The first run after injury is crucial but often butchered by most runners. Your first run sets the table for a full recovery or completely destroying a what you thought was healed injury. The internal dialogue starts to weigh the fact that you can walk and negotiate stairs without pain. Essentially every aspect of your life is pain free and seems to have resolved with a week (or two) of rest. Most of you have lived the story, some of us hear it everyday (me!). You think you’re healed–you’re fine. You lace up and head for the door. Confidence shortly begins to fill with self-doubt. Symptoms go from nonexistent to negligible climbing to ‘not that bad’. Continuing on that trajectory, your pain worsens until you’re at a perfect, yet damaging, distance from your car. You refuse to walk back and decide that running is your only option. Sound familiar?
Overdoing it seems to be hardwired into our DNA. It hinders healing, which eventually causes further damage to our confidence and psyche (oh yeah and body!). Remember, we all get hurt and injured. That’s not the point of this article. It’s more important to discuss the steps required to resume running. As stated, that first run is so crucial. Most athletes analyze runs comparatively. “Well I’m used to running 5-8 miles so 3 miles should be an easy gauge.” You’ll need to ditch the mindset if you want to fully recover. Often a first run will tolerate less than 10 minutes. Ten minutes you say? Who cares about 10 minutes? Well, for one, your injury certainly does. Were not looking to increase fitness with a short, simple run, but simply “feel it out.” You’ll want to grasp how your injury bodes before jumping off the deep end.
The All Important 10 Minute Feeler
Clinically speaking, I will always begin with what I like to a call a ‘10 Minute Feeler Run’. Ten minutes is an easy gauge that allows you to assess symptoms with minimal chance for aggravation. It’s set in stone, too. Ten minutes doesn’t mean 10:15, or 10:45. Ten is ten. I don’t care that you don’t feel anything or feel like you could run forever. Ten is ten.
Ten minutes allows us to assess your tissues immediate and latent response to load. Symptoms can be felt during the run or within minutes of stopping. For others, the effects might not be felt for 24 hours. I’ve had patients experience zero symptoms in their ‘10 minute feeler’ with symptoms drastically increasing the next day. Imagine if said individuals were to keep running. The effects of stretching a run longer could cause a setback measuring weeks to months.
Before making that crucial decision to start running you’ll need to be able to function in daily life without pain. That means walking, negotiating stairs, squatting, etc. If you can’t function at lower level activities how do you expect to fair at higher ones (running)? If you can’t do these activities then unfortunately your answer is rest. Rest can equate to 24 hours, 7 days, or even longer depending how much damaged occurred.
The key here is catching it early. You’ll know something is wrong. Burning or sharp pain is always a dead giveaway when it comes to injury identification. Symptoms may be experienced mid-run or once you stop. You know your body best. Don’t talk yourself out of an injury. The best thing is to start the rest cycle paired with ice immediately.
Progressing from 10 Minutes
No one wants to lace up for a 10 minute feeler, especially in the colder months. You’ll spend more time getting dressed than actually running. Warming up on an elliptical or bike can help get the blood flowing and transform the experience into a workout. Remember, motion is lotion and may actually help you complete 10 minutes successfully. Once you’ve completed 10 minutes without symptoms, it’s time to progress. Every other day is your best bet. I’m guessing less than 1% will listen to what I just wrote, so please don’t go three days in a row. Fill the in between days with spin classes, strengthening, and the elliptical. These activities can serve to minimize fitness loss, keep you sane, and not re-injure yourself. You’re looking for small gains early. Literally one run to the next might yield 90 seconds of gain but take it. Ninety seconds turns into tens of minutes fairly quick. You’ll see progression every few runs but you’ll need to patient.
It’s so important to avoid the mental trap. Going out for an ‘easy 3’ is no way to test an injury. Does it make sense to throw 20-30 minutes at a recently injured tissue? It shouldn’t. Ten minutes has served me well and quickly grows to tens of minutes. It allows a safe gauge and shows improvement in a short time. Work the process, remain patient, and stay in control. You will run again… why not make it sooner rather than later?