Any runner can tell you that an injury can be devastating. I’ve had my fair share of injuries from a stress fracture, to plantar fasciitis to lingering hip issues. It’s never fun to be sidelined from anything you love, but you can come back stronger than ever.
Case and point: During my senior year of college, I developed plantar fasciitis. It sidelined me in the heart of the cross country season with no running for about 6 weeks.
After cross training for 6 weeks, I ran for one week and ran our final championship race (Long 6 week taper I guess). I ended up PR’ing in the 6K. It was my collegiate best! Believe me, it took a lot of sweat and possibly a few tears of why did this happen to me, but I made it through and ended my collegiate running with a PR.
My takeaway from that story is being injured stinks, but you don’t have to spend the entire time sitting on the couch losing running fitness. If you take your recovery seriously and smartly, you can still maintain fitness.
Instead of moping around and wishing you were out there running, adapt to what you can do. Use it as the time to develop other strengths and grow as an athlete.
My collegiate coach told me a few words that will always stick with me: Just because you can’t run doesn’t mean you can’t train.
1) Accept your injury
Just because you accept something doesn’t mean you’re happy with it.
Most runners have type A personalities. We like finding a training plan and stick to it. When we can’t follow the plan, it annoys and bothers us. Believe me, I’m no exception to this rule!
If a doctor recently put a boot on your foot or told you no running, it’s important to accept that. Your body won’t heal if you continue to push your limits and the longer you try and train through an injury, the longer it will take to recover.
Skipping the recovery step or doing too much too soon-means you’re not going to heal. This article isn’t here to tell you that you must disobey doctors orders to PR.
Being injured also doesn’t mean you’re glued to your couch. There is usually something you are able to do whether that is strength training, swimming or cross-training.
2) Figure out what you can do
Running injuries vary. Some injuries take several weeks of complete rest. Other injuries can begin cross training much sooner. For instance, if you have a metatarsal stress fracture or have a boot on your foot, then you won’t be doing anything weight bearing for a few weeks.
That is fine! I can tell you from personal bone fracture experience, this is the most necessary time to heal. You are not a hero for running or cross training while you have a boot on your foot.
It’s important to focus on what you can do and to also be honest with yourself. If it hurts, stop! You are only hurting yourself. Talk to the doctor, coaches and others who have had your injury and find out what worked for them.
Keep in mind no two injuries are the same and what works for someone else might not work for you. That being said, someone who understands your injury can give helpful advice! It’s important to experiment for yourself and see what works the best for you too.
3) Try new workouts and routines
Of course, you aren’t running, but that doesn’t mean you can’t workout. It’s the best time to try new things you always said you would like but never have the time to do. You can continue to build cardio fitness as well as maintain fitness. Who knows, you might discover something you actually enjoy.
Here are a few ideas:
- Swimming: It takes the pressure off your bones and joints. If you have a stress fracture or weight bearing injury, this is a great option.
- Water jogging: Let’s face it, swimming is a brand new sport and one of the most challenging sports to pick up. Six weeks might not even be long enough to get the technical aspect down, but water jogging closely mimics running. You are able to take the stress off your body.
- Spin class: Biking is a great way to get your heart rate up!
- Elliptical: The elliptical isn’t glamorous but it gets your heart rate up, and you can get cross training in. I like it to catch up on my Netflix.
- Strength training
- Yoga or pilates
Finally, don’t forget, nothing prepares you for running like actual running, but you will be able to maintain your fitness during an injury as you recover.
4) Focus on your weaknesses
This is something I cannot stress enough. While you’re injured, it’s important to figure out why. Concentrate on making that part of your body stronger. During one of my recent injuries, I realized my hips were extremely weak.
Instead of spending time focusing on extra cardio, I spent time on strengthening my hips. When I began running again, I felt much stronger and noticed running felt easier.
Use the time you can’t run to build strength for when you can. Most runners have a weak core, so it’s the perfect time to focus on that.
5) Take a look at your diet
Another great thing to do is take a critical look at your diet. Your training is scaled back and you have time to experiment with foods that may work or benefit you. You’re able to clean up your diet and focus more on quality calories.
You don’t have to worry about “trying something new” before race day and can see how your stomach handles things regularly.
It’s also important to note that cutting calories too much can hinder the healing process of your injury. Like anything, it’s important to balance nutrition. Don’t go on an extreme diet or cut calories too quickly as that will slow your recovery and make you more miserable.
6) Spend time with family or doing other hobbies
Since you aren’t training all the time, it’s the perfect time to see friends you haven’t seen for a while. Let’s face it, running takes up a good amount of our time.
Try and take the time to spend with family and of course nonrunning friends. Go out with friends who laugh at the idea of running a half marathon or waking up at dawn to do a long run.
Don’t forget about other nonrunning hobbies too. Do you need to redo the kitchen or enjoy crafting? For me, while I enjoy running, and of course writing articles for halfmarathons.net, I also enjoy painting. During my injuries, I find myself doing more painting.
7) Rest and recover
Injuries are always frustrating, but it’s important to take the time to recover. There have been several injuries I’ve opted to cross train through the injury. There have also been several injuries, I’ve chosen to completely rest and recover.
During my last injury, I didn’t workout more than twice a week for 2 months. Honestly, it felt great! The time off from working out or having any sort of goals was exactly what my body wanted and needed. I came back and ran a 1:23 in my half marathon after being burnt out and injured.
As with everything else, it’s important to listen to your body.