It's an inevitable fact of life that we'll suffer a set-back in our training at one time or another. This can be due to illness, injury or external life-factors such as long working hours. So how can we keep our spirits up during these difficult and frustrating times? How can we use the experience in a positive way? Two members of the Chicago Area Runners Association kindly gave us their time to share their thoughts on dealing with life's hurdles.
Emily Streit is a physical therapist at NovaCare Rehabilitation and has experience treating various running injuries including plantar fasciits, achilles tendonitis, patellofemoral pain syndrome, IT band syndrome, SIJ dysfunction, and muscle strains. She is a long-time runner and is running the Boston marathon in April 2016. Emily has been involved with the Chicago Area Runners Association [CARA] as a runner for 12 years and a therapist for 2 years and has lectured at a variety of CARA events including Marathon 101, Chicago Marathon Super Clinic, and Boston Performance Kick-off.
What advice would you give to those who are suffering more long-term injuries such as tendonitis and are frustrated by the length of rehab?
As runners, we tend to be very driven and are worried that we'll fall behind in our training. That makes it even harder for every day that passes that we're unable to run. I usually advise my runners to think of the rehab period as an opportunity to come back to running stronger than where they left off. Often, they are learning strategies (core strength, running form, etc) that will make them a better runner, prevent future injuries, and ensure they have a longer running career. I also ask them what is worse: not being able to run right now or not being able to run injury-free?
How would you advise someone who is returning from injury and wants to get back into the full swing of training as soon as possible? Can they do too much too soon?
It's important to take the appropriate time to ensure they don't re-injure themselves and prolong healing further. Getting right back into running without a somewhat gradual build-up puts them at risk for starting the entire process over. Follow the advice of your physical therapist; they can guide you in a return to run protocol that will help you return to training safely.
What are some of the risks associated with premature return to training?
Risks of premature return to training include re-injury, injuring another related body part, and in some cases, worsening of the