Running is hard on your body, says Kaiser Permanente race team captain Jodi Thirtyacre. “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 amongst the more common types of running injuries.
“I twisted my ankle during a warm up run before a cross country race,” says Thirtyacre. “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, Thirtyacre says, but even more frustrating was trying to get back into running after that. Here are a few of the things she suggests for how to get back into training without too much risk of re-injury.
Start back slowly and gradually
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.
Don’t just run — build up stamina in other ways
“I’m a big fan of cross-training. I concentrate on my form rather than my speed. A friend of mine injured her foot and swam during her recovery,” she says. Swimming, biking, Pilates, and weight training are all great alternatives to running while recovering. Cross training also helps avoid injuries as you condition different muscles. And it 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.
Train alone at first
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,” says Thirtyacre. Also, when you train with others there’s a tendency to push yourself too hard.
Set yourself a schedule of intensifying runs
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