Oh, the roller coaster ride that comes with running injuries and the return to running. I’ve been injured after partially tearing my hamstring for more than a year and slowly building my mileage after taking close to four months off. And, my return to running has come with many detours (also known as setbacks).
These detours have arisen in large part to me being in a hurry to get back to my former self. But, if you truly want to return to running quickly, you need to listen to your body over your mind. When in doubt, take extra time to rest and make healing your priority–not miles or pace.
To help you on your return to running journey whether it be post-injury or post-baby, I have rounded up 6 principles that will help you get there safely.
6 Principles to Return to Running After Injury or After Baby
Here’s what I’ve learned are the best ways to safely return to running and start building your base before getting ready to tackle those goals:
This is the bedrock of all running, especially when coming back after having a baby or running injury, or anything else. Take your time. Let your body adapt. Don’t rush progress. If you run, it will come. I promise. Being patient is perhaps the hardest part about being injured.
But letting go of where you were and where you want to go can help you focus on where you are currently. Several times throughout my recovery I would get stuck on a number of miles I should be running or pace and it only led to a step back. Be in the moment. It’s a good life lesson for everything.
Increase mileage slowly.
Aim to increase mileage by 30 percent every three or four weeks. Every month or so, I would also take a “down week” where I would cut my mileage by close to half to allow my body to absorb the work. It’s also important to have a mileage cap. You can’t increase ten percent every week without stopping.
Truly listen to your body to know its limits. Does your injury flare up after 12 mile runs? Cap it at ten miles for a few weeks then add a mile. Do you need an extra day off during the week to aid recovery? Take it. Cutting corners to get to the start faster will only put you back on the sidelines.
Walk breaks are legit! Many runners are hesitant to walk because, honestly, we are too proud. “We aren’t walkers! We are RUNNERS!” But walking has been a saving grace for my recovery.
The first couple of months of runs, I walked every quarter mile. This helped strengthen my body without irritating my injury. I also walked hills because it was aggravating to my leg. I still walk whenever my leg STARTS to feel “upset.” I have found that these intermittent breaks allow me to run faster and longer in the long run.
Add a variable at a time.
This is kind of like when you start your baby on solids: start with avocado. Stick with it for a few days to make sure your babe is doing okay before introducing bananas…You remember the drill. That same philosophy is good for your return to running. Just like feeding your baby, keep it simple.
Start on flat surfaces like a track. Keep the runs super slow. Don’t add speed, distance, or different terrain until you’ve mastered where you’re at for 2-4 consecutive runs without pain.
Alternate run days.
For a couple of months, I would not run 2 days in a row. I alternated run and walk days to allow for recovery and time for my body to acclimate. Then, I began jogging a mile on my walk days and slowly worked up to running consecutive days. Also, I found walking to be the best crosstraining exercise. It did not irritate my injury and it is the most similar to running as far as mechanics go. Thus, it helped reintroduce the compression and lengthening running requires to my injured tendon.
Related: A Proven Guide to Injury Prevention
Don’t freak out.
Running is a tough exercise and because we did it for a long time, we forget that when we started running things hurt. It is totally normal. Don’t worry! It’s not another injury cropping up. Your body has to strengthen under the new stress. Your injury may hurt too. That’s okay as long as it goes away soon after you stop and also isn’t a super sharp, intense pain.
Many people may tell you not to run until you are fully healed. That is not the case for many injuries. Running is a strengthening exercise and is especially important for soft tissue injuries after a period of rest. You just need to be careful not to overdo it.