How to Return to Running After an Injury

Every runner deals with the reality of getting hurt, being sick, or just missing time away from training – it’s an unfortunate reality of a sport that requires countless miles and difficult, repetitive training.

While we’ve written before about how much time off from running will effect your fitness, this article (and example training plan) will help you plan for when you can start coming back from a long time away from training.

It’s no surprise that type-a runners always want to resume training with big goals and aggressive plans. All runners expect huge jumps without a few hiccups or problems along the way. We have the focus now after all, right?

Unfortunately, this focus and desire to jump back into full training quickly means we push too hard too soon and get injured, overtrained, or re-injured. Coming back from a long, or even a short, layoff is difficult mentally. Sadly, I’ve done it more then most and it’s a time when a coach can be more valuable than at any other time. Having an objective opinion and someone holding you back while building your confidence is amazingly helpful. Hopefully, this article can give you some pointers when coming back from injury, or at least help you realize you’re not alone.

Background

On January 10, 2010 I had a micro- discectomy and laminectomy on my lower back. In short, they removed a full disc and a bit of vertebra from my lower back. This was an injury I had been dealing with for a long time and I am glad I finally took care of it for good, despite how hard it was to put my shoes in the closet for so long.

The following outline at the end of this article is the training from a few months after my surgery when I started to run again.

Remember, when reading this training log you have to keep the numbers in perspective. The volume of my AVERAGE training day prior to surgery had been about twenty miles – I had been doing this for years – and a big day of training might be near thirty miles or more. So, keep that in mind when I schedule a 5 mile run – it is about 25% of my normal training day (I’ll expound on this more later).

Also, keep in mind that the paces are all relative. The kind of aerobic work an elite runner does over a lifetime changes the body on a cellular level to the point where I can run faster now, after 6 weeks in bed, for a 5 mile then I could on my best day when I was in college.

What you can take from this training example

Build up your training slowly

While this is the fastest build-up I have ever successfully pulled off after a major layoff (and the numbers may look impressive), you can see from the training that after 4 weeks of returning, I was only at 50% of my normal weekly mileage, which is 140 mpw.

You can easily see how this would apply to your situation after a long layoff. If your normal training volume is 50 miles per week, you should be near 25-30 miles per week after 4 weeks of training.

I started training at less then 30 miles a week, which is less than 25% of my normal weekly volume and less than 15% of a big training week. This would be like a first full week back of about 4 miles for a runner who normally does 30 to 40 miles a week and has on occasion pushed to the 50 or 60 mile range.

Now, you’re going to try to rationalize and counter with the fact that you didn’t have back surgery – you just didn’t run for a few weeks because of work. I understand you want to push the envelope, but the rules and principles to training remain the same; you have been away from running and you can’t just dive in head first at full speed.

You’re going to have ups and downs

If you read the comments I made at the end of each week in my comeback training below, you will see that I had quite the roller coaster of emotions. For every week that ends with “very happy with this week” there is another week, usually the next, that ends with “very tired” or “workouts disappointing”. I make a point of not being negative in my training, which means when I point it out, it means it was really bad.

Just like I did, you’re going to have ups and downs, but you have to roll with the punches and not get too high with the good days or low with the bad days.

Don’t sweat bad workouts

You will have bad workouts. There’s no way to sugar coat it. When coming back from an injury or any amount of time off, you’re going to have workouts where things don’t click because your performance is hanging by a thread.

It doesn’t matter that your tempo run last week felt like they did when you were training at full speed; your next interval session may be total dog pooh! For example, you can see from the training that I had a 10k tempo run where I was going near all out to run 5:15 mile pace and then failed to run five one kilometer repeats in 3 minutes (4:50 pace) within a couple weeks of running a sub 30min 10k race.

Just because today was awful doesn’t mean you won’t be great in a couple weeks. Just put the bad ones behind you and press the reset button. Recognize bad days are merely telling you that you are tired and need to recover, but move on and don’t let them get you down.

Don’t Give Up

Even during a “smooth” return to training, you will want to quit at least once a week In fact, if you’re like me, you will want to quit 5 days out of 6. That is ok to feel this way, it’s normal; we all feel it.

Just keep getting up in the morning, doing the cross training, taking care of yourself and running. You can do it. It will get easier. I promise!

The Training

We’ll be making all the strength, prehab, and rehab workouts mentioned in this schedule available at the end of June. To get notified as soon as we launch these routines, enter your email here. In the meantime, you can download our free cross training guide for runners.

