You can race well off cross training – even if you’re injured
In my last two posts, I shared a marathon specific block of training as well as a two-week training cycle of training that didn’t go well because I failed to listen to my body and give it the rest it needed.
Continuing along those lines, I want to share a three week stint of training that demonstrates how being dedicated to cross training while injured will allow you to maintain fitness and still race well.
Likewise, I hope this example will make it evident that having to miss 7-10 days of running isn’t going to ruin your whole training plan if you work hard and stay positive.
This three week sample is from my sophomore year at Brown University (yup, I am going far back for this one). I was coming off a solid three to four week block of training where I had decent mileage and some good workouts.
I was preparing for the Ivy League Championships (affectionately called Heps) and my team had a good shot at winning if I could pull off some big points in the 10k, which was held on the first day of competition. My 10k PR was 30:45 at the time, but if I could finish high and run well, it would set the tone for the rest of the weekend.
Obviously, I was motivated to take my training to the next level for the team. But, as I did too often in my college years, I pushed the envelope too hard and injured my achilles tendon. This is a log of my cross training, mental state, and how the race unfolded after not being able to train for 10 days.
PM: 3 mile warm up, 4×mile w/400 jog (3:00) [4:32] [4:34] [4:36] [4:37] 3 mile cool
Total= 11 miles
I am not very pleased with the workout. The first two weren’t that bad and I was actually feeling pretty strong, however, huge temp/wind change before 3th and I just started screwing it up. Kept going through slower and slower and hurting more and more. I am really pissed that I could not even hit 4:34’s on the last two. Dizzy again on cool down, very hungry, tired and stomach upset. Shitty day.
AM: 4 mile run (26:28)
Massage before run seems like knee is a spasm in upper calf. Very sore during run, the worst is it was been very on a run, legs in general felt tired by end.
PM: 12 mile run (1:15:37)
Knee is very tight, ended up running by myself the whole way because pace was so slow. Didn’t feel all that bad, knee was off and on, mostly annoying, was a bit tired towards end, achilles (right) pretty sore most the night.
10 mile run (1:07:00)
Achilles really bothering me when I woke up still and I debated not running but I gave it a try and it actually felt ok during run and even after. Ran nice and easy, knee still sore but more concerned about the achilles as it continued to hurt all night.
Injury day off
Was supposed to race at UCONN today but I am trying to play it smart w/this achilles. I have done a lot of stupid things lately to it and now I have to start being smart. It probably flared up due to spasm in upper calf caused by being stupid over weekend, what the hell was I thinking, I am not superman. I also have been getting lax with icing it everyday. Two days off may do me some good.
Injury day off
Feeling much better the morning, I think the heat/cold therapy really worked well. Ionto and massage tomorrow, no creaking, feels a bit weak.
12 mile run (1:17:13)
Saw massage guy this morning and achilles feeling pretty good. The run was weird as 2 days off left me fresh but not used to running. The achilles was ok, didn’t really hurt too much, some pain, mostly in my ankle though. Quads sore. Achilles was sore for the rest of the night with some creaking but walking around ok, just hard to get up on toes decelerated calf lifts.
AM: pool run ( Berg to 80 sec) [24:00]
I hate the pool but workout was ok, tired legs, achilles 75% if I had to guess
PM: Pool run (1:06:00)
Pool run very boring but just have to keep doing it. I was going to run but decided to just try and kick this thing now. Heat/ ice therapy at night.
AM: Pool run total [1:10:00]
Workout was hard, but did a good job getting the HR up, hip flexors sore, achilles about the same.
PM: 4 mile run(27:30)
Legs were very sore, probably from pool especially quads and groin. My ankle was sore today, I really don’t know what is wrong as plenty of ice/rest and it is still messed up – grrr.
AM: Pool run (50:00)
Tried to calm down, practice patience, and figure things out last night to reagain my focus. Lots of sleep.
PM: 10 mile run (37:45)
Ran at very fast clip, especially on way back. The achilles was sore the first two miles but after it felt fine. Going up Lloyd my ankle/achilles had shooting pains but went away. Creaking after but a promising day I think.
AM: Pool run (45:00)
Nice and easy w/Jordan
PM: 8 mile run (53:30)
Run did not go well, shouldn’t have pushed it after yesterday – dumb move, have to be smarter. Hurting most of the time and had some pains yesterday for about 10 steps. Legs very sore From Lifting and achilles sore afterwards and at night.
AM: Pool run (1:00:00)
Ran for an hour, did a little work but really unmotivated today – gotta stay focused on what I can control
Pool run (1:00:00)
Did a light workout that kept the HR up, nothing special, just putting in work.
AM: Pool run (1:00:00)
The pool sucks, blah! Very boring
PM: Pool run (1:00:00)
Nothing insightful to add to the log, just more miles in the pool.
