Returning to Running after Injury

Many people have asked: “how do you return to running after injury.”

The Short Answer: Slow and steady.

But you didn’t come here for the short answer.

Returning to running after an injury

First and foremost, I’m not a doctor and every injury is different. Always be smart about your own injury and coming back.  

No one likes to be injured.  We also can’t be in peak fitness forever, so a break and coming back (injury or not), is beneficial for any runner. Returning to running after an injury is always a tough and humbling experience. Injury or not, getting back into shape is challenging.

My calcaneus stress fracture is my first serious injury in about 4 years. In my early twenties, I was injured a few times due to either overtraining or biomechanics.

I’ve “come back from running injury” many times. Many were overuse injuries or trying to run through pain. Due to my form, I’m prone to stress fractures in my feet. Now, at the risk of injury, I take days off or do cross-training activities to avoid injury.

I’m not a coach, expert, or anything close.  I’m just a female who likes to run and blog through the journey.

Here are a Few Tips for Returning to Running After an Injury:  

  1. Track Everything: When returning to running after an injury, this is especially important. I began tracking when I felt any residual soreness and how I felt during the run.  Slowly, the residual pain started at 1 mile.  Then later, it was 2.  Then even later, it was 3, and finally, after I finished a 5-mile run, I realized I was completely pain-free.  Tracking things allows you to see physical progress.  This also allows you to track if something isn’t right and you feel pain for several days in a row.
  2. Set Achievable Goals: You aren’t going to be 100% pain-free or set a PR within the first week after returning to running after an injury. Setting realistic and achievable goals is essential.  Maybe it’s to work up to racing again, or perhaps it’s run consistently every day.  Making a goal keeps you focused.  Recently I’ve started doing virtual races and it’s fun to see improvements from week to week.
  3. Easy Running: When you Returning to running after an injury, you might find yourself wanting to do more and more. You are ready to start running faster and improve your fitness level. When returning to running after an injury, I recommend finding a training plan or training schedule to follow. There will be days you feel like you can conquer the world and run forever. If you run too fast or too much, too soon, you’ll end up with another injury (I’ve been there). After each stress fracture, I’ve found a plan that includes walk breaks, seeing a physical therapist for rehab exercises, and strength training. I cannot emphasize enough; no matter your skill level, don’t be afraid to run-walk.  Even elites don’t start full runs when they are returning to running after serious injuries.
  4. Stay Positive: This is easier said than done.  I try and focus on the positives on each run.  Even if the positive if just, “I ran injury-free.” Any healthy run post-injury is a good run. Short runs or 30 minutes are better than being injured (a philosophy I still use today).
  5. Continually Reassess: Injuries are tricky that way. Some injuries, you come back and feel on top of the world.  Other injuries, you feel as though it will take months or even years to go back to where you left.  Your body will adapt differently to every injury. Gradually reassess during your return to running after an injury so you can see what works and what doesn’t.
  6. Gradual Builds: It will take a while (weeks or months) to return to your pre-injury self. You will get there, but it takes time to get back to your full training and run volume.  Enjoy the process and enjoy you’re able to work out and run again.
Finally, remember your fitness is a collection of workouts. A day, week, month, or event a year isn’t going to make or break your journey.  Every injury and situation is different!
Finally, have you subscribed to the LOLZletter? It’s a free newsletter that comes out each Monday. In the newsletter, I share running industry trends and things relevant to the sport. 

Questions for you:
Do you have any tips for coming back from a running injury? 
What is your favorite type of weather to run in?