Monday, April 9, 2012

After Injury: Things Lost & Things Gained

Running injuries can change you in many ways, Mentally, physically, emotionally. As I move further into recovery after a full 6 weeks on the bench I'm starting to really see what those changes were.

Things Lost

Running Fitness
While my first mile and 2-mile runs after injury felt great, by the time I worked up to 4 miles, I quickly realized just how much running fitness I'd lost after six weeks of non-running activities. Even though I put in a solid effort to cross train at least 5 days a week, rotating between swimming, yoga, and spin, I still wound up feeling winded and lethargic after only 3 miles.

For someone who closed out a 31 mile race right before I was sidelined and was no stranger to 50 mpw, feeling sluggish after such a short distance was discouraging. I'd put in so much time and effort to get to that point. Have I completely screwed myself? Will I have to start back a square one like I did a year and a half ago when I started running? How long until it feels "easy" again?

Having dealt with smaller injuries before, ones that required taking a few days or maybe up to a week off, I never had any problems bouncing back again. But the difference between one week and six weeks is huge! After doing a little research (here and here) most people seem to say that taking up to two weeks off from running doesn't do any real harm, but that after that point you will lose fitness exponentially each succeeding week. Awesome.

Let's break down "running fitness" a little bit more:

Speed: I've never been a particularly speedy person, but I'd be lying if I didn't feel slightly better after running a route faster than I did the week before. For the immediate future I'm not focusing on speed anyway. On the contrary, I'm intentionally going as slow as possible right now to ensure that my injury fully heals. I haven't even been bringing a watch when I run. I don't want to know. It doesn't and shouldn't matter. 

Endurance: The thing I fear most that I have lost and will take me the longest to regain is my endurance. After all I do want to continue running ultras, and those tend to focus a little more on how far vs. how fast. There's also that great, big, lovely July race on the horizon that I would like to do resonably well in.

Things Gained

Other Types of Fitness
I wrote a post a few weeks ago, shortly before I started running again, about finding the positive in injury. This included a well-balanced set of muscles strengthened by cross training. It's true, spin class is more enjoyable since I can make it through the 10 minute climb, I can swim more laps in a row, and I can even stomach doing continuous chaturangas in 90 degree heat.

There's nothing like sitting out for 6 weeks to make you learn the value of patience. What took even greater patience however, was only running every third day for the past two weeks. Last week I found myself getting sad towards the end of every run and immediately starting a countdown after it ended until the next time I could lace up my Kinvaras. It was really, really hard to run so little with so many days in between, but I'm really glad I did. This week I'm allowed to start running every other day and looking back I definitely wouldn't have been ready to do that before this. Baby steps!

An Appreciation for the Bare Minimum
I'm talking about stepping out the door, no watch, no intended pace, no special tempo or speed or hill repeat workout. Just running. The bare minimum.

The Junk in the Trunk
Even with all the cross training I still managed to put on 4-5 pounds during my injury, a large portion of which seems to have migrated to my rear end and surrounding areas (yikes!). I've always been a curvier person, but when I started running things started to flatten out a little bit. And it's not that I mind a little "junk in the trunk," but I would prefer if my clothes fit properly again. Can't I have it both ways?!

This would be an example of not enough "junk in the trunk!" Where's the happy medium?!

What sorts of changes do you notice when you're injured? Whether positive or negative?


  1. I think it's great that you have such a balanced look at coming back from injury. I'm all doom and gloom and find it hard to focus on "things gained"! I suppose I do notice that I am so grateful just to be running--any distance--when I am finally able to return (this is just happening to me as well). I know that I love to run because it's difficult and there will undoubtedly be more setbacks in the future so I need to work on having a more positive attitude. Thanks for reminding me of that! :-)

  2. I understand how frustrating "coming back" can be and taking it slow can be tough (but is so important!) Some people say that 6 weeks off would mean about 6 weeks to get back to the point where you were. But- you were in such great shape before that I bet it will be closer to 4.
    Baby steps are key! And positive attitude, which you have :-)

  3. I'm currently injured too and have surprised myself with my attitude. I thought I would be one of those runners who cries if they can't run. I'm actually enjoying the extra 12 hours of free time every week :) it's hard to lose fitness gains (an gain weight....yuck) but I try to remind myself that the injury will be short lived. You will gain everything back quickly!! Good luck with healing and training safely!

  4. I totally relate to this! I'm a powerlifter and just got the OK to start lifting heavy again after a month off. And while I've cross-trained and done things OTHER than lift, let me tell ya, my arms were shaking the moment I started doing push-ups! (And I can normally do 25+ in a row without resting or even feeling tired!) Oh well. It's a good ego check if nothing else :P haha!

  5. You have a great attitude towards injury. Your fitness and endurance will come back faster than you think. Even though you're right in that after 2 weeks you lose at a faster rate, it also it easier to get back because you had it once. Its harder for someone who never had endurance or speed in the first place.

    I get sad when I'm injured. Running is such a big part of my life. I also use it to feel good and I miss the endorphins. And I get the junk in the truck comment although for me its the stomach. My body certainly doesn't respond well to no exercise.

    Hope your comeback is fast :)


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