AM: Pool run (1:06:00)
Achilles feeling pretty good this morning hope=wish it continues. If I want to race this weekend, I have to try a workout tomorrow and run tonight – fingers crossed.
PM: 10 mile run (1:00:45)
Ran w/Jordan, was a beautiful day. Achilles was a bit achy but we were moving well through the second half of the run and I felt ok, the legs a little tired but I think Heps will be ok, still gonna try and run through this.
3 mile warm up, 8×400 w/200 [70-80 sec] jog       
Workout was hard to judge. I felt good on warm up, achilles the best it has felt in some time – wish I could have not done this workout as I think it was a good day. Anyway, the workout was ok, running fairly fast easily. The 1 st ½ of the workout in trainers and felt good. I was a bit slow and achilles/ankle got sore towards the end.
6 mile run (40:15)
Achilles killing me today, especially last 2 miles, quads and hamstrings tight, not a good day.
4 mile run (27:00) Yale University
Just a shake out for tomorrow, legs body feeling good. Achilles feels tender.
3 mile warm up, 10k race (30:04) 1st place – 10 points for the team!
Race went tactically very well today. Got out in about third place and just relaxed there for the first few miles. Covered all the little moves well and waited the 4th mile, which was slow (5:00) and I could feel everyone stating to get tired. Started to push to drop the main part of the field and keep the race among the real contenders – had to put the dagger in the hopes of the stragglers. With 5 laps to go I made a strong move and really started to hammer. Caught many by surprise and I dropped everyone but Danbrowski. After the hard move to the front, I let him take the lead and do the work while I just cruised along. I knew I had it and was just licking my chips for the right time. Made a move at 400 and he stayed on my back until 300 to go when he made big move. I smiled, relaxed and blasted the last 200 meters to pull away for the victory. Really fun race. I ran the last 400 in 61 and the last 200 in 28 – booyah.
My thoughts 9 years later
As you can see, I PR’d in the 10k by about 45 seconds immediately following a two week stint of mostly pool running and only one actual workout. Certainly, this isn’t how I would have chosen to approach this race and perhaps I could have run faster had my build-up been perfect, but it does illustrate the power of accumulated training and cross training.
Focus on what you can control
When you’re inured, it’s easy to become emotional and focus only on what you can’t do – run. Not only is this frustrating, but it’s unproductive. Instead of dwelling on my injury and worrying about whether I could run each day or not, I turned my focus to cross training, core work, and executing my rehab plan.
In doing so, I was able to take some of the pressure off mentally and keep the motivation high so I could keep pushing hard in the pool without getting discouraged. Of course, I had my up days and down days, but by focusing on the elements I could control (therapy and cross training) I kept my training consistent.
If you want to see some of the cross training workouts I did in the pool, you can download my free cross training guide for runners.
Don’t freak out if you need to take a short break from training
I’ve posted the research about this before, but taking 10-12 days off from running isn’t going to degrade your fitness as much as you think. I believe this short training block and race is a great example of that research being applied to a real runner.
Sure, I may have been able to run faster had I had the perfect build-up to the race, but it certainly was not a disaster and I was still able to capitalize on my previous months of hard work. I could have freaked out about the injury and tried to rush things back or test myself with a difficult workout, but I remained patient and calm, which resulted in me being able to make the best of my situation.
Don’t test your injury all the time
The one mistake I made in this training block was constantly trying to test and assess my healing every day. In reality, all this does is create more micro-tears to the injured area, which results in minor setbacks – both physically and mentally.
As I have since learned, it’s more productive to err on the side of caution and give yourself that one extra day after you feel 100% or set yourself up with a definitive timeline and not test progress every day.
Don’t sacrifice short-term success for long-term gains
One thing that isn’t included in the above training is what happened after the race and the subsequent weeks. Unfortunately, I got caught up in the injury cycle for the rest of that outdoor track season as I was constantly recovering from and then trying to come back from various compensation injuries.
Racing in a college environment, because of the team aspect, is a little different than being able to choose your own races for your own personal gain. However, racing injured set me back for 5-6 weeks total and I sacrificed long-term gains that season to compete well at this one race.
As an athlete, you have to make the decision about what is best for your long-term progression and your personal goals. Don’t let short-sightedness limit your ability to train consistently for long periods of time – you’ll thank yourself down the road.
Your takeaway and lessons learned
The next time you get injured in the weeks before your big race, or when you’re dealing with an injury in general, remember this lesson. The fitness will come back faster than you think if you’re patient and you stay focused and motivated when it comes to the cross training and therapy.
Let me know in the comments section if you’ve ever had a learning moment like this or had a situation where you went into a race with less than perfect training and still accomplished your goal. We would love to hear your story. Next week I’ll be demonstrating a grueling 10k specific segment, so stay tuned!