Returning from Injury, Stronger than Ever

Running the ski hill at Hyland Lake Park Reserve, post-injury, feeling strong

Running the ski hill at Hyland Lake Park Reserve, post-injury, feeling strong

After a Thursday morning track workout in the beginning of June, my right calf started to tighten up. I didn't exactly ignore it, but I didn't exactly treat it like an injury, and a week later in the midst of an awesome tempo run I pulled up with a half mile to go. Definitely injured.

I've pretty much always been a year-round athlete, but in the last 5 years or so I've slowly become a year-round competitor; I pretty much always have another event on the near horizon. But, if ever there was a "good time for an injury", this was it. I didn't have any events planned in June and was just focused on building volume ahead of some long races in August, October and December. My biggest concern was being able to hike and run during a vacation in Colorado in the beginning of July.

The good news was I could bike with no pain, so it wasn't difficult to make substitutions and maintain the same planned training load. After consulting with my coach and a doctor, I put together a plan to get myself back to running without further setback, and then quietly put in a surprising number of training hours - my biggest June in the last 5 years and one of my biggest months in general over that time frame.

Since slowly reintroducing running over the past week, I have felt great. My aerobic fitness certainly didn't suffer - that's no surprise - but I wasn't expecting to come back with an extra spring in my step and more power on climbs than I had before injury. This was a very successful rehab. I think I was lucky in a lot of ways, but there were also some main themes which helped me work through it and come through stronger.

Find a silver lining. This was just a week or so before a trip to the east coast. With some free time before a wedding, I decided to rent a really nice bike and take a ride up the Maine coast. This gave me something to look forward to, mid-way through the rehab. I got pretty fired up about biking in general and ended up the month riding over 200 miles (I probably average less than 50).

Don't push an injury at all. It can be tricky to know if you're working with nagging soreness or a true injury. I believe in pushing yourself through little niggles - that's what I thought I was doing in the fateful tempo run I described above. But my calf failed that test and it was obvious I was dealing with a real injury. At that point I gave in and committed to not running until I was completely pain free. I had actually run into this irunfar article not long before and found the "hop test" to be very useful in gauging where I was at.

Do push the training (without pushing the injury) - something surprising might come out of it. For the couple weeks that I wasn't running I basically subbed in biking for whatever running I had on the schedule. This month that meant some long rides and some hill repeats. I attribute the unexpected gains I've made this month to the latter. Here in the midwest we don't have a lot of hills, but I managed to find a couple of nice car-free 1-min hills to ride. This type of short power work has a lot of benefits for hilly trail running, but we don't have many hills steep enough to generate so much lactic acid while running. I had forgotten how much quad-burn you can inflict on yourself on a bike, and I think my legs are stronger as a result. Biking hill repeats are going to stay on my training plan regularly moving forward.

Reintroduce running slowly. Once I could run with zero pain, the plan my coach and I laid out called for a 1 mile run, then a day off, then a 2 mile run, off, 3mi, off, 4mi, off, then 5mi, 5mi, off, 5mi, 5mi, off. I do have to admit that I accelerated this slightly. Despite temptations, I stuck to the 1 and 2 mile days according to plan. But then after a rest day I ran the 3 and 4 mile days back to back, and am calling myself fully rehabbed after the first two 5 mile days. The ramp up was easy since there were no setbacks, but maybe there were no setbacks because the ramp up was slow. Either way, it went well, so I would do it the same again.

That's it. Have you worked through any injuries recently? How did it go?

Hiking the ski-jump hill at Hyland Lake Park Reserve post injury, feeling strong

Hiking the ski-jump hill at Hyland Lake Park Reserve post injury, feeling strong