Last month, I was unable to run due to a stress fracture in my shin bone. Now I am back to running, but it’s been a slow process that has left me anxious and annoyed. Coming back from an injury takes a lot of patience and understanding of your body.
Your fitness will come back faster than you think. It doesn’t seem like it at the time, but we don’t lose much of our endurance when we are injured for eight weeks or less. Our body will bounce back quickly, even if it doesn’t seem like it during those first few weeks of slogging through our runs. Remain positive and don’t let doubt and negativity get in the way of your training.
Take it slow and steady – Breathe deep and know that by being patient with yourself, you will be back to your glorious runner-ness soon. Recovery is a process, and so is returning to running after a period off. It is ALWAYS better to be a little undertrained than it is to miss a race or more because you are continuously injured.
Start at a walk – Give yourself a week of fast-paced walking for 60 minutes at a time. By starting at a walk, you can assess how your body is feeling, and if the injury is still giving you issues. You should be able to walk without pain before you start running again. If you still have pain, give yourself more time off.
Walk breaks are your friends – When you start running again, begin with taking walk breaks at regular intervals. Alternating running with walk breaks will not only help you complete your specific mileage after a long break, but it will give your body a chance to rest a little during your workout. Giving your body a break from the jarring effects of running can help prevent re-injury.
Ease back into running – Don’t run more than 30 to 60 minutes at a time until the 3rd or 4th week after returning to running. Increasing your mileage too fast is a ticket to re-injuring yourself. I know how hard it is to rein in the wild racehorse inside of you, but do it for yourself. By easing yourself back to a normal training cycle, you will ensure your body’s ability to keep on running. Don’t rush now.
Run every other day – Don’t go for a streak. Don’t try to be a hero. You will only re-injure yourself. Give your ligaments/joints/muscles/etc. time off to recover. The last thing you want to do is be back on the injured list. The waiting will start all over again and will get you nowhere. Take it easy.
Pay close attention to hydration and nutrition – Focus on staying hydrated and well-fueled when you start running again. Your body has been working hard to heal itself over the past few weeks or months; feeding it diet soda and junk food is not going to help you have your best initial workouts.
Stretch often – Stretching before and after each run should always be a priority. Specifically, you will want to stretch out the injured area. Take care not to overextend any muscles. Foam rolling should be performed after every run and whenever there is tightness or an ache in your body. Don’t neglect any area of your body during this time. We tend to favor our injured part until we are confident it is completely healed, which can lead to overcompensating and injuring other parts of our bodies.
Increase your cross-training – While you are ramping up your mileage, put more focus on cross training to build your running and non-running related muscles. While it is always important to have a solid cross-training plan, now is a great time to really focus on it. We all know that to a runner, any other activity is sub-par, but there are many other workouts that will help you burn the energy—and will assist in your running fitness.
Focus on strength training – If you were unable to strength train during your injury downtime, start working on it as soon as you can. Build those muscles back up (but not too quickly) so you aren’t setting yourself up for re-injury.
Listen to your body & have fun – Lastly, pay close attention to what your body is telling you. If you start experiencing pain in the injured area again, stop running and assess the situation. Is it just slightly uncomfortable? Are you experiencing pain when not running? Does the pain go away with a rest day? Being overly cautious during this period is always better than running through something that should have been addressed. Utilize the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) if necessary. Don’t ignore an issue, but do have fun getting back to your running routine.
Enjoy yourself, and thrill in the fact that you are running again. Even if you can only run a 10th of what you were running before injury struck.