Let’s chat about aches, pains & the dreaded I word… injury. I would assume that when faced with an injury, most people don’t joyfully shout, “YAY – physical therapy here I come, I can’t wait!” Or, at least I didn’t. Having to cut back on runs, schedule three sessions of PT a week and make many other changes to my fitness routine haven’t been the dreamiest.
BUT, as I move through this hurdle, I am trying to focus on the positives… like the fact that I’m still allowed to run. That I can run.
I’ve had my fair share of injuries and setbacks.
In 2008, while training for my first marathon, I had an IT band issue creep in during the week of my 20 miler, just a week before taper time. I visited a sports medicine physician, rested, foam rolled, rested some more… and was able to finish my first 26.2 with a smile on my face!
In 2015, while training for the Scioto Miles 10K, I had my first encounter with a true “pain in the butt” likely caused by a super tight right hip, glute & piriformis (and possibly SI joint dysfunction, if you want to get technical). I was able to work through one session of physical therapy, do PT from home, cut back training for a couple weeks, then ramp back up and achieve a new 10K PR just a few months later.
And then this winter, my 2015 injury came back for an angry visit. As my training began to ramp up in late January, something felt “off.” I was okay during runs, but the next day, my right leg would ache in the high hamstring, glute & low back area. It started off mild. Then, it got a little stronger and would ache all day. And eventually, as I refused to slow down & “pushed through it” – it began affecting the entire right side of my body. I would get lightening like zings in my lower back & down my leg, numbness, tingling, tightness, pain… you name it. We were in the middle of our Living Fit Columbus 2018 Winter Challenge and Cap City Half training had JUST kicked off…. so this was very untimely.
Are injuries ever timely though, really?
An injury or setback in your fitness routine is never welcome and I didn’t take it well, at least at first. It’s SO frustrating, especially when you feel like you are doing all the right things. Cross training. Stretching. Resting after a hard day. Increasing mileage slowly. Sometimes, no matter what we do (or don’t do), injuries happen. Pro triathelete Pedro Gomes once stated, “When you push your body to the limit – as athletes so often do – it can break down.”
After our Cap City kickoff run in early February, I took an entire week off running and took it “easy” over the next several weeks. I cut back. I modified. I had a 30 day pass to SOS and only went 4 times. I vented. I sought advice from running friends, local experts and of course, online bloggers. I gave up goals of a spring PR. I’m most likely sidelining my plans to run the Knoxville Half (state #10!)
Its been challenging. Both physically and mentally. Below are some lessons learned.
But first, sleep
Prior to my injury, I was only averaging about six hours of sleep per night, even though I know my body needs more. I did a sleep study a few years back and averaged almost 8 hours per night. Disregarding my body’s needs, the “get it all done” mentality had me staying up too late each night and trying to get one more thing accomplished. I’ve since told myself, the to-do list will still be there tomorrow and I’ve been aiming for 1-2 more hours of sleep each night. Some nights I get to bed early. Some mornings I skip that 5AM workout I was trying so hard to make a regular thing. I make sure to have a complete “rest” day at least 1-2 times per week. As athletes, we need to give our body the sleep & rest it needs to repair and rebuild.
Running 101 – the basics
- Complete rest may be what your body needs for a bit – I took a week off and only resumed running once experts (an athletic trainer, my family doctor who is a runner and my physical therapist) all gave me the green light to try it. It’s a complete & utter bummer to be sidelined for a day, a week or longer… but running on certain injuries can do further damage.
- When your body is ready to re-introduce running, start with short distances of slower paces. I gave up “race pace” for several weeks, stuck to flat courses, took walk and stretch breaks when needed… no BQ training over here, but I was just trying to be happy with anything I could get!
- Dynamic warm-ups are a MUST. Repeat, a MUST. This will be a separate post at some point, but for now, this Runner’s World warm-up will do just fine!
- During runs, I’ve been conscious of shortening my stride and increasing my cadence (steps per minute) to help decrease the impact and pounding on my body
- Make static stretching (30 second holds) and foam rolling (30 seconds on each body part) a regular part of your post-run routine.
Lean on me
You are not alone – be willing to seek guidance & support from others! When running is your physical fitness activity of choice, your mental outlet, your social “community” and suddenly you aren’t allowed to do it… you may go a little crazy.
