Recovery After Surgery

On today’s Extra Kick podcast, Coach Michael explains how to return to strong, healthy running after surgery.

Audio Transcript

Coach Michael: Hey Runner Connect fans. Welcome to the Run to the Top Extra Kick podcast. I’m here to answer your training and racing questions.

If you have a question that you’d like one of expect coaches to answer in an upcoming episode, you can submit it at We’d love to train you faster and smarter so please don’t hesitate to ask your questions

Today we have a question from Chris.

Chris: What is a reasonable or realistic amount of time it may take, after a surgery, to build back up to a modest running base? My doctor recommended a four to six-week recovery period before I do any running, and the training plan that I’m looking at begins with a 10-mile-long run.

How many weeks should I expect to take between the time I start running and the time I’m ready for a 10-mile-long run? I’m 43 and have taken up running quite actively in the last 2-3 years.

I ran just over 1000 miles in 2016, six half marathons, and one full marathon in the past 2-3 years

Michael: That’s a great question Chris and congrats on your accomplishments. Sounds like your last couple of years have been amazing and I’m excited to help you get back on track.

First off, I have to start with this. Listen to your doctor. I can’t say anything that goes against what your doctor would say for multiple reasons. The real reason is that he or she is a doctor and I am not.

There’s also that the doctor can see this thing up close. I know most doctors they say four to six weeks all the time.

No matter what type of stress fracture or surgery. I do understand that aspect of it, but at the same time, you’ve got to trust your doctor.

You can’t come back any sooner than that.

I think doctors are typically more likely to be a little bit conservative, but I would say that that’s a good thing overall, and I think that that’s probably the main thing you want to practice here is you want to be very conservative, coming back.

My advice is don’t have a goal. I don’t think you should ever go on the you should have an exact mileage goal that you want to work up to. I think it’s really about the process.

If you have this exact goal, it’s just going to feel like everything else has fallen short. When you work up to a 6-mile run, all you’re going to be thinking that you’ve still got almost double this until I’m at my 10-mile-long run to start my training.

You shouldn’t be thinking like that because if you work up to a six-mile run after a serious surgery, that’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be a huge step forward for you. Don’t have a specific goal or at least don’t let a goal keep you down and make you worry about your lack of progress or at least the slow progress.

You want to take it one week at a time. As I was writing notes for this, I came up with a little bit of a slogan, you want to start low and slow. What I mean by that is lower mileage.

You want to start lower mileages with short runs and jogs and you want to run very slow. We’re not looking to set new records, we’re not looking for any incredible workouts you can post online.

You’re going to start low and slow and you going to take it one week at a time. What I would recommend starting with is a little bit of walking.

I think walking is the most important thing you can start with because it’s low impact, it’s easy; you can easily make it out your house, you can just go walk on the road and walk on the sidewalk, and you can turn around and head back.

If anything’s bothering you, you have to listen your body and that’s probably the most important thing to remember of all this.

Basically, you want to take it really slow at first. Start with a little bit of walking. I would say even a few days maybe even maybe even almost a week of basically just working up your walking.

You can get some good volume and once you want to get to the point where you’re able to walk at a pretty decent pace, you can get some pretty good volume.

If you go walk for 45 minutes you get some decent volume in and you might get a few miles in which is fine at this point.

After that point, you want to work up to some walk jogs. I would recommend starting with a super basic run like running two or three minutes and then walk a minute.

Gradually you want to get to the point where the running is getting a little bit longer and the walking is between.

After that you want to work up to just short jogs where you’re running like two or three miles tops maybe four miles once you start working up the volume a little bit.

We’re looking at like maybe week two if you’re if you make great progress, but maybe even beyond that, maybe before that.

Maybe you only walk jog for a few days and you’re like, “Ah, this is easy. I feel great. My knee is tremendous” and you can start some short jogs. Start with like two miles tops short jogs.

After that point, you want to add in some strides. If you’ve never done strides before, strides are basically a not a sprint as it’s commonly confused for a sprint, but it’s not you want to do maybe 15-20 seconds at 90% effort.

You’re going fast and you’re working hard, but you’re not running as fast as you can. You’re not doing Usain Bolt, you know getting the knees way up. You’re practicing, in good form, and you’re running fairly fast but comfortable.

You don’t want to be forced like you’re sprinting as hard as you can. You want to be nice and comfortable.

Let’s say we’re on week three now where you’re doing two to four mile runs, I would say you want to add those in like twice a week maybe like a Tuesday Friday or Monday Thursday where you add in just like four to five strides.

If you have a track somewhere nearby, that’s a great opportunity to go up on the track do 100 meters, which is just a straight away work up to speed.

Don’t go that hard 90% effort tops and get some good strides in. This will really help your legs get ready for future training.

It will really help spur along the process of getting your body get back to real training. Strides are huge for that.

Now we’re progressing the mileage a little bit. So, we’re talking about doing like a slightly longer run once a week or so. Maybe we’re talking about like Week 4, right? We are talking about that 6-week recovery training plan at week four or five.

At this point you can add in like a slightly longer run maybe 6 miles. If you’ve progressed really well you can get up to like seven miles, but either way just a slightly longer run but nice and slow.

After this point, you want to add in fartleks. They are a great workout for getting back into training like this.

When you’re starting almost from scratch, they’re a great way to get back into training without being too crazy challenging. A fartlek is a Swedish term, I believe, for speed play. What that means is that you can alter the pace.

The simplest fartlek you can think of is 1 minute on, 1 minute off. Perhaps you’ll do like 10 times 1 minute on 1 minute off. The on portion is roughly like tempo pace, but basically to where you’re running comfortably hard and not all out, for that minute segment and then you take a minute of a nice easy pace.

The variance between the two times, you don’t want to be like four minutes a mile. You don’t want to run 8-minute pace on your on’s and 12-minute pace.

It would be more accurately if we’re looking at that type of runner would probably be more like 9-minute pace and then 10-minute pace something like that.

There’s not a huge variance not like 4 minutes, but you’re going hard in the on’s and then fairly easy on the off’s and I would add one or two for those weeks.

We’re looking at like Week five or so and at this point I think adding as fartleks in while you’re still doing that slightly longer run and then some strides as well, is going to make up a great training week at that point.

Then from there you can gradually progress that long run and those workouts to the point where you’re going to be getting a 10-mile-long run.

I think six weeks is a reasonable period to get back to that point. Obviously, you don’t want to rush this at all. It needs to be taken very slow. It might be 8 weeks. We really don’t know.

Using the plan that I just outlined, you can be starting with those walk jogs. You can be up to a 10-mile-long and I think very reasonably in six weeks for sure.

One last thing, be prepared to take two steps forward and one step back.

That happens very commonly with things like this, where you’re coming off an injury, or a surgery, or an illness, or anything like that.

Where sometimes you’re making great progress and all over sudden something is just bothering you or you feel really exhausted or your knee is bugging you.

At that point you go take a step back. Let’s say just increased your long run and you’re only doing like four mile runs, but then now you do like a 7-mile run and all over sudden your knee starts bothering you.

At that point you’ve got to take a step back.

You’ve got to say that you weren’t quite ready for that this week. Let’s take another week of doing what we’re doing before where you were just doing some short jogs and maybe some strides and then let’s give it another week and make sure my body is ready.

Be prepared to take two steps forward, one step back and be very patient. Listen to your doctor, take it slow, and be very patient.

Runners Connect fans that’s it for today. Thank you so much for joining me. Don’t forget to submit your questions at and we’ll feature your question on the show.

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