Picture this: you’ve just heard these dreaded words from your doctor: ‘You need to take time off from running.’ Blerg! Maybe it’s shin splints, a stress fracture, runner’s knee or some other ugly injury. Take heart that there are things that you can do as you heal to protect the training gains you’ve made thus far. As always, make sure you check with your physician before starting any new training plan, especially if you are injured.
If you just sit on your kiester for 6-8 weeks while you recover from an injury, you’ll experience the effects of training reversibility. The key to maintaining your level of fitness while recovering from an injury is cross training.
There are a variety of activities that runners can do to cross-train. You should be able to find one that won’t aggravate your injury. A few of our favorite cross-training activities are swimming, cycling, hitting the elliptical, and water running. Certain injuries will keep you from doing some of these activities, but you can water run, or “aqua jog,” through most injuries.
It can be easy to get discouraged when you’re trying to recover from a running injury – especially about 3 weeks in, when you’re really starting to itch for a run and you’ve got over a month of recovery ahead of you. Even when it’s hard, do your best to stay consistent with your cross-training workouts, because they’ll help you hold onto your fitness while your body heals. Write your current running goal out and post it somewhere you’ll see it often, to remind yourself why you’re dealing with the monotony of cross training while you can’t run.
Enjoy the Challenge
You typically wouldn’t deviate from your running routine, so try to look at the recovery process as a chance to try something new. Mix up your workouts to keep yourself interested, and to mirror the running workouts you would be doing if you weren’t injured. If you typically run hard interval repeats on Mondays, and log long easy mileage on Wednesdays, then cross-train with a hard interval workout on Mondays and a long easy session on Wednesdays. Make sure you’re working above 70% of your VO2 max at least a few times each week, to help you maintain your aerobic fitness.
Make a Slow Comeback
Fast forward several weeks: you’ve patiently worked through hours of cross training sessions to keep your fitness on (kudos!). When your doctor clears you to run, you’ll probably want to lace up your trainers and head out for endless miles of road or trail. Hold it right there. Jumping back in too quickly following an injury can cause you to aggravate the condition you’ve worked so hard to fix.
Ease back into running slowly by starting out with very short easy runs (we’re talking ten minutes, max) on soft surfaces. If you’re having trouble limiting your mileage during the first week or two after you’re cleared to run, just think of all those pruny-toed hours spent aqua jogging in the pool. Remember: running is a privilege, not a right – respect your body accordingly.