February 21 to 27

Monday off from running as it snowed- did full xt routine- 10min warm up on treadmill 3.2 mph at 24% incline- same for a cool down- 1×15 of verdun which I always call bataan- because its all walking stuff and bataan was a death march, but the real name is verdun- low walk, backward lunge, lunge duck walk, side duck walks, walking lunge extension, then pedestal which is part of the verdunn routine- prone and supine elbow single leg lifts, prone and supine hand single leg lifts, side elbow and hand single leg lifts, bent leg elbow prone and supine single leg lifts, low crunch, low crunch with twist and then I add pushups.  Then I move onto the PT stuff- 3×20 of cable pulls alternating legs for the rests for glutes and adductors.  then 3×30 overhead pulls with 3×20 dog pointers during the rests, then 6mins of plank going 30 seconds each left side, prone, right side, supine going through 3 times.  30 reps on the roman chair, 10 push ups, 2×40 side leg lifts, then 5x each leg of balance drill.   then glute activators, then 30x walking lunge extension.  For obvious reasons I’m not going to right this each day I’m just going to say I did the full xt routine

Tuesday AM Sunset rock 5 mile loop, 34:16, back of legs- calves/hammies sore tot. 5

PM full xt routine

additional xt- stretching, eccentric calf raises, nerve flossing exercise, A skip after the run

Wednesday AM Sunset Rock 5 mile34:05 tot. 5

PM full xt routine

additional xt- stretching, eccentric calf raises, nerve flossing exercise, A skip after the run

Thursday AM Sunset Rock 5 mile loop, 34:16, hammies less sore, calves still very sore. tot. 5

PM Full xt routine

additional xt- stretching, eccentric calf raises, nerve flossing exercise, A skip after the run

Friday no real running except 10mins on the treadmill as a cool down from core stuff because of a snow storm and I’m largely avoiding the treadmill.

PM full xt routine

additional xt- stretching, eccentric calf raises, nerve flossing exercise, A skip after the run

Saturday AM sunset rock 5 mile 33:38 then 6x100m strides- 17 to 18 seconds. with jog back rests

PM full xt routine but no warm up or cool down because the gym closes early on the weekend and I was tight for time.  made it with 2mins to spare.

additional xt- stretching, eccentric calf raises, nerve flossing exercise, A skip after the run

Sunday PM 7 miles shakeout pace- 57:25, did first 4 with melissa and then didn’t pick it up because it was ice, calves still a bit sore but much much better.  other then stretching I didn’t cross train today.

Summary 29 miles for the week, one set of strides, all and all I’m very happy with where I am.

February 28 to March 6

Monday AM 6 miles in 41mins

XT -stretching, eccentric calf raises, nerve flossing, a-skip, 10mins walking warm up on treadmill at 24 degree incline at 3.2mph 2×15 verdunn with pedestal- low walk, backward lunge, side lunge, duck walk lunge, walking extension lunge, prone elbow stand with single leg lift, supine elbow stand- hammy’s not ready to step this up to single leg lift, prone and supine with straight arms, side elbow stand single leg lifts- both sides, bent leg hip lift prone and supine, low crunch, low crunch with twist, push ups. full pt routine- 3×20 glute exercise with cable- both sides, glute activator, 6mins of plank going 30 seconds left, prone, right, supine- continuous, 30xroman chair, 3×30 overhead pull for transverse adominus?, with 3×20 bird dogs on the rest, 10 push ups, 2×40 side leg lifts both sides 5×4 pick up balance exercises each leg, 30x walking extension lunge

Tuesday AM 6 miles with stop at 5 miles for 100m strides with 100 jog back rests- 8 of them, 17.11(58), 16.98(56), 16.49(57), 16.14(60), 15.77(61), 15.52(57), 15.49(59), 15.31- 46 seconds of stretching then finish run back to house-51mins total time- 7+

XT -stretching, eccentric calf raises, nerve flossing, a-skip, 10mins walking warm up on treadmill at 24 degree incline at 3.2mph 2×15 verdunn with pedestal- low walk, backward lunge, side lunge, duck walk lunge, walking extension lunge, prone elbow stand with single leg lift, supine elbow stand- hammy’s not ready to step this up to single leg lift, prone and supine with straight arms, side elbow stand single leg lifts- both sides, bent leg hip lift prone and supine, low crunch, low crunch with twist, push ups. full pt routine- 3×20 glute exercise with cable- both sides, glute activator, 6mins of plank going 30 seconds left, prone, right, supine- continuous, 30xroman chair, 3×30 overhead pull for transverse adominus?, with 3×20 bird dogs on the rest, 10 push ups, 2×40 side leg lifts both sides 5×4 pick up balance exercises each leg, 30x walking extension lunge

