How To Architect A Comeback

Let’s talk about techniques to deal with an injury and build back up to full strength. It’s something that requires a plan. The most important thing I can stress is patience. You’ll need a lot of it too.

Injury

You just suffered an injury and you’re going to be out a few weeks/months. The longer you’re out, the tougher it’ll be mentally to keep it together during this time. You need to focus on channeling your frustration into useful activities. Since you can’t run, there’s a few things you can do to make this time worthwhile.

1. Crosstraining

Do it. Do as much of it as possible. Make a point in figuring out what exercises are doable and which cause inflammation. If it causes inflammation, stop. Any amount of benefit will be lost by lengthening your recovery. The more cardio you can do the better. I recommend swimming, elliptical (use your arms, you’ll notice a huge difference in heart rate), and biking. The more cardio you can do, the less you’ll lose during your time off.

2. Weights

Hit the gym. Lawyer up. Delete Facebook. Just kidding, this isn’t a divorce (although it probably feels like one). But seriously, hit the gym and maintain strength. If you have any muscle imbalances or weaknesses, this is the time to work on them. Do your core workouts and strengthen your overall body. It may feel like it’s worthless, but you’re preventing relapses and other injuries by doing this.

3. Work on flexibility

Stretch. Take up yoga or pilates (if your injury allows). This is another activity we all procrastinate doing because we’re too busy running. Now is the time!

4. Donate blood

Want that warm tingly feeling inside? Donate blood. Since you’re not running workouts and not racing, now is the time to do things like donating blood. They want your blood.. it’s highly oxygenated. It’s runner’s blood, only a short step down from tiger’s blood.

5. Volunteer at a race

Let’s be honest, you’re too busy racing to volunteer usually. Now you have the time. Give back to your community, get to know the running community, make some new friends. It’ll be hard to watch, but when you realize those runners need you and the water cups you’re handing them, you’ll feel like you’re part of the race.

6. Be patient. Don’t come back too early.

Talk to your doctor. Pay attention to your body. I know you’re chomping at the bit to come back but if you come back too soon, you’ll re-injure yourself and prolong the problem.

Rebuilding

You’ve taken a large chunk of time off. Your body feels ready to start training again. Want to stay healthy? Be cautious and come back slowly. Build up base mileage over a few months. I know you’ve had a few months off and want to get right back to your previous mileage, but your body isn’t ready for that yet. You took weeks/months off, so it’s going to take at least that long to build up again.

1. Build base mileage

In the first weeks, just do easy running. Depending on your injury, you’ll probably only want to do 3-4 days a week at first. Cut your mileage down. If you’re used to a 7 mile run, do 4 miles. Just at first. Every week (if you’re feeling injury free) you can add to some or all of your weekday runs. You’ll need to find some of that patience now. It’ll pay off.

2. Throw in some tempo paced fartleks

You want to keep the workouts unstructured until you’re back to regular mileage. Increasing intensity and mileage at the same time is asking for trouble. So a month into your build up, throw in some tempo paced segments here and there. You want to remind your body what hard running feels like without an extended effort.

3. The long run

If you’re anything like me, the first thing you lose is aerobic fitness. Make a point to build up your long run 1 or 2 miles a week until you’re back to your normal weekend long run. It’ll feel like hell, but don’t sweat it. In a few months, you’ll be back to thinking nothing of a 20 miler.

4. Patience Patience Patience!

Don’t build up too fast. You don’t have to adhere to the 10% rule unless you’ve been out for 6 months or more, but don’t make large leaps in consecutive weeks. Your muscles and aerobic system might feel great, but there’s a lot of connective tissue that went on vacation and it’s going to need time to acclimate again. Look out for common overuse injuries such as IT band, tendonitis, plantar fasciitis. If you encounter one of these, take a few days off, drop intensity and focus on base building. Cross train if you can.

Conclusion

Going through injuries is hell. If you’re out a long time you start to feel like you’ll never run again. Your previous PR fitness and all your hard work went out the window right? Not exactly. Your body comes back more quickly than if you’d never been in shape before. You can make huge leaps in fitness in a short time. I’ve seen 10k times drop a minute or more over 4 weeks and we’re talking times in the mid to high 30s. You just have to learn to be patient, deal with all of the mental anguish in a constructive way, and focus on building back in a way that doesn’t cause re-injury. Listen to your body.

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About thedillyruns

In 2007 I decided to join a running group to train for a marathon. I'd never run more than 4 miles at a stretch and never raced. I grew up playing basketball. After a promising first half marathon, I grew hungry to run faster.
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