Can you call yourself a runner if you haven’t been injured? Yes, maybe, but perhaps it shows you have never stepped out of your comfort zone to get fitter and faster – that or you’re extremely smart with your training.
All injuries, whether it be a sprained ankle or a stress fracture, can cause upsets and disruptions to your training schedule, inevitably leading to a loss of fitness and a loss of strength. Because of these reasons, coming back from injuries can be a long and tentative procedure and needs to be treated as such; if done improperly, you will just end up injured again and losing your hard earned fitness with every week you have to take off. Take if from someone who has torn both of their hamstrings – if you don’t come back properly you can struggle with maintaining niggles for perhaps the rest of your running career.
If you do not have a coach, then it can be difficult to wean your way back into running, with a lot of people just jumping back into a shortened version of their old weekly routine, which with some injuries can be okay. The problem occurs when you’ve had a worse injury, like a tear or a stress response, and you try and jump back into your old routine. It is understandably irritating to have to hold back on your training, even though your injury feels okay again, but it is important in the long run to take it easy. Perhaps just easy run for a few weeks, then throw in a couple of strides, then start off with easy sessions. The running is the easiest part of coming back from injury, yet the important part is often overlooked by the majority.
One of the KEY things you can do when recovering from injury is cross training. Cross training meaning using apparatus such as a spin bikes and cross trainers them selves. By doing this you can retain and improve your fitness, whilst keeping impact out of the equation. With this it means you can start training again before your injuries are healed, as the no-impact benefits allows your injuries to continue to heal whilst you get fitter. Another key factor often overlooked is strengthening work. Sprained your ankle? Your ankle will be weak for a while. Torn your hamstring? Your hamstring will be weak for a while. How do you make them stronger quicker? Strengthening exercises! They vary in shapes and sizes but there are generally quick and easy exercises to help every injury. The trick to these is to continue doing them after your injury has healed, to make sure it does not occur again. The use of icing and ‘pre-hab’ rolling and stretching when you start running again can not be advised heavily enough to ensure a smooth and hopefully pain free transition.
The worst thing about injuries, especially serious injuries, which is often overlooked by coaches and the running community is the psychological impact that experience can have on an individual. For example, after tearing my hamstrings, I was absolutely terrified of sprinting for months and months, and even today I didn’t go all-out on the hill repetitions we were doing because in the back of my mind I will always be worried that they will tear again. The reality is, once you are injured, you can get injured again, which is what has a big impact on an individuals psyche. It takes maybe a few weeks to recover from an injury, but it can take a lot longer to not be scared of it anymore. The only way to get over this is to accept that it may happen again, but you are not going to be as fit and as fast as you want to be unless you get back into full training – trust in your coach, your schedule, your strengthening exercises and you will get injured less often and you will be able to get fitter than you were before.
We can never plan for injuries, and if you run for a long time you will experience your fair share of them. Each time, you learn something new about how to make the process of recovery smoother and quicker. Be cautious with them, incorporate cross training and find out the best exercises to strengthen what has been damaged and you will get back from your injuries, whilst becoming stronger in the process.