Opinions & Features Workshop (Oct 26th)

Photo by Mariah Wilson

How to (safely) make a comeback at running after injury

By Lauren Olson, May 13 2020 —

If you’re a runner you’ll understand the depths of emotional pain one feels when forced to stop running for any reason. What’s worse is when you have to stop running because of an injury from running. It’s probably the meanest cosmic joke ever. But, fear not, my side-lined compatriots. I have achieved what I thought was impossible — made a comeback into running after an embarrassingly long list of self-imposed running injuries, years of limited to no running and I am — knock on wood — feeling stronger than ever.

What are my credentials, you ask? Well, I’ve been a runner for half my life (that’s about 15 years) and started developing running-related injuries after I started running on pavement more than gravel roads and dirt paths. So that tells you something right there — what you’re running on makes a difference. I won’t go into great detail but I suffered every running-related injury you can imagine, from tight IT bands, runner’s knee, shin splints and  fractures (yes, I put a hairline fracture in my knee from running too much). It was eventually good ole plantar fasciitis that eventually forced me to hang up my runners. If you can’t walk, you definitely can’t run-worst pain I’ve ever been in. There is so much to this story and I realize there are many factors at play. Trust me when I say, I’ve heard and tried it all. I went to physio, I tried different shoes, I rested (sort of), I tried cross-training, I targeted weak or inactive muscle groups — the list goes on. Here are my top tips for getting off the injured list and back pounding the pavement, injury free and restoring your love of running because truly, running really is one of the greatest feelings in the world.

If you are injured, you have to rest. Period:

I know this sucks beyond measure but you have to rest your body when you get injured. Depending on your injury you might be able to do other things like lift weights or do body-weight exercises, sometimes an elliptical is a good alternative or a bike, but you cannot keep RUNNING when you are injured. Trying to “do a little less,” or “go easy,” never works and only prolongs your agony by putting you at higher risk for a more serious injury. It will further delay your return to the running world. So, suck it up, and do not run.

Shoes:

Shoes are incredibly important, something I didn’t realize when I first became a runner (a runner is a runner, right? Nope.) There are all types of shoes designed for all types of running, like on trails, roads and tracks, all types of runners, from beginning, intermediate and experienced and all types of body and foot types, from high/low arch to wide or narrow feet. So I understand the potential overwhelm in choosing a shoe. My best advice is go to an actual running-specific store and talk to the extremely knowledgeable staff and get fitted properly. Also, be honest about your experience and your goals. Don’t waltz in and spew trendy words like “barefoot” when you’re new to the game or recovering from an injury. Leave your ego at the door and get the best shoe for you right now. Not for your goal in three months. Now. Your shoe is your best friend, your ally, and you want to make sure you’ve chosen the right one. 

Surface matters:

This ties into what shoe you’re wearing, and also what type of running you’re doing. We all know running isn’t gentle on a person’s body. No matter how perfect your running form, the surface you run on makes an impact (pun intended). Here are a few of the basics — roads and sidewalks are the hardest surfaces to run on and often the most available. If you’re running on roads make sure you have shoes that have more cushion and are meant for road running. They are designed to absorb some of the shock so your bones and muscles don’t get the shit kicked out of them. Pro tip: If you can, run on asphalt as opposed to concrete. It’s softer. Trail running or unpaved roads are much softer and offer a bit more interest with natural obstacles like rocks, roots and hills. If you only ever run on trails, investing in a good pair of trail-specific shoes is a nice luxury because they have a sturdier sole and better grip to keep you safe on those more rugged terrains. The bottom line with surfaces is to be aware of where you’re usually running and take care that you’re respecting them. Your body will thank you!

Train smarter, not harder or longer:

I never used to look at running as “training.” I just ran because I liked running. I think there’s a fine line between running for fun and being mindful of the fact that running is hard on the body and does require some thoughtfulness in order to a) get back into running and b) continue getting stronger and extending into longer distances and faster times. Being smart about running is hard, especially if you’re like me and just want to run ALL. THE. TIME. FOREVER. But, when I finally took to heart the good advice to run less, learn proper form, strengthen weak muscles, and recover properly, that’s when I actually started to see results. 

Intervals are your friend:

It’s not a sin to walk. In fact, practicing intervals is the most effective way I’ve ever experienced to regain lung and muscle endurance. Run walk, run walk. Alter your times at each pace, and never sacrifice your form to keep running; walk if you need to! 

Cross-training is your other friend: 

I’m not a big gym person, but I know lots of people say lifting weights is good for running form and I’m sure there is truth in that when executed properly. For me, it’s all about targeting the muscles that were weaker — which was what caused the injuries — and making sure to activate and build those specific areas. I like body-weight exercises and doing a little bit every day as opposed to working out super hard in the gym and tiring myself out. I used to be of the mindset that if I wasn’t dying at the end of a workout it “didn’t count,” or if I couldn’t walk the next day it wasn’t enough. And I was always hurt. So, I have adopted the less is more attitude, and it’s changed everything. Just some food for thought. Note — less does not mean inferior. Less, for me, is still very intentional, purposeful and dedicated exercise. 

Recover well:

Recovery is so frigging important! No matter what you do for your run, always make sure you do a little stretch afterwards and even throughout your day. I find there are lots of times I’m standing around waiting for something, for example waiting for my coffee to brew in the morning. I always take that time to do a few stretches instead of swiping my life away on social media. Foam rolling is another game changer for me. Roll the shit out of your legs, especially after a long run and especially if you’re pounding it out on the roads. Use a golf ball to roll the bottoms of your feet and prevent plantar fasciitis (it hurts like a motherfucker but so good) and a tennis ball can be useful to get into specific knots anywhere else on your body (lean against a wall to get into your back). Yoga has been a favourite of mine as well to compliment running. It stretches you out at the same time as builds strength in all those smaller muscle groups that can often get forgotten in the gym. It also helps slow the mind and can actually help me chill out and prevents me from going running when I maybe need a day off. Taking full rest days each week is also to be considered when you’re feeling burnt out, but even on rest days I recommend getting a walk in, even if it’s short, to keep your legs moving and blood flowing. 

There you have it! Some tips and tricks from a girl who truly and honestly had moments of believing she would never get to run again, happily gaining strength, speed and distance, by finally learning to listen to her body. Patience is so important, as unsexy and lame as that sounds, humility. When I’m huffing and puffing and taking walk breaks or stretch breaks every few meters, watching all these other runners blowing past me. It sucks sometimes! Humble pie, friends. If you can’t stand being seen while you struggle your way back into health and shape, go for your runs early in the morning when there are fewer people out, or at night when there’s a little cover of darkness (be safe though!) Getting back or into running shape and rebuilding after injury takes time, and it’s all about the long game, not the immediate. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Happy running everyone! 


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