Don't just jump back into running after an injury, take it slow.

How to Start Running Again after an Injury

Ask long-time runners, and they will tell you that running can be hard on the body. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t experienced some sort of injury at one time. A pulled hamstring, shin splints, knee pain, or a twisted ankle are among the more common types of running injuries.

I twisted my ankle during a warm up run before a cross country race. It was uneven ground, and I wasn’t paying attention. I shook it off and ran the race, but that evening my foot swelled up and I was in pain and had to stay off my foot for several days. Even after that, although it felt OK, I decided not to run for two weeks because I didn’t want to re-injure my ankle.

It was frustrating to take two weeks off, but it was even more frustrating trying to get back into running after taking time away and getting out of shape. As captain of Kaiser Permanente San Francisco’s running team, I have lots of experience with runners recovering from injury.

Here are a few suggestions for how to get back into training safely.

Start Slow, Ramp Up

I was on a cross country team when I injured my ankle. I wanted to complete the season so I started back slow and took very easy runs until I felt stronger. Even though it’s frustrating not to jump right back in, you have to remember that if you re-injure yourself, you’ll just lose even more time and progress. And be careful: After an injury, that area may be a “weak spot” for you, and more susceptible to impact. Or, if you baby one area, you can put extra pressure on other areas, causing an injury someplace else.

Built Up Strength in Other Ways

I’m a big fan of cross-training. I concentrate on my form rather than my speed. It’s also a good idea to vary your routine, so you’re building strength in other ways. Cross training is a good choice, as it uses different muscles. Swimming, biking, Pilates, and weight training are all great alternatives to running while recovering. Participating in other actitivities keeps you from feeling that you’re falling out of shape. It’s important to feel good as you get back to your old mileage.

Don’t Try to Keep Up with a Group

Even if you usually run with a buddy or a group, take a break and train alone for a couple of weeks. Recently, I had issues with sciatica. I never stopped running, but I ran alone, stopping regularly to stretch. I knew I’d get really frustrated if I ran with others and tried to keep up. Also, when you train with others there’s a tendency to push yourself too hard.

Set Yourself a Training Schedule

As the Half Marathon draws near, I follow this buildup schedule:

  • 4 weeks before Half: 8-10 miles
  • 3 weeks before Half: 10-12 miles
  • 2 weeks before Half: 12-13 miles
  • 1 week before Half: Decrease back down to 8-10 miles
  • The week leading up to Half: 3- 5 miles (easy running) for three to four days
  • The day before Half: light run 2-3 miles or rest

Have fun!

Veteran marathon runner Jodi Thirtyacre works for Kaiser Permanente as the manager of the Department of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology at the San Francisco Medical Center. Jodi began running when she was only nine and ran track in high school. She kept up her regimen in college and ran her first marathon at 21. Jodi is the captain of Kaiser Permanente's teams for the Half Marathon and 5K.