When should you run again after an injury?

For a month now, I’ve been gloomily telling people I’m laying low, with no

I ran my first "long" run to prep for the Marine Corps Marathon this morning. But I'm keeping my goals flexible.

I ran my first “long” run to prep for the Marine Corps Marathon this morning. But I’m keeping my goals flexible.

long runs or speedwork, until August. This is per my doctor’s suggestions to let my sore IT band heal after a flareup in May.

“August?” asked one of my running buddies the other night. “Like, next week?”

Apparently, time flies when you’re running three times a week, no more than 6 miles per run, and stretching and doing core work like your life depends on it!

So last night, for the first time since my awesome running doc and I formulated a plan that would let me at least try to still run the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 25 this year, I pulled out my FIRST training plan to confirm that this is do-able. Long story short: It is. And though it’s not technically August for another two days, it’s time to test the theory.

So this morning, when I headed out for a rare early trail run, I was already thinking: Is this the day I’ll try my first “long” run, an 8-miler that aims to test my not-so-sore-anymore hip?

This was basically a microcosm of the bigger questions I’m dealing with: How will I know if I can run the marathon without sidelining myself for months again? And, writ even larger, when is it OK to run again after an injury?

My friend Kaveh, who’s also signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon, is dealing with the same dilemmas. He skipped his long run on Saturday because, as he describes it, “my shin was killing me with every walking step.”

He asked my opinion about how you know when you’re ready to train again: “Specifically, when you’re training for a marathon and every run seems crucial.”

This is so hard, and so personal, and depends on each individual’s body and goals.

As I learned by watching people literally limp over the finish line with the help of kind, possibly crazy volunteers at the Nashville Country Music Marathon in 2007, it’s certainly possible to run a marathon with a pretty terrible injury. If you’re cool with the risk of a stress fracture or worse leaving you unable to run at ALL for months following the marathon, then push on.

I’m not going to be that person. Kaveh and I both have the luxury of having finished a marathon before, so we don’t have that to prove to ourselves. As much as I feel a desperate urge to test myself again, proving to myself I can run a marathon quickly, being able to run on regular basis means more to me than any finisher’s medal.

I personally find it vital to have a doctor — one who understands and appreciates my running goals — give me the OK to proceed. But my doctor doesn’t exactly hang around the house, waiting for me to ask his opinion on a daily basis, leaving much of the decision-making up to me.

A couple rules of thumb, from various doctors, physical therapists and, you know, afternoons spent procrastinating on runnersworld.com:

  • Don’t run if you’re limping. Once your form goes, you can injure more than just the site of the pain.
  • Don’t run if it’s a sharp pain (as opposed to a dull ache) that gets worse as you run. This could mean a stress fracture, and if you run on this, it could get exponentially worse.
  • It’s better to be 10 percent undertrained than 1 percent overtrained, i.e., injured. Err on the side of caution, big time.

There may come a time in my training when erring on the side of caution means giving up on the MCM dream for this year (with a new immediate goal of deferring until 2010). But for now, I’m taking it one week at a time, increasing my mileage slowly, listening to my body and being prepared to be flexible.

So this morning, I did one trail loop of about five miles — about a mile each way to get to and from Rock Creek Park, with three miles of actual trails. Then, I really tuned in to how my body felt. My hip felt loose. My form felt strong. I reversed the loop and did it again for a total of about eight miles. First long run, done!

That’s not to say I’m getting cocky. On my way back, I bought a huge bag of ice from the Giant. That’s right — I took an ice bath after an 8-miler, an uncomfortable tactic usually reserved for only the longest runs. I’ll take one after my longest run every week, continue with my plan to build the strongest core this side of Rock Creek … and just continue to see how it goes.


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8 responses to “When should you run again after an injury?

  1. Ed

    Looking forward to future blogs on this topic. Well done!

  2. Great post! I admire your determination!!

  3. Hey Amy: I came across your blog because of the title to this post. I have been layed up with a foot stress fracture (under sport doc care) for a few weeks and going a little nutty. I have been x-training like crazy. Loved your thoughts in this post…happy to hear you are back out there. I was hoping to run the Chicago Marathon but it may not happen.
    Check out our collabrative running blog at http://www.aboldpace.com I just put up a post on the Dara Torres dvd I have been using to stretch.
    Here’s to (our) speedy recovery!

  4. I just read your guest post over on Michelle’s blog – nice work. I’ll be adding you to my blogroll! Been looking to add some new, regular-posting bloggers!

  5. michjoy61

    Amy, I am so glad you had such a nice run today. 8 miler is pretty darn awesome IMHO! And I know you ran a mile for me, so that makes it even more awesome!

    Just take care of that hip and make sure you don’t overdo it!! :O)

  6. it is very tough to pull the reins in on yourself, especially when you have a race looming out in the future like mcm! when it comes down to it, my favorite ‘reminder’ is whether i want to run today or for the rest of my life. i am getting better at sidelining myself and taking rest day(s) instead of running myself into the ground.

    i am sure you will keep a level head on those shoulders! try to keep the ultimate big picture in mind – in the event you can’t run mcm there will be another race!

  7. trialsoftraining

    Nice!! The first long run and still feeling good! 🙂 I can’t believe it’s August. Ummm, july? hello?

  8. That’s great that you were able to get a long run in. I have been doing the same thing, taking it easy and running less than 6 miles at a time about 4 days a week as I recover from injury. I have recently started to get back into pushing myself. I haven’t run more distance than 7 miles yet but I started to test my knee with work-outs of greater speed and intensity. Not only do I feel like I am getting a great work-out and back into shape, but I am also able to test what my knee can handle quickly. Rather than pounding a lot of miles on them, slowly breaking them down and seeing what effects if any, I am able to press down hard and see if it hurts. Quicker, middle distance runs are helping me play it “press and go” instead of “touch and go.”

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