November 21, 2019
Returning to Running After an Injury
Written By: Bill Reifsnyder — Superfeet Wellness Panel Member. Bill Reifsnyder is the founder of Camp Runabout, the only adult summer camp for runners on the planet, and is committed to helping runners of all ages and abilities achieve their goals and get the most out of their training plans. Bill is a former professional runner and holds the third fastest time ever run by an American for 10 miles (46:32).
There are two types of runners, those who have been injured and those who will get injured. Granted, not all running injuries are serious, but at some time in your running career, chances are you will have to take a little time off because of an ache or pain. This downtime can be challenging to navigate, as running is more than your chosen exercise. For many, it is a way of life, your alone time, your stress reliever, how you connect with your friends, and much more. When an injury suddenly removes running from your life, it can be hard to cope, you will want to get back on the roads as soon as possible, and with that comes many questions. How long do you need to rest before you can start running again? What does your training program look like when you start training after an injury? When can you get back to your normal training regimen?
Since the goal is to get you running again as quickly as possible, but not so soon as to exasperate your injury, the following tips may prove helpful:
A Blessing in Disguise
Sometimes a minor injury that forces you to miss a few days of running can make you take a needed break that you would not otherwise consider. Many runners over train. They live by the motto “more is better” or “no pain, no gain.” A short break can give your body much needed rest and allow you to come back stronger and better.
Listen to Your Body
Your body has an uncanny ability to tell you what you can and shouldn’t do. It is continuously giving you signals about its well-being. When you are returning to running after an injury, tune into what your body is saying. If something hurts back off. Do not ignore the pain. Be patient. Pushing through it will only cause your injury to return and increase your recovery time.
Cross-training prevents injuries but can also help get you back on track once injured. This is especially important if your injury will keep you from running for a prolonged time. If impact with the ground is the culprit of your pain, find a non-impact activity that will maintain your cardiovascular fitness while recovering from your injury (stationary bike, elliptical machine, pool running, hand-bike). Maintaining cardio fitness while injured will enable you to ramp up your running faster once your doctor gives you the green light. You can also strengthen your core and work on overall body strength with a low weight high reps routine.
During your comeback, you will be tempted to do too much too soon. I have seen it time and time again. A runner starts to feel a little better. They get overconfident and decide to join their friends for a longer run or jump in a weekend 5K and BOOM…their injury returns. Remember, patience is a virtue, and good things come to those who wait.
Walk Before You Run
Depending on the length of time you missed, adopting a walk-run program could be just what the doctor ordered. It is necessary to slowly build your cardiovascular system, as well as your musculoskeletal system after an injury. If you overstress muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints or connective tissue weakened during your injury, you could be back to square one. Walking first and gradually increasing your run time will allow you to gain fitness and strength appropriately and avoid reinjury.
Initially, running smaller loops instead of a long out and back course keeps you closer to home. If your injury flares up, you can return home quickly without causing undo damage traversing the miles back to your starting point.
Rebuild Your base
Your base is your foundation for faster running and prolonged health. You are building your base from day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year. The more miles you have in your log, the wider your base. The wider your base, the more quality running (speed workouts, hill workouts, tempo runs, and races) you can do without getting injured. Picture a triangle with three equal sides. The bottom is your base, and the point is your peak fitness. The wider your base, the higher the peak you can achieve. When you get injured, you may have to rebuild your base before you start adding a lot of quality to your training program. The extent of base work needed depends on two factors: how wide your base was before you were injured, and how much time you missed because of your injury. If you’ve been running for ten years and you only missed a week of running, then you can jump back into hard training reasonably quickly. If you’ve been running for one year and you missed a month, then you should do some long slow running and strength workouts before tackling faster running.
Several factors dictate how you should return to running after an injury. Your pre-injury fitness level, body weight, biomechanics, and the type of injury should be taken into consideration. Err on the side of caution when getting back on your feet. Running is a lifestyle, not an activity. It is something you can enjoy for the rest of your life, and in the long run (pun intended), missing a few more days or weeks to ensure you return to running safely, is a small price to pay for happiness we get from our sport.