It’s been a long while since I announced that half marathon I’m planning to do in October. I’m more than pleased to write this update because for a bit I thought I was going to have to do one of those “Derailed by Injury” posts. As I’ve mentioned, I hadn’t been running for quite awhile, so I knew if I went out running five miles a pop right off the bat, I would be on my way to injury city. So I wanted to make sure I built up very slowly. But even though I was following all of the rules and doing the runs required by my Couch to 10K app, at the end of week 3 — nine runs into my plan — both ankles and my right knee started to hurt.
I freaked out a bit. I started Googling running injuries. Went back to overthinking everything. And in my overthinking I came to a logical solution: Lay off. From experience, I knew that if I just kept going, I’d probably get to about week 8 before I’d have to give up — a far cry from what I need to do to prep for a half marathon. So I decided to stop running for a week and substitute other low-impact workouts instead. I kept doing my strength training program for runners and substituted other cardio like elliptical and indoor cycling. Then, instead of jumping into week 4 of the training program, I started back at the beginning. Now, this may have been overly cautious. I could maybe have repeated week 3 or jumped into week 4, but there is no way to know and I didn’t want to risk my limbs. I instead wanted to play conservative and not make my bones mad.
The bonus to starting over was that those early workouts now seemed even easier. But as I got back up to week 3 without pain, I started to get nervous. Would I be able to do week 3’s third run without pain? It was so! And when I did it, I announced it to my kids: It didn’t hurt! And then Week 4’s three runs didn’t hurt either. My kids finally got tired of me being so pleased with the lack of pain (their 5-and-under jelly limbs just don’t understand), so I stopped announcing it to them but celebrated each time to myself. Week 5 then had a larger jump in run time and I was nervous about the 20 minutes of straight running during the third run. As “luck” would have it, I came down with a bad cough and had to repeat week 5, but I think that honestly helped my body out too. I cannot emphasize enough how much I’m okay with a slow build in mileage because as I head into week 6 without pain, it’s clear that something’s working with this plan.
Now, I’m well aware that 20 minutes of running is a far cry from the more than two hours of running I’ll have to do in October. With how slowly I’ve had to build up my mileage, I’ve done the math and realize that building up for that kind of mileage will be cutting it pretty close. But that’s okay; I’d rather have to walk some of the course than to be sidelined altogether, so even if it’s tempting to start ramping up my mileage, slow and steady will get me to the race, and that’s all that matters to me.
From all of the reading I did about injury prevention and my own experiences, here are just a few of the rules I’ve made for myself to keep this injury-free streak going.
How I’m Trying to Stay Injury Free
Increase mileage slowly. Don’t knock the walk. You’re not a failure if you have to walk at first; you’re smart. Walking breaks can help you slowly build your running mileage while still giving you cardio benefits and increased endurance.
Listen to pain. Pain is an indication that something is wrong. Slow down. Add more walking breaks and decrease your overall mileage. Take a week off before you start up again. See a doctor if it doesn’t improve. But whatever you do, don’t just push through it. I’ve never heard of someone pushing through pain to have it miraculously improve.
Strength workouts. I swear by my strength workouts from the book Quick Strength for Runners. I’m almost done with the 8-week plan, and I’ll be incorporating many of the moves into my strength training going forward.
Don’t run two days in a row. If I can help it, I avoid running two days in a row to give my body time to recover from the stress. I’ve only had to run two days in a row once because of scheduling issues, and while it was fine, I think my body is happier when it has more of a break.
Rest days. Rest days are as important as workout days. In fact, I’ve doubled up strength and running workouts just so I could take a full day off and give my body a total rest.
Schedule it. I keep a calendar print-out with my week’s workout plans on it. I pencil in my strength training and runs, as well as any cross training I’d like to do. Being able to lay it out ahead of time lets me be sure I’m not running three days straight and that I have time to recover between strength workouts. It’s a complicated puzzle some weeks — and will get even more complicated as my runs get longer — but it’s a good habit to get into.
Do you have any rules for yourself that help you prevent injuries? I’d love to hear what you guys do at the first sign of trouble. —Erin