Nine Tips for Surviving and Thriving after a Running Injury

It’s July and many runners are gearing up for fall marathons. While we do our best to be smart and prevent injuries, sometimes things happen. Ramping up miles and/or intensity can reveal your body’s weaknesses. If you get injured, don’t panic! Remember that taking the time to take care of your body can make you a stronger and better runner in the long run.

I recently had to take some time off from running to recover from a surgery. I knew it would be a while before I could run again, and I thought I would lose my mind during my running layoff. By changing my focus and my mindset, I made it through and am coming out stronger on the other side of things. Here are my suggestions to help you get through your own running layoff. 

Running Injury
Hooked up to multiple contraptions following surgery

1 ) Get a professional opinion. Don’t self-diagnose your injury. Nothing good ever comes from that.

2) Follow the professional’s orders. If the doctor says you need to rest, please rest.

3) Find out what you CAN do and DO it. Except in the worst case scenario, there should be some form of aerobic exercise that won’t hurt you. Try swimming, aqua jogging, biking, stair climbing or elliptical machine. The key here is to try to get your heart rate up to maintain your fitness level. That way you don’t lose your aerobic capacity while you recover.

Running Project Purple
Water jogging in a flotation suit

4) Maximize your fitness. While cross-training, throw in some intervals. If you can do an alternative form of exercise while you recover, throw in some interval training once or twice per week. This will really maximize your fitness and help to keep you ‘race ready’.

5) Work your weakest link. Injuries usually happen because we have developed a relative weakness somewhere in our bodies. Since you have seen a professional and know what your injury is and what caused it, focus on building up the weak link in your chain. Like many runners, I built up the strength of the muscles on the front of my body (quads, hip flexors) at the expense of the muscles on the side and back of my body. I have spent the last 15 weeks working to build up my hip, hamstring and gluteal strength.

6) Replace negative thoughts. Instead of thinking about how much you miss running, remind yourself about the steps you are taking now to make yourself a healthier runner in the future.  While I was recovering, I would not even let myself think about running for the first six weeks. I focused all of my mental and physical energy on my rehab exercises and on cross-training on the bike or hitting the pool. I was so busy doing what I could to make myself stronger, I did not have time to wallow in self-pity over missing out on my runs.

7) Focus on the long-term. Sure, you may be able to hobble through some ‘runs’ at this point, but that won’t help you hit your long-term goals. Make yourself strong and healthy now so you won’t be revisiting the same injury later.

8) Revisit your goals. If your injury occurs close to your goal race, ask yourself if you can realistically downgrade your goals and complete the race. If not, can you drop to a shorter distance and not get hurt? Can you go walk your race, have fun and not worry about your time?

9) Bribery is OK! Reward yourself for sticking to your rehabilitation program by spending some of your free time doing something fun or relaxing. After all, proper rest is and relaxation is part of the healing process.  

Working on correcting muscle imbalances and strengthening weak muscle groups is an important part of remaining healthy and injury-free. While working auxiliary muscle groups may not sound like much fun compared to going for a run, it should be a critical part of any runner’s training program. I have never heard a distance runner say they cured an injury by running more. By focusing on what you can do TODAY to make yourself stronger for TOMORROW, you can have a longer, stronger, healthier and more successful running ‘career’!

Running Injury Rehabilitation
Making yourself stronger will help you get back to running sooner!

Join one of Project Purple’s running teams! For more information about upcoming races, click HERE! Remember, when you sign up to run with Project Purple, our very own coach Jane can help guide you to running success! 

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