If you’re a runner, injuries happen. It might not be a major injury (stress fracture, fracture, or surgery) but even the most common tendonitis or muscle strain will sideline a runner temporarily. Here are some helpful suggestions to return to running after a short-term (perhaps a week or two) or longer-term (one month or more) hiatus, safely and re-injury free.
PRE-RUN WARM-UP: You must make some changes to your routine. If you are returning after an injury, make sure you do not skip (or skimp) on a pre-run warm-up. Make sure before you head out on your run you are completing a dynamic warm-up that will cover all muscle groups. (*see my past blog: Warm Up, Cool Down for full warm-up routine suggestions). The warm-up will ease your muscles, joints, and ligaments into the high impact of the run.
SURFACE: Return to your running on a softer, more forgiving surface. Your first week back to running should be on either a track, grass, or flat nontechnical dirt trail. These are the softest surfaces available to runners. Asphalt and concrete running should be held off for at least two weeks after an injury. A treadmill surface is also softer than asphalt and should be considered before street running.
LOWER MILEAGE: If you’re averaging thirty to forty miles a week, normally, do not expect to return to your 13-mile-long run immediately. You must ease back into mileage slowly. A walk/run combination might be beneficial for several runs to assess how you will react. If you’re at a track, warm-up with a half-mile walk (two laps) followed by a half-mile slow run. Continue with this combination for the duration of two miles. The key to remember is easing back into your mileage with a short run that will ‘test the waters’ so to speak. Remember to stretch afterward, foam roll, and ice if any swelling is present in the injured area.
SLOW YOUR PACE: This is the advice I get the most side-ways looks from runners when advising their return to running. Do not attempt to return to your average pace immediately. If you are an eight minutes per mile pace runner, your initial return to running should be considerably slower. A good rule would be at least 60 – 90 seconds slower per mile. The run should feel easy. Increasing your pace too soon will immediately set you back and increase your risk for re-injury. Enjoy the easy pace. Leave your running watch at home and forget about negative splits! Simply enjoy getting back to what you love doing.
SUPERVISION: If you were under the care of a physical therapist, continue that care through your return to running. You can follow up with your therapist with feedback on your run, continue treatment, and be closely monitored with progressing your mileage. Make sure you’re continuing your prescribed home exercises, regular stretching/foam rolling routine, and resting.
SNEAKERS: Make sure your running shoes do not have over 500 miles on them. If you continually were injured in your current brand of shoe, seek advice from either a physical therapist or professional running store for the best shoe for your personal needs. You might need a stability shoe, neutral shoe, wider toe box, more cushioning, or less heel-toe drop. All of these should be considered after injury.
Returning to running after a break from injury can be an exciting time and scary time, all in one. Following the above advice should get you back to the start line a happy runner.