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Patience, Part Two

Dealing with the difficulty of patience when returning from an injury.

By on January 21, 2014 | Comments

Chick's CornerSome 18 months ago, I wrote my 2012 Western States race report for iRunFar and titled the article ‘Patience.’ I felt that I had practiced other worldly patience by hardly running at all in the three weeks that separated Comrades and Western States. It goes without saying that three weeks of little to no running is a lifetime for a die-hard ultrarunner. Or so I thought. Oh, how perspectives can change, even if only temporarily (I hope). Since April of last year, my patience has been tested to a whole new level, and continues to be tested with each and every run.

A quick summary of the last eight months would be: start getting pain in fibula, cut back running, pain continues, find out I have a stress fracture, stop running entirely for seven weeks, start running and gradually build up from 10 minutes to a marathon in 2.5 months, get new injury, cut back running, pain still there, stop running entirely for four weeks, build up slowly starting with a run/walk program at end of November. Yeah, this is a whole new level of patience.

To anyone who has had the blessing never to be injured, you might assume that the worst thing is the periods of not running at all, but I have in fact found it harder to run a little, and although going cold turkey wasn’t exactly easy, it was in some ways more tolerable than what I like to refer to as ‘bumbling-along mileage.’ My first run post-stress fracture was 10 minutes. I mean, is that really a run at all?  And then, the next day was a rest day–after all, I had to rest from that massive, 10-minute run. The irony that this was almost a year to the day since I had won Western States in something under 17 hours wasn’t lost on me; a 10-minute run represents about 1% of my Western States finishing time! A 10-minute run is previously what I would have considered a cooldown from a speed workout, not a workout in itself. What had my running world come to?

But I know that in returning to running post-injury, patience and discipline of not overdoing things too soon is imperative. It might seem boring to follow what looks like a beginner’s run/walk schedule provided to you by a physio or coach but the question I always ask myself is: what is more important, today’s run or next year’s race calendar? Invariably I know that I may well need to sacrifice the desire to run longer today for the long-term goal of racing in the coming year.

But not extending that easy 20-minute jog into a 30-minute workout is easier said than done. So here are a few tricks I’ve picked up to try to not overdo things as I return to running:

  • My first few runs I did on my own, rather than meeting up with friends. Although I was itching to get back to running with my buddies, I knew that the temptation would be to run a little further or on terrain that I shouldn’t be, as I would get swept along with the group. If I went out on my own, then I’d be more likely to stick to the distance prescribed by my physio. And take those lovely walk breaks when my beeping watch told me to. When I did start to run with friends again, I would tell them in advance the maximum time/distance I could run so they could help me stick to my schedule.
  • I am continuing to cross train. Whilst I was injured I was fairly dedicated at hitting the gym and the pool. Of course I hope to be able to cut back on cross training significantly once I am fully fit but it is important to phase it out gradually as I phase in the running bit by bit. I am hoping that this will result in keeping my overall training volume up and will therefore reduce the temptation to run too much too soon.
  • I used my GPS running watch from the get-go to track my return to running. This was not so I could become demoralized by seeing how slowly I was running, but it was so I could track my build-up from one week to another. It’s easy to soon forget that you were ever injured at all and to keep bumping up the mileage with each run just a little too aggressively. It’s easy to get to a point where you are frustrated that you are still only running for say an hour, but if you look back and see that maybe a month ago you were completing 15-minute run/walk workouts, then you will have black-and-white proof of the progress you have made, and that you should be cautious not to do too much more.
  • Just because I had completed a 30-minute, easy jog and was ecstatic for having done so, I didn’t take this as a cue to sign up for a 100-mile race! Whilst I’m itching to get back racing, I know that it’s not a wise idea to have race targets that are too soon and might push me to rack up a few too many training miles too soon and re-injure myself. I’ve picked out a few races that I hope to do, but I am holding off signing up for any of them until I know that I am definitely back on track and over my injury. The thought of these possible races is providing me the motivation to train but as I’ve not put down any hard cash just yet in the form of entry fees, and not broadcast it all over social media, I feel less pressure to step up the running volume too soon.

I’m looking forward to being back at a stage, sometime in the future, when I can go out for runs without having to stick to such a strict schedule and without having to carefully monitor my running volume so rigorously. But I know that I will only get to that stage if I practice patience now and take my running quite literally, one step at a time.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you been in the same place as Ellie, where your physical health disallows what your mind wants to do and you have to be patient?
  • Do you have any tips for how you maintained your sanity through your injury?
Ellie Greenwood
Ellie Greenwood has IAU World 100k Championship, Western States, and Comrades victories to her credit. A Scot living in Canada, Ellie is supported by Salomon, Clif Bar, Udo's Oil, and Sundog Eyewear. You can read more about Ellie's running on her blog.