When Injury Strikes: 8 Tips to Keep in Mind

By Jenna Schifferle

When you´re accustomed to running 30 to 40 miles a week, suddenly being sidelined feels grueling. There is nothing worse during a training program than being injured. It can be detrimental to your training schedule and set you behind by weeks or months. I´ve been down this road before, and I´ve recently taken another detour straight back to square one.

During a long run, I felt it: a familiar pull in my left calf. I stopped and stretched, and then I proceeded. After all, I was only 4 miles in to my 10-miler. By mile 8, I knew I had made a mistake, so I headed back, stopping a humble one mile short of my goal. My calf was sore, and I assumed I could foam roll to get ahead of it. The next day, however, I could hardly walk. Since that time, it has been painful and swollen, taking me out of the running game for a week to date. It’s starting to feel better, but not running can be discouraging for any aspiring marathoner.

Like I said, I’ve dealt with injuries before. Tight hip flexors? Check. Random knee pain? Check. A nasty bout of debilitating plantar fasciitis? Check. (That one took me three Cortisone shots and a year off to heal).

Running can be tough on the body, and sometimes taking the steps necessary to ease the wear and tear isn’t always possible. Stretching, foam rolling and cross-training take time. But it is critical to incorporate these into your training — days like these really remind me of that.

I’m not out of the game yet. In a couple weeks, I will be back to hitting the pavement and preparing for Chicago. Life throws setbacks at us sometimes, but it’s how we handle them that makes this crazy journey worthwhile. When they’re overcome, challenges serve to make the end result even sweeter.

Yes, it’s discouraging, but as someone who’s been there and is still there right now, I’ve learned a few things that I want to share. Please note that I am not a doctor. If you are injured, I strongly encourage you to consult your physician to determine what’s best for you.

1. Don’t run through it! Or skip through it. Or do backflips through it. Stop when you feel the pain. Any additional activity after the initial injury can cause more damage. When I had plantar fasciitis, I ran through it for months before the pain became debilitating and forced me to take way more time off than I would have needed if I’d just stopped.

2. Consult your doctor, and actually take his or her advice to heart. If the recommendation is to take a week off, take a week off. It’s also important not to jump back into the game before you’re fully healed (see previous comment about taking a year off from running).

3. Cross-train. When you’re used to waking up and having a regimented training schedule, it can feel strange not to do something. Instead of seeing it as time off, look at it as a time to try something new with your fitness. I’ve been biking my tailfeather off to keep up my cardio and going to yoga classes … which brings me to my next point.

4. Don’t overstretch it. If the doctor says it’s OK, you can gently stretch, but refrain from doing anything that might make the injury worse. If you go to a yoga class, ask your instructor for modifications.

5. Rest, ice, compress and elevate (RICE). Also, anti-inflammatories are your friend.

6. Ditch the running sneakers and get new ones. Anytime I’ve noticed my feet or legs suffering, it’s usually because my sneakers are at the end of their lifespan. Toss them and invest in a new pair. You can never be too safe.

7. Likewise, try to work with your physician or a certified physical therapist to uncover the root cause of your injury. Is it poor running mechanics? Is it not warming up before a run? Is it not recovering after a run? For me, it’s the trifecta.

8. Lastly, keep your eyes on the finish line. Remember that a setback doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t reach your goal; it means you have to be more flexible with your strategy.

Onward — to the next bike ride!

“Writer on the Run” is a monthly column written by Jenna Schifferle of Cheektowaga. She chronicles her experience training for the Chicago Marathon in October.