By Josh Harris, Professional Athlete, World Championships Marathon Representative, Team Brooks Athlete
I hope you’ve been running happy and have achieved all of your 2018 goals. We’re entering that time where we all set lofty new goals for the year ahead, and inevitably with unrivalled enthusiasm. Occasionally this can lead to us overdoing it and the possibility of an untimely injury increases. I certainly hope this isn’t the case, but we all have setbacks at some point in our running lives, and this post will help you to overcome some of the struggles we face when recovering from an injury.
I’ve been dealing with an injury for 16 months. I was unable to run a step for 330 days, and a further 5 months later i’m able to run just 10% of what i’m accustomed to. There were times that I believed the start of the 2017 World Championships Marathon would be the final time that i’d ever run fluently, but I write this piece with additional wisdom, and a new outlook on what running means to me.
For years I thought running defined me, but I’ve been forced to adapt without running. I’m now able to do some running, and I value every step that I’m able to take, and enjoy pleasure in simply going for a jog. In an ongoing exercise of patience, off such a limited running schedule I ran within 1 minute of my best parkrun time. This wouldn’t be possible without listening to my body, adapting my training workload and recovering properly between sessions.
Listen to your Body
Listening to your body is a frequently used phrase, but I know from experience that it’s easier said than done. We all want to reach our goals as soon as possible, and can often be blinded by this when we develop unusual pain. Taking a few days off, or modifying your running can save you immensely in the long term and won’t impact your fitness in the short term. Some injuries are difficult to listen to, therefore it’s a good idea to have a physiotherapist, coach or other health professional that you trust, to assist with structuring your training load during or after a setback.
My foot ‘tells’ me when I can run. I experience minor pain in my foot after running, generally settling within 48 hours. I know what aggravates it, and what speeds up the process which I use to my advantage. This process is quite psychologically taxing, so I’ve developed strategies to maintain a positive mindset. There’s an abundance of psychology & mindset information available if you are struggling to cope with your injury.
Whether you’re suffering an injury or at full fitness it is vital that your training is structured appropriately. This will be individual based on experience, goals, life obligations and the priority you place on running. Your exercise schedule may include only running or a combination of other activities, so it’s important to find what works for you.
I gradually built up to over 200km running weeks over many years in the sport. I never wanted to cross train as I could run twice a day, everyday without issue. Until my injury that is. So how can someone that is used to running so much, able to come so close to their best parkrun time running just 10% of their typical workload? The answer is cross training!
I was on crutches or in a moonboot for 8 months, during this time the only cross training I could do was in the water, so I learnt to pool run. Initially I was inconsistent, but I began to value its importance. It was raising my heart rate, and helping maintain weight. My motivation continued to grow as I noticed benefits that would assist my return to running. I was gradually able to incorporate strength & balance work to my regime, followed by cycling and other low impact activities. Like anything, you need to closely manage the progressions as you come back from an injury.
After patiently progressing for 16 months, I’ve been riding without pain for 3 months. Due to its low impact I can put in more cycling hours than running, and have improved my 5km race times from 18:40 to 15:35 in 2 months. I thoroughly recommend cross training but I suggest finding your own favourite activities, as we’re all motivated by activities we get enjoyment from.
Adequate recovery is essential regardless of injury status. Adaptations cannot occur without appropriate rest, and I value recovery equally whilst running 20km or 200km/week. Many techniques are available to assist recovery, but adequate sleep is undoubtedly the most important recovery tool. We all have different sleep requirements and life obligations, but we can all aim to maximise our sleep for optimal recovery.
Appropriate spacing of training is another factor to maximise recovery. This can be done by spacing your hardest or longest sessions at opposite ends of the week, with easy jogging in between. I’m currently jogging slowly Tuesday and Thursdays, often with more intense running on Saturdays. This gives me adequate, equal spacing between jogs, with an extra day to recover after my intense run. The same principle applies during my cross training, where I won’t do a hard ride the day after a long, hilly ride.
Ease back into Racing
Planning events when returning from an injury can be difficult and the previously mentioned advice should be followed. Personally, i’m aiming to do an event roughly monthly. This allows me to listen to my body and recover adequately, which also allows me to slowly increase my running mileage. Racing gives many of us an amazing sense of accomplishment and comradery and i’m taking many positives from being able to compete again.
Additional Support and Tips
I’ve briefly mentioned some tips that can be applied when returning from injury, or that can potentially minimise the risk of injury. I’ve delivered detailed presentations on these topics previously, and am happy to elaborate on these topics and more.
Contact Josh Harris