Wednesday AM rattlesnake road 8, 54:59 tot. 8

XT -stretching, eccentric calf raises, nerve flossing, a-skip, 10mins walking warm up on treadmill at 24 degree incline at 3.2mph 2×15 verdunn with pedestal- low walk, backward lunge, side lunge, duck walk lunge, walking extension lunge, prone elbow stand with single leg lift, supine elbow stand- hammy’s not ready to step this up to single leg lift, prone and supine with straight arms, side elbow stand single leg lifts- both sides, bent leg hip lift prone and supine, low crunch, low crunch with twist, push ups. full pt routine- 3×20 glute exercise with cable- both sides, glute activator, 6mins of plank going 30 seconds left, prone, right, supine- continuous, 30xroman chair, 3×30 overhead pull for transverse adominus?, with 3×20 bird dogs on the rest, 10 push ups, 2×40 side leg lifts both sides 5×4 pick up balance exercises each leg, 30x walking extension lunge

Thursday AM sunset rock 5- 33:29 tot. 5

XT -stretching, eccentric calf raises, nerve flossing, a-skip, 10mins walking warm up on treadmill at 24 degree incline at 3.2mph 2×15 verdunn with pedestal- low walk, backward lunge, side lunge, duck walk lunge, walking extension lunge, prone elbow stand with single leg lift, supine elbow stand- hammy’s not ready to step this up to single leg lift, prone and supine with straight arms, side elbow stand single leg lifts- both sides, bent leg hip lift prone and supine, low crunch, low crunch with twist, push ups. full pt routine- 3×20 glute exercise with cable- both sides, glute activator, 6mins of plank going 30 seconds left, prone, right, supine- continuous, 30xroman chair, 3×30 overhead pull for transverse adominus?, with 3×20 bird dogs on the rest, 10 push ups, 2×40 side leg lifts both sides 5×4 pick up balance exercises each leg, 30x walking extension lunge

Friday AM First workout!!- 3 warm up, 21:58, a-skip, strides- 5k tempo on rolling holt hill loop- runs about 30 to 40 seconds slower then the track, 15:55, – 5:07, 5:14, 5:06- avg. hr171- highest Hr was 177 at top of hill just before mile 2, 2 mile cool down tot. 8+

XT -stretching, eccentric calf raises, nerve flossing, a-skip, 10mins walking warm up on treadmill at 24 degree incline at 3.2mph 2×15 verdunn with pedestal- low walk, backward lunge, side lunge, duck walk lunge, walking extension lunge, prone elbow stand with single leg lift, supine elbow stand- hammy’s not ready to step this up to single leg lift, prone and supine with straight arms, side elbow stand single leg lifts- both sides, bent leg hip lift prone and supine, low crunch, low crunch with twist, push ups. full pt routine- 3×20 glute exercise with cable- both sides, glute activator, 6mins of plank going 30 seconds left, prone, right, supine- continuous, 30xroman chair, 3×30 overhead pull for transverse adominus?, with 3×20 bird dogs on the rest, 10 push ups, 2×40 side leg lifts both sides 5×4 pick up balance exercises each leg, 30x walking extension lunge

Saturday AM rattlesnake road 10, 1;06:18- felt pretty good, just for fun I wore the HR monitor again- average hr was 144 bpm.

XT -stretching, eccentric calf raises, nerve flossing, a-skip, 10mins walking warm up on treadmill at 24 degree incline at 3.2mph 2×15 verdunn with pedestal- low walk, backward lunge, side lunge, duck walk lunge, walking extension lunge, prone elbow stand with single leg lift, supine elbow stand- hammy’s not ready to step this up to single leg lift, prone and supine with straight arms, side elbow stand single leg lifts- both sides, bent leg hip lift prone and supine, low crunch, low crunch with twist, push ups. full pt routine- 3×20 glute exercise with cable- both sides, glute activator, 6mins of plank going 30 seconds left, prone, right, supine- continuous, 30xroman chair, 3×30 overhead pull for transverse adominus?, with 3×20 bird dogs on the rest, 10 push ups, 2×40 side leg lifts both sides 5×4 pick up balance exercises each leg, 30x walking extension lunge

Sunday AM road 6+ with stop after 5 miles for 8x100m strides with jog back rest- 18.2 for first one, last one was 15.6- 54mins total time tot. 7++