- Involve professionals to start the recovery process as quickly as possible. Run coaches, athletic trainers, Physical Therapists, sports medicine doctors – whatever best fits your situation. When my PT, Kyle, told me at our first consult that he was training for the Cap City Half, I knew he was a good match! Kyle runs regularly for cardiovascular health, has run one full marathon and is now training for his first “official” half (since he skipped the 13.1 to get to the 26.2!) I have enjoyed a runner’s perspective on my therapy & training, as well as gabbing about weekly mileage, long runs, and more. I personally would not want to work with someone who didn’t have the “runner’s mindset” – no matter how good of a PT they were!
- Enlist emotional “therapy” from friends & family. There was a period of a few days when I was envisioning having to take weeks to months off running. My husband, mom & regular running buddies caught the main earful of my frustration. And yes, I ugly cried in my bedroom one night. They have all been very supportive through my struggles, my low days, my slow runs, and more recently, my progress (happy dance!) Michelle Fleming, co-owner of RISE Fitness emailed me saying, “I know its frustrating. Just think: you very rarely rest. It is important as athletes that we take time to truly rest… Hang in there. You can do it.” Positive words from friends can go a long way.
- Prayer & positive affirmation – whatever your faith or beliefs are, look to that “higher power” to give you support. I’ve prayed for health & healing, but also to be content with where I am and be thankful for what & who I have in my life.
This is simple. Sit less, stand/walk more! Whether you are a teacher (like me) or have a more traditional “desk job” – find way to incorporate more movement into your day. Read our previous post – Don’t Just SIT There, Tips for Squeezing in Movement During the Work Day – or check out some quick tips below.
- Walk on your breaks… or maybe even during meetings! My co-worker and I do laps as we have some of our collaborative meetings. This morning, we got in 2,000 steps before 8AM! Bonus – walking meetings can have many other benefits.
- Stand up more – don’t have a fancy desk? Try using a crate, box, anything stable to raise your laptop up. Or invest in a standing desk if your budget allows.
- Use a gadget or app to help motivate you – February was the first month where I closed my iWatch movement and exercise ring every day. March, I’m coming for you! #closethoserings
Strength & Stretch
I love to run. And for whatever reason, I’ve never really loved lifting. I can get myself to an occasional group fitness class at OTF, RISE or SOS… but strength training has just never been my cup o’ joe. My PT has me convinced now, that a strong body, especially the core and glutes, will give me the power I need to be a faster runner and the muscle strength I need to (hopefully) remain injury-free. I have developed many total body and lower body routines with Kyle at PT sessions that I have PROMISED I’ll continue weekly after my time with him ends. I’m also working with my lift-loving friend, Jaime, on a post-run lower body routine. She is the strongest momma I know and swears she’ll whip me into shape if I join her on leg day!
Stretching has been something I’ve always been good about AFTER a run, but I’m now doing a dynamic warmup before runs and trying to incorporate some slow flow yoga (vs only Vinyasa & athletic yoga) into my week. “Journey to Handstand” will be put on hold for now, while back extensions & press ups (aka, baby Cobras), figure 4s and pigeon become a part of my regular routine.
Everyone loves a good comeback story
Injuries suck. They test your patience. Its hard to sit back, watching the running community posting 100+ mile months and their latest speed-work selfie. Its frustrating to know you may not be able to race this spring like you’d planned. But you HAVE to find a way to stay positive, embrace your setback & focus on your comeback. Maybe I’m not quite as bada*s as Lindsey Vonn, the comeback queen, but somehow, with time and a lot of hard work, I’ll climb this obstacle. Gretchen, co-owner of System of Strength says it best… “Find A Way.”
I do believe that after six weeks, I’m on the road to recovery. I am *mostly* pain free, have started sprinkling back in some speed-ish sessions and longer runs to test the water, and after four weeks of PT, hope to be re-evaluated soon for dismissal. As Lindsey Vonn said, “I’m still in the phase where I push myself and see how it responds – sometimes it responds well, sometimes it doesn’t and I have to kinda back it down a little bit.” I don’t know when I’ll be back to 100% – but I do know that I’ve learned a lot and I’m thankful for my ability to run… even if I’ve had to slow down for a while.
We don’t need to always be in the speed lane.