For the dedicated runner getting injured or being ill and not able to run can be extremely demoralising. Injuries to a runner is almost inevitable that at some point you’ll be dealing with some kind of sprain, strain or illness that grinds your training to a halt. Many of you will know first hand the characteristic withdrawal symptoms including irritability, lethargy or even depression that injuries can trigger while partners and spouses will easily recognise the moderate to severe grumpiness that can be exhibited by their nearest and dearest who has been sidelined temporarily by injury or illness. It's the worst we know.
New runners know, veteran runners know, your dog and his mother know. Being injured is the absolute worst. You're feeling a whole host of emotions. That race your signed up for that's fast approaching and there's just no way you can slog through...except well maybe, you think you should try? Simply put don't just take a deep breath. There are many ways to cope with sudden injuries. And not a single one of them involves strangling someone which is probably what you feel like you want to do.
If you’re regularly feeling the same little niggle of pain, stop and address it while it’s still a niggle. What's worse than having an injury is having an undiagnosed injury. Not knowing how much time you should take off will drive you crazy but don't "tough it out" save yourself a lot of grief, see a physio to get a prognosis and timeline for recuperating a couple of days away from running won’t set you back as much as you’d think. So you've got two choices weeks of anger over something you can't control or simple acceptance. Anger is certainly an easier default while acceptance takes work.
Injuries are always tough physically and mentally because we’re so used to pushing our bodies to that next barrier and when that’s stripped away you can feel really lost. Our routine, identity and possibly even social circle can be taken away in the blink of an eye. The uncertain recovery time, the disappointment of race days passing by and the endless social media posts of smiling, running faces can make you anxious, frustrated or possibly depressed. Telling a runner to keep positive can only go so far. It can be very demoralising to feel you are losing strength, focus or fitness.
A runner’s social circle can come close to a second family. Whether you train with a friend, a small group or a large club most of us have running buddies we either run with or more importantly talk about running with. Yes we all do like to talk about running but it's only when we can’t run that we realise how much running may have dominated our conversations and weekly lives. A practical solution to prevent time spent dwelling is to add up the hours you would have spent running each week before your injury and allocate this time to helping you make your comeback as a better runner.
Think of all the complementary activities available today yoga, pilates, dust off your foam roller, work on mobility, balance, flexibility while you have the chance. Keep up the cardio, work your core, get stronger and more stable. Optimising your recovery requires a balanced approach. In general there's very little you can do to speed up the natural processes that are at work repairing damaged muscles, bones, tendons or other tissues where on the other hand it is quite easy to hinder or delay recovery if you neglect advice or try artificially to force the pace of your return to fitness.
To play your part in the process it is important to realise you are in control by looking after your diet, getting proper amounts of rest and adhering to regimes of exercise to ensure that you provide the best conditions for recovery. Remember this is a situation where patience and optimism are highly required. How many runs have you done? Seriously, check we know you competitive runners keep a tally. Each one of them you made it to and through and just like races injuries have finish lines too. None of this is wasted time.
After injury your stronger more supple body will stand to you when you do return to the roads. See this time as an opportunity to try something new and learn more about your body. You will run again, on the same paths, with the same friends, at the same speeds, and you'll quickly forget all the frustration you felt but it is okay to stop running for a while. When most runners return from injury albeit cautiously they are delighted and grateful to be back. They appreciate every mile.
How much will taking a few days off from running hurt my fitness? As runners we are all paranoid about taking a few days off generally thinking it will ruin our months of meticulous training. We all know how hard it can be to listen to science and understand that a day off isn’t going to end your hopes of that PB or beating that one person who always just those few seconds in front of you. When we look at the effects of taking time off from running we have to analise the detraining from two perspectives:
(1) your metabolic systems such as aerobic fitness, threshold and VO2 max. (2) your structural systems such as your muscles and neuromuscular coordination.
(1) Effects of detraining on the aerobic system
VO2 max is one of the best measurements of a runners physical fitness. Put simply VO2 max is an individuals maximum ability to transport and use oxygen during exercise. Recent studies show that there is little reduction in VO2 max for the first 10 days following inactivity in well trained athletes. However beginner runners will lose fitness at a slightly faster rate since they have a lower base of fitness. After 2 weeks of not running studies show that VO2 max decreases by 6%, after 9 weeks VO2 max drops by 19%, after 11 weeks VO2 max falls by 25.7% from peak physical fitness. So you can see from an aerobic standpoint there is little to worry about if you have to take a break from running for two weeks or less. So for those runners that need to take a hiatus because of a small injury or are nervous about taking downtime after a long training regime a 6% decline in VO2 max can be made up with one or two weeks of solid training.
April is a 20 minute 5k runner. April has a VO2 max of roughly 49.81 ml/kg/min. After 2 weeks of no running April will loose 6% of her VO2 max, which would now be 46.83 ml/kg/min and would put April in 21:05 for 5k. 9 weeks of no running for April would put her in 24:00 area while 11 weeks of no running puts April in 25:30 shape.
(2) Effects of detraining on the structural system
There is little research that exists about detraining on the structural system. What is known is that a dramatic reduction in fitness occurs within the 10-28 day window. Before and after this window detraining from a structural perspective isn’t severe. Most of the research shows muscle power declines significantly slower than metabolic factors. What this means is after 7-10 days of not running you will lose some muscle power and coordination but not enough to totally derail your training programme.
Adam is a 20 minute 5k runner. In 1-7 days there is a negligible reduction in VO2 max and muscle power currently running 20:10. 10-14 days a 6% reduction in VO2 max and minimal reductions in muscle power now in 21:05 shape. 14-30 days an estimated 12% reduction in VO2 max and decrease in muscle power now in 23:00 shape. 30-63 days a19% reduction in VO2 max and significant decrease in muscle power now in 24:00 shape.63+ days a 25.7% reduction in V02 max and significant decrease in muscle power now in 25:30 shape.