XT -stretching, eccentric calf raises, nerve flossing, a-skip, 10mins walking warm up on treadmill at 24 degree incline at 3.2mph 2×15 verdunn with pedestal- low walk, backward lunge, side lunge, duck walk lunge, walking extension lunge, prone elbow stand with single leg lift, supine elbow stand- hammy’s not ready to step this up to single leg lift, prone and supine with straight arms, side elbow stand single leg lifts- both sides, bent leg hip lift prone and supine, low crunch, low crunch with twist, push ups. full pt routine- 3×20 glute exercise with cable- both sides, glute activator, 6mins of plank going 30 seconds left, prone, right, supine- continuous, 30xroman chair, 3×30 overhead pull for transverse adominus?, with 3×20 bird dogs on the rest, 10 push ups, 2×40 side leg lifts both sides 5×4 pick up balance exercises each leg, 30x walking extension lunge

Summary 51 miles for the week, first workout back went much better then I expected it to.

I’ll spare you the cross training after this week but I thought it was good for those coming back from injury to see that yes we do all the exercises the PT tells us to.  You need to rebuild after injury.  Make strong the weak areas, attack the imbalances, build a better athlete so you don’t break at the same point next time!

March 7 to 13

Monday AM Rattlesnake road 8, 55:10- felt good. tot. 8

XT stretching, eccentric calve raises, A-skip, full xt routine with 1×10 verdunn and rehab stuff- see last week for full list

Tuesday AM 3 warm up, 22:25, a skip, strides, 10k tempo run on rolling holt 5k loop aiming for 5:20 mile pace, 33:25, 16:43/16:42- aerobically very easy but legs were hurting coming in.  1.5 cool down tot. 11

XT stretching, eccentric calve raises, a-skip, full xt routine with 1×10 verdunn and rehab stuff

Wednesday AM Rattlesnake 8, 57:33, brutally tight after yesterday, tot. 8

XT stretching, eccentric calve raises, a-skip, full xt routine with 1×10 verdunn and rehab stuff

Thursday AM road 5++ to track, 200m in 38.9, 200 jog, 200m in 36.7- 200 jog- These were so slow because I was still stiff, 10x100m in 16′s and 15′s.  100 jog back rests- really like 120 with the overlap but whatever. 1 cool down tot. 8+

XT stretching, eccentric calve raises, a-skip, full xt routine with 1×10 verdunn and rehab stuff

Friday AM Rattlesnake road 8, solo, 58:42, still stiff as hell, tot. 8

XT stretching, eccentric calve raises, a-skip, full xt routine with 1×10 verdunn and rehab stuff

Saturday AM Rattlesnake road 8, solo, 53:26, finally felt good, tot. 8

XT stretching, eccentric calve raises, a-skip, full xt routine with 1×10 verdunn and rehab stuff

Sunday AM 3 warm up, strides, 30 second hard effort, couple more strides, race St. Paddy’s 5 mile in Portsmouth, NH, 2nd place behind Dan Hocking- ran 25:33- which isn’t bad I ran 25:24 in this race last year- I was sick and the weather was wild- but to be that close is very encouraging- splits- 4:49- net drop, 5:03, 5:12-tough mile into wind sneaky uphill false flat and a 180 turn around-  5:03, 5:25- tough mile ran 5:30 last year.  2 cool down in 18mins.  I felt ok in the race- not able to push like I wanted but that is to be expected but post race my calfs, hammies, glutes were liquid.  Completely shot tot. 10+

Summary- 60 miles for the week- 2 workouts- sorta, 1 race.  The tempo was good but left me super flat.

March 14 to 20

Monday AM Rattlesnake road 8 solo, 59:14- Hurting!, A- skip after

11AM full gym routine

2pm treatment with mika

5pm 3 mile walk

XT stretching, nerve floss, glute exercises, eccentric calve raises, A-skip- Full gym routine- 1×10 verdunn- then PT stuff- which is 3×30 each leg of a glute pull with a cable machine.  then 3×30 pull overs with the cable machine for transverse adominis and posture, with 3×20 bird dogs during the breaks, then glute activators, then 30 reps on roman chair, then pedistal routine 1×10, then 2×40 each leg of side leg lifts, then 4×4 each leg of one leg ‘pick ups’, then 30 walking extension lunges.

