The sun was slowly rising as I was quickly gliding through the palm-tree filled streets one morning of my vacation in Naples, FL. The peaceful jog suddenly turned painful when I lost balance and slammed by body against the pavement. As the skin around my shoulder and knee ripped, I immediately felt bruises forming across various parts of my body. I’ve experienced some tough falls throughout my running career, but nothing this bad; And I was lucky. My head was inches away from hitting the pavement. It had only been 4 days since I started to incorporate running into my walking routine since my injury mid-January. It was clearly 4 days too soon.
In January I rolled my ankle in the most un-interesting way possible – by walking with a sleeping foot at work. The injury turned out to be much worse than anticipated, and left me with a fractured ankle. The doctor advised me to stay off it for at least six weeks until it was fully healed. By mid-March I felt like I had put my recovery time in, and I needed to get back into my running game. How could I enjoy a tropical vacation without logging some daily miles? The discomfort had also subsided for the most part so I started off by incorporating a few miles here and there, and learned a few lessons along the way.
WARNING: I’m not a doctor (and you should probably consult yours), but this is what I learned from my first few days back on the road.
1: Listen to Your Body
I learned this lesson the hard way. The reason I ate pavement in Naples was most likely because I wasn’t listening to my body. I felt determined to run so I let my mind rule over my body, which left me with some pretty painful cuts and scrapes.
After giving up running for several week or even months, it’s understandable if you come to a breaking point where you’re just mentally ready to get back into it. This works if your body is ready as well. When you start running again take it easy, and pay close attention to how your injury feels. If any weirdness (not necessarily pain) is experienced this is likely a sign to slow things down. Take a relaxing walk, hit the elliptical or the pool, but leave running to your best body that is fully recovered.
2: Embrace Walking
Before my injury I would roll my eyes at the runners who took “walking breaks” every few laps. I felt like I was cheating myself if I slowed down my pace to walk during a morning run. This defeats the purpose of running, right? Not exactly.
After a long hiatus from your regular running routine your endurance will likely not be where it once was (mine still isn’t!). Luckily, there’s no need to be discouraged because incorporating walking into your run actually comes with a long list of benefits.
“It’s a technique that uses a mix of running and walking intervals to reduce impact on your body, build up your base level of fitness, boost speed, and help you recover more efficiently,” says Women’s Health Magazine. And this isn’t just a technique for running amateurs. “Even professional runners and marathoners do it. If you’re training for a race, walking intervals help regulate your body temperature and preserve energy.”
3: Gradually Build Upon Your Mileage
Rushing back into your three mile routine after taking two months off to recover from an injury is a horrendous idea. This can easily lead to re-injury. Rather re-set your expectations and slow things down. Know that you can still accomplish three miles, but it might need to be a mix of running and walking like discussed above. Your routine will need to be adjusted, but eventually you’ll get back into your regular grove, and even be able to sign-up for a future race.
“The second you get the green light to begin running does not mean you can jump full-force back into where you left off,” says author from active.com Caitlin Chock. “Gradually increase the amount of time you spend running and supplement the rest with cross-training.”
4: Continue Your Rehab Routines
Lastly, to get back to your normal running schedule faster you should continue the rehab program you’re on. Whether that be physical therapy sessions or swimming twice per week at your local pool. Combining running with lower impact activities and rehabilitation exercises will speed up the progress and get you back to full speed on the road.
Remember to treat your body with love and respect! This will set you up for a long and productive running career with minimal injuries.