Hello, Running. It’s me, Colleen.
Below you will find some lessons I learned from my most recent injury and then some tips on how to come back to running after taking time off. Enjoy!
WHAT i learned from this injury
Unfortunately, injury is something pretty much any athlete has to go through at some point in their career. Some of us go through it again and again! We are pushing our bodies to their limits and testing our weaknesses so often that this is bound to happen sometimes. For me, it has become very apparent that while many people get injured in the same ways, athletes deal with those injuries very differently and that is really what dictates how they recover and return to their sport.
I’m willing to do something I don’t love for hours and hours if it means I can get back to doing what I really love that much easier. And that is exactly what I have experienced with cross training. As boring as swimming, aqua jogging, ellipticaling and cycling might be for us runners, it feels so much better when you get the green light to start running and you were able to maintain at least your cardiovascular strength and general fitness. You will still have to find your running legs again, but that part doesn’t take long and will catch up to your strong cardio system soon. When you are bouncing through the woods pain-free, chatting with your teammates without a care in the world… you won’t regret those boring hours in the pool.
I am definitely guilty of taking my health for granted, I’m sure we all are at some point. I’ve dreaded going for a run the day after an especially tough Jerry* workout when my whole body aches. I’ve complained about rainy runs, hot runs, long fartleks, and grueling tempos. But when I’m swimming laps in the pool while my teammates are outside running endless mile repeats, I would give anything to be out there with them.
My goal for this comeback season is to NEVER ever take a second of healthy running for granted. I want to soak up every glorious moment and realize what a gift it is to use my body in this way, to work hard and sweat next to some of the fastest women in the country. I get to be outside in nature for hours a day as part of my job. That’s my job! And it’s hard, of course. But it is so incredible and won’t last forever. If there’s a silver lining in this injury it is that I can test my dedication to my sport and remind myself how special this opportunity is… savor every single step, Colleen.
THE WAY BACK TO RUNNING
After my season was over, I took some time off for a mental and physical break. I recommend everyone to do this after a build up to a major event, whatever that may be for you. A week or two at least is totally necessary for mind and body to take a break from both training and thinking about training constantly. For a couple weeks I wake up in the morning and don’t think “What do I need to do for running today?” It’s refreshing. I run when I want and how much I want. Then after a while… it’s boring. When I get the itch, that means it’s time to get back to serious training!
When I tried to get back into training again this fall, I found that my little niggles from the season had far from disappeared. I took a couple more weeks of cross training with low mileage, but that didn’t seem to help much either. By the time we met as a team for the first workout, I knew something was very wrong with my foot and I couldn’t run without limping, so I decided to shut it down until I figured out what was going on with my body. Sometimes you have to push through pain and injury during the season to hang on for a big race, but that’s usually not smart in the off-season. So I got an MRI of my foot and found out I had some plantar fasciitis as well as bone damage in my calcaneus bone. Until I was able to walk (almost) pain free, I had to stay in the pool and do as little walking and standing as possible for 5 weeks.
Back to being a mermaid! This is something I’ve dealt with before, and luckily I knew what I needed to do to stay in shape by swimming and aqua jogging. If you want to read about how I learned to swim and why I love it, click here.
I swam and aqua jogged as much as I could stand to for 4 weeks while keeping up with my core and strength training regimen as best I could without bothering my foot. Huge shoutout to everyone who reached out with pools to use when I was traveling and trying to train on the road! Eventually I got to start cycling and ellipticaling. Finally I was cleared to do my first run! Yay!
The way back is different for everyone, and you should always follow your doctor’s recommendation. For me, I was allowed to run as long as my pain never got beyond a 4 out of 10 on the pain scale. If I got to a 5 and had to start altering my gait, I was supposed to stop. And I was keeping an eye out for building pain (Monday I feel a 2, Tuesday it’s a 3, Wednesday a 4…). Luckily, since I had given myself no weight-bearing exercise for so long, my heel had time to heal (😂) and I only had minor pain adding some running back in.
As I start to ramp up mileage, I am ramping down the cross training. So instead of 2 hours per day of cross training I might only do 1 or 1.5. Even when I’m in full mileage, I still swim 3-4 times per week for 30-45 min in place of a second run in the afternoon. This has really helped me avoid overuse injury while allowing me to get some extra cardio work in.
Most runners find themselves injured and unable to do what we love at some point. It’s a low point, for sure. But its not a lonely place because you are not alone! Many have been there before, are there now, or will be there in the future. What I find helpful is getting on a routine. I schedule out my week of cross-training ahead of time so that I know I will get in my goal number of hours by the end of the week. And I find cross-training buddies! I put it out there that I was swimming and people came to me with opportunities to use pools wherever I was. I made new friends (Hi, Brooke! 👋🏼) along the way who shared my woes and helped motivate me. Meet up with a friend at the gym to keep yourself accountable and don’t let that person down. Put in the work and your future self will thank you.
*Jerry Schumacher is the head coach of the Bowerman Track Club and is the king of impossible workouts that somehow get done.