutions:Strava lockdown run

  1. If possible try mix up the routes. Change direction in your garden, if on the balcony or driveway make sure you mix the turns back and forward- sometime turning to the left, and sometimes to the right.
  2. Mix up the tempo. This may not always be possible. In my pre-lockdown run week, I had easy runs, speed sessions, long runs and easy runs. I also had a RunStrong strength session. Think of this in your small space- perhaps one day warm up and the sprint up the drive way and jog back. Do a couple of these in your session to break up the speed of the runs. On a normal run route there are hills, and you get to work on the up and cruise on the down. There is none of this on a balcony/ driveway. Think of changing the tempo e.g.adding a walk every 10th lap, or walking the turns.
  3. Add a strength work out to your running. Runners are notoriously bad at strength work, myself included. It is easier to skip the gym session than the track session. But adding a strength workout of 15minutes 3x per week can improve your performance over an 8 week period. Choose 7 exercises to strengthen your body targeting major muscle groups. Make yourself a mini circuit. An example: Run 2-3minutes between doing calf raises, bridging, step ups onto a chair/ garden wall, squats, sit ups, push ups, tricep dips on a chair.

Check out our chair workout . You could do one of the exercise every x amount of laps (sit to stand with shoulder press, step up with shoulder press, tricep dips, single leg lunge with heel raise and biceps burl, bridge, and single leg bridge with alternate leg lift)

Other considerations:

  1. Try keep active during the day. Last week Thursday it was 5pm I had done 717 steps. I had literally sat at my desk all day working. This is not my usual day. I think even for those of you who have desk jobs you are probably moving from one zoom meeting to Microsoft team netting without getting up. There are coffee breaks to the kitchen but this may give me 50 steps. Make a habit of getting up. Have a coffee break and walk round your garden, enjoy the autumn feel. Notice the cool mornings and evening but warm days. Get up.
  2. Put some boundaries and structure in place. I think the feeling is, it is lockdown and you ain’t going anywhere so we can have a meeting anytime. But it is important to have routines and boundaries. My day normally starts with exercise and then work. Try stick to those routines. When working from home it is important to have boundaries. Structure work time, family time and time for you.
  3. Don’t underestimate effect if stress on our bodies. Extra-ordinary times. Work has new and different demands, kids working at home, we are rethinking our work and solutions. I find myself problem solving and future thinking all day. I also find myself zoomed out. I have done online yoga, an online course, chatted to friends on WhatsApp, but that is a lot of technology . My body will be feeling those stresses. So sometimes by the end of the day we are more tired. The body notes it is tired but it is more of a mental than physical fatigue. Getting out and letting your body move will be a blessing. But this may not be the day to push yourself- start you run or walk and see how you feel.
  4. Backyard and living room running is not the same as the open road. I have seen on running groups people saying “ my pace is much slower”. Don’t get obsessed about pace. My twist and turn and sneak between the wall and the tree, and run along the grass around the tree is hardly the open road. The environments are not the same. So you can compare your balcony and garden pace to you over time and see if you get faster, but not to your time on the open road. Just like road and trail are not the same, nor is balcony and garden running.
  5. Running in tight spaces puts different stresses on the body. I have heard “my knee is niggling”. Yes 320 turns for a 5km and 6028 turns on a 7m balcony will put different strains on different parts of the body. If you are planning a big lockdown challenge then train for it like any other event- build the distance up in your space. Let your body adjust to the turns. Be mindful of changing the way you do turn. If running laps up and down the passage, vary your turns, vary you pace (walk the 10th lap, walk the turn etc). Increase the time you run, and build up to your lockdown 5km/10km/ half marathon/marathon or any other distance just as you would any other race. You probably have the fitness but the stresses are different.

Have fun out there, this definitely is a different time. Let your exercise be a stress relief, and not a stress creator. We will remember this time for years to come. Appreciate the spaces. I see new part of the garden, and each run I seem to notice something different. So far this is my favorite section and presently I don’t mind running past this many times on a run, and I smile each time, and even occasionally stop to small the roses.

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