Training through an Injury
From Team Trot Runner and Gust Blogger Julie Koepke
Recently, I’ve been struggling with knee pain. It began during a 100-mile race in October 2014, escalated to the point where I took an entire month off of running in March 2015, and then crept back again in October 2015. I was able to run through it until I did a 50-miler in November; after that, the pain was so bad that sometimes I’d go for a run and only be able to make it a half a mile. This was especially frustrating, as I had made the Bandera 100k USATF National Championships a goal race, and was really hoping to PR and get a top-10 place in the Championships. Fortunately, I was able to do things – other than running, for the most part – during the month or so leading up to Bandera, which led me to reaching these goals after all.
Note that just as every person is different, so too I think every injury is different. What works well for one person won’t necessarily work well for another. Furthermore, what works well for one person with one injury might not work well for that same person the next time they’re faced with an injury. However, I think there is value in sharing what has worked well for someone. I know that I enjoy trying out various methods – especially when I’m desperate; and what injured runner doesn’t feel desperate at times? Then I keep the things that I liked and discard the things that didn’t work well. I hope my tips can be helpful in a similar way.
Here are 3 things I did that I found helpful:
1. Cross training
Not running is hard, and I admit that I’m not good at it. Here is a screenshot of a few weeks of my training plan. Notice how I should have been resting from running, but continued to stupidly aggravate the injury for weeks.
The following week, I wrote: “New plan: no running for a week.” What a concept! Stop doing the thing that hurts. I continued doing cross-training activities that did not cause me knee pain, including hiking on the treadmill at maximum incline, hiking with a weight vest, swimming, strength training at the gym, yoga, and bicycling. I also walked stairs on two separate days during this time. On both days I did 90 flights; the second time, I wore a 20-pound weight vest. I returned to running gradually, only when it no longer hurt at all to run, and beginning with barefoot running on a beach. Since my goal race was January 9, this didn’t leave a lot of time for any runs at all, but at least I felt confident that I was in good shape aerobically and that I was strong from my cross-training.
2. Reading an inspirational and useful book
During this time, I read Matt Fitzgerald’s book, How Bad Do You Want It? In it, Fitzgerald shares the stories of certain elite athletes (runners, triathletes, and cyclists) who have cultivated mental toughness and “coping mechanisms” that have led to their successes in their sport, and suggests how the reader can be his or her own personal sports psychologist, trying out these tactics himself or herself. Fitzgerald writes that no athlete can ever truly give 100% effort; we always hold something back. The key is to try to push as close to that wall as possible. He says that how far the wall is depends upon your physical ability, but how close you’re able to approach that wall depends upon mental toughness. According to Fitzgerald, an athlete coming back from injury might actually be able to perform just as well as an athlete in top physical condition if the injured athlete has greater mental toughness, and so is able to push further towards the limit. I definitely reminded myself of this at various points throughout my race at Bandera.
Some of the specific coping mechanisms Fitzgerald discusses felt especially powerful for me, especially the idea of “bracing yourself.” Leading up to Bandera, I consciously “braced myself,” telling myself, “This is going to be hard. There is going to be a lot of pain and suffering, because you are undertrained. The knee pain will probably come back during the race.” Fitzgerald says this strategy is effective because it lowers the perceived effort during the race. Since I was already expecting pain, when it happened during the race, I was able to tell myself, “That’s no big deal, I knew that would happen. I can push through it.” I have to say, too, what really helped lower my perceived effort during this race was getting to run so much of it with my TROT teammate Matt, listening to music, and feeling gratitude – there were my effective coping mechanisms.
To me, there is benefit during a time of frustrating injury to reading any book that may inspire me to persevere through challenges. (Chrissy Wellington’s book, A Life Without Limits, and Haley Scott DeMaria’s book, What Though the Odds, are other go-to’s for me).
Last June, I started a routine of journaling before every race. I found that this helped me sort out all my different emotions – of which I have many before a race – and eased my nervous tension, simply through identifying and acknowledging how I felt. The night before Bandera, I did the same thing. Here is an excerpt from my entry. (Sorry that the writing is so messy – I was lying on my side in bed as I wrote it, not at all thinking that I might later decide to post it here for the world to see.)
The first emotion that came to mind was nervousness. And I was right to be nervous: my body felt sore pretty early on, probably due to my lack of consistent running over the last few months. My left knee hurt from about mile 10 on. And running in general felt harder than it should. But somehow having already processed this nervousness in my journaling made me calm during the race when these problems cropped up. When something somewhat troubling happened, I’d think to myself, yep, that’s happening, but it’s okay – I expected that. (I’m not showing the other part of my entry, where I wrote that I felt excited about the chocolate muffin I bought for my pre-race breakfast. But it’s there. J)
I tried other things, too, during this time, some of which were helpful, and some of which were not. But these were the top 3 things I can look back on as directly leading me to achieving my race goals, despite not getting the amount and quality of training I would have hoped for. I’d love to hear what has worked for you, too: what additional tips would you share?
Read more of Julie’s blogs at http://runningasprayer.blogspot.com/