Returning to Running After Injury

>> Friday, December 17, 2010

We've received a number of questions related to how I'm planning to resume training as my knee heals. And though I'm definitely not back to normal yet -- still experiencing regular tightness and some slight pain on every run -- I'm better-ish enough to start seriously thinking about this issue myself.

Latest professional opinion on the matter (from my PT) is that it's alright for me to run. To hasten the healing process, we've decided on a course of hydrocortisone starting next week. This isn't a cortisone shot. Instead, it's a patch that is hooked up to a little machine that will use battery power to pulse the medicine into my knee. I didn't necessarily want this type of intervention, but after 10 weeks of dealing with this issue, I'm up for pretty much anything.

As for mileage: I'm focusing on between 15 and 20 miles for now, 3 to 4 days per week. A huge drop from my marathon schedule (regular weeks between 40 and 50 miles, 5 to 6 days per week). A big jump from what I've been doing (5 to 10 miles, depending).

See the difference?

Usually in the winter, I do scale my running back quite dramatically. I run maybe between 80 and 95 miles a month versus the 150+ during the heavy fall season. So, at 15 to 20 miles a week, that'll bring me in somewhere around 70 to 90.

If I can get back to this level soon-ish, I'll be thrilled!

Most of this mileage will be run indoors because I'm trying to watch my step. Run on even surfaces. Avoid ice and slipping. Regulate my pace (I'm running a full MPH slower on the treadmill than I normally do -- but that's OK. It's running!). And it's also nice if I do indeed need to stop, I'm able to quit without having to walk 2 miles home in the blustery weather.

In January, I'm hoping to participate in a 10K series, but only for fun. Racing isn't a priority right now. Nor is any specific training goal. I haven't been running, so despite how I may feel . . . my muscles/bones/etc. can't handle anything intense right now.

  • I'm not signing up in advance for any spring races. In fact, I may only do smaller, local races where I can sign up the day of. I don't want to set my sights on something big with the possibility of being let down. That's happened too many times already! Nor do I need to race to be fit and happy. I'd like to do a few half marathons, but we'll see how my recovery goes before thinking that far ahead.
  • I'm training like a triathlete. And though I doubt I'll get into the sport (it's a little too high-maintenance for me -- too much gear and other stuff to worry about -- I think) However, without even realizing it, I'm basically following a Half Ironman plan right now (I Googled it for fun this morning and was surprised that my training looked similar!). I've started hitting the pool 3 times a week at a mile each time. I've been indoor cycling at around 18 to 19 MPH 2 to 3 days per week for 45 minutes to an hour. And once my running gets back up, I'm hoping to soon build to 8 to 10 mile long runs. I'm in way better overall shape now than I was in the fall.
  • I'm getting into strength training. Emily (Daily Garnish) wrote a great post about this topic the other day! Stephen has me lifting weights 2 to 3 times per week. I mostly focus on upper-body, 30 minute sessions. Starting with the bigger muscles (chest, back) and working to the smaller ones. I am also keeping up with regular push-ups (40 to 50 a set, 2 sets every other day) and chin-ups (up to doing 5!).
  • I'm treating my workouts more like recreation than work. Usually when I train, there's an element of work to it. Not in a way that I don't enjoy, but now . . . if i miss a trip to the gym, I don't freak out. I take a walk later that day. Or if I don't have a great run, I hop on the bike or do something else. The Earth doesn't stop turning. I don't fall horribly behind on my training schedule.
  • Did I mention I'm just trying to have fun? OK. I did. But REALLY! Tonight I'm going on a slow run with friends to look at all the pretty holiday lights around our neighborhood! I'm focusing less on pace and distance and more on moving my body and catching up with folks.

  • Take each day at a time. I can't emphasize enough that if you're coming back from injury, you shouldn't start out doing too much. Set small goals, but not ones that require intense training (speed, distance, time, etc.). Half of getting better is healing from the mental letdown, so if you set yourself up for disappointment (because every injury and recovery is different), it'll be 10 times worse than it needs to be if you don't heal right away.
  • Focus on overall health and fitness versus running alone (or whatever your primary sport may be). I never thought throughout this off-time I'd end up in better shape than when I began. But, here I am swimming miles in the pool, cranking out intervals on the spinning bike, and sporting a new pair of guns.
  • Don't expect to be back where you were before your injury. You may be worse. You may even be better! After any time off, the game has changed. That's for sure. If you're not back to your old athlete-self, you'll get there eventually. If you're in better shape, don't leave all that cross-training behind just yet. Evaluate the good and bad and consider keeping some of those other activities in the mix.
  • Remember that racing and events don't necessarily make you a better runner. I think a lot of emphasis is placed on them. And -- yes -- races are fun! However, before I got into marathoning, I did far fewer races than I do now. I think I have achieved some pretty respectable personal records . . . but racing too much can actually make me slower. In the future, I'm hoping to pick a few events and spend the rest of my time training smart for them.

This post is so long, I feel like I need some grand conclusion. Here's the short of it. I'm incredibly excited that I'm feeling somewhat better. I think I started my first week back (a couple week ago) a little too aggressively, so these tips are from what I learned in the process of finding my stride again. I want to get back to "normal" soon, but not at the risk of hurting myself more.

Plus, it seems there's a new "normal" for me. So, I'm happy to adapt and grow as an athlete!

Though I won't be logging 3-hour 20-milers anytime soon, with some careful attention to my body, cross-training, and positive attitude, I can see myself coming back from this whole ordeal a lot fitter and more balanced than before!

Of course, I'm not the only person in the history of running to be injured. Please share your recovery stories with us! What did you do to get back into the sport? What did you learn? Did you forever change the way you train? We want to hear it all!

Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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