Tuesday AM 40:41 easy then 200 in 37, 200 jog, then 200 in 35, 300 jog light stretch, a skip, 12×100 on track with 100 jogs- all in the 15′s and 14′s- first time back in 14′s since the surgery.  mile cool down to house, then a skip.  tot. 9

XT stretching, nerve floss, glute exercises, eccentric calve raises, A-skip- Full gym routine- 1×10 verdunn- then PT stuff- which is 3×30 each leg of a glute pull with a cable machine.  then 3×30 pull overs with the cable machine for transverse adominis and posture, with 3×20 bird dogs during the breaks, then glute activators, then 30 reps on roman chair, then pedistal routine 1×10, then 2×40 each leg of side leg lifts, then 4×4 each leg of one leg ‘pick ups’, then 30 walking extension lunges.

Wednesday AM Rattlesnake road 10, 1:09;23- A-skip- tot. 10+

XT stretching, nerve floss, glute exercises, eccentric calve raises, A-skip- Full gym routine- 1×10 verdunn- then PT stuff- which is 3×30 each leg of a glute pull with a cable machine.  then 3×30 pull overs with the cable machine for transverse adominis and posture, with 3×20 bird dogs during the breaks, then glute activators, then 30 reps on roman chair, then pedistal routine 1×10, then 2×40 each leg of side leg lifts, then 4×4 each leg of one leg ‘pick ups’, then 30 walking extension lunges.

Thursday AM 3+ warm up, 19:47, askip, strides, 200m in 31.56, 400 jog, then aussie Quarters session (8×400 with a 200 jog rest BEFORE every rep including the first) (45.67- 68.64, 46.34-68.84, 47.93-69.73, 45.47-70.19, 47.18-70.88, 45.53-71.19, 45.42-71.32, 45.18-69.10) 15:28.61 for 4800m- 3:13/5:11 pace- much better then I expected 3 cool down in 24:05 legs thrashed! tot. 10

PM 4 shakeout with Melissa-33:55 tot. 4

XT stretching, nerve floss, glute exercises, eccentric calve raises, A-skip- Full gym routine- 1×10 verdunn- then PT stuff- which is 3×30 each leg of a glute pull with a cable machine.  then 3×30 pull overs with the cable machine for transverse adominis and posture, with 3×20 bird dogs during the breaks, then glute activators, then 30 reps on roman chair, then pedistal routine 1×10, then 2×40 each leg of side leg lifts, then 4×4 each leg of one leg ‘pick ups’, then 30 walking extension lunges.

Friday AM Rattlesnake 10, 1:09:49, tired, tot. 10+

XT stretching, nerve floss, glute exercises, eccentric calve raises, A-skip- Full gym routine- 1×10 verdunn- then PT stuff- which is 3×30 each leg of a glute pull with a cable machine.  then 3×30 pull overs with the cable machine for transverse adominis and posture, with 3×20 bird dogs during the breaks, then glute activators, then 30 reps on roman chair, then pedistal routine 1×10, then 2×40 each leg of side leg lifts, then 4×4 each leg of one leg ‘pick ups’, then 30 walking extension lunges.

Saturday AM 3 warm up, 23mins, a skip and strides, progression run around a 2750 meter loop, rolling with a killer wind for about 1k stretch of it- lap 1-9:48.26, lap 2- 9:42.66(19:30.92), lap 3- 9;07.50 (28:38.42)- not real fast 5:33 pace average but all in all good effort last lap was 5:20 pace, but the effort was better then that.  So I’m happy with it.  I like this loop, I’ll be using it again.  I don’t thing I’ll be doing any workouts that look real impressive in the log here but its a good loop to get fit.  2 cool down 14:33 tot. 10+

XT stretching, nerve floss, glute exercises, eccentric calve raises, A-skip- Full gym routine- 1×10 verdunn- then PT stuff- which is 3×30 each leg of a glute pull with a cable machine.  then 3×30 pull overs with the cable machine for transverse adominis and posture, with 3×20 bird dogs during the breaks, then glute activators, then 30 reps on roman chair, then pedistal routine 1×10, then 2×40 each leg of side leg lifts, then 4×4 each leg of one leg ‘pick ups’, then 30 walking extension lunges.

Sunday AM 14.5 on roads- first 10.5 with melissa’s brother, Chris, rest solo, 1:39:31, felt pretty good.  No coordination problems.  Very nice to be ok to do this the day after a hard session.  Coming along. tot. 14+

XT stretching, eccentric calve raises, a skip, nerve floss, glutes

Summary 74 miles for the week, 3 workouts- really two but..  Good week, good step forward.

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References

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One Response on “How to Return to Running After an Injury

  1. Jeff, love seeing the training. I have all my thanks to you, for starting me back at 1 min. running and 9 min walking. Now with some more effort, I am feeling it again and while my cardio system isn’t there yet, it feels good.
    Thanks for the article!
    P

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