Take the Conservative Road Back to Running After an Injury
We all have almost certainly experienced some setbacks from running. Looking back over the years, I have gone through my fair share. Whether from an injury, illness or just life, there are times when we have to step away from running altogether. Making the decision to take time off can be especially difficult if you are trying to reach a goal. Maybe more important, though, are the steps you should take when it is time to start running after an injury or a layoff.
Coming back to running after an extended period away requires a gradual progression that most will find frustrating or discouraging. I have made this progression back several times during twenty-five years of running. Each time I come back, I feel the loss of overall fitness, but I always ask myself one question. Would I rather make a slow, pain-free progression back to my fitness level before the layoff, or force myself back to that level too quickly and risk re-injuring myself? You are better to run a little less for some time to allow your body to continue to heal.
Recommended Weekly Mileage Post Recovery
Even if your reason for not running was that work got in the way for three weeks, the principles to training remain the same. A general guide to setting up your weekly mileage should be as follows:
For two weeks off, start back with 50 percent of weekly mileage before the injury or time off.
After four weeks off, start back at 30 percent.
For six to eight weeks or longer; start with a walk or jog.
If your time off was from an injury, then you should be able to walk for 30 minutes without any pain before returning to running. Close to 80 percent of running injuries are a result of too quick of an increase in mileage. Gradually increase your total running time/miles by no more than 10 percent each week as you come back to running after an injury. All of this running should be done at a relatively easy effort. Most experts recommend that you stay away from hills and speed work until you are back to 75-80 percent of your mileage before the injury occurred.
Learn From Your Mistakes
Remember, it is important that you discover the reason for the injury. Knowing why the injury occurred will greatly help to prevent re-injury. Factors such as strength, biomechanics, flexibility, running surface, and the type of shoes can all lead to injury. Learning from these mistakes is essential to getting back into running, staying healthy, and continuing to reach your goals.
Each time I experience an injury or time away from running, I re-focus my attention and efforts to increasing strength and flexibility. Coming back, you most likely will not be running your usual total number of days per week. Use some of these days off to find new cross-training activities to enjoy. I prefer to swim, hike, or stand-up paddle board, but anything that is not as hard on your body as running will be helpful to your mind and body.
Returning from an injury also marks a good time to get re-fitted for a pair of running shoes or to learn if a custom shoe insert can provide some additional support. As your body changes, you can expect to see some change in your running and walking gait. By re-analyzing your gait you will be able to stay on top of these changes, improve your overall body alignment, and reduce the incidence of stress related injuries.
If you feel any pain or unusual fatigue during your comeback, stop running. Go back to walking and cross-training until all issues subside. Just like me, you are going to have ups and downs as you get back into running. You have to learn to roll with the punches. Don’t get too excited on the good days or too down with the bad days. Even during a smooth return to training, you may get discouraged. It is okay to feel this way, it’s normal, we all feel it. Just keep with it, continue cross training, take care of your body, and you will make your way back. Make sure you listen to your body and read more about Common Running Mistakes to give yourself the best possible road back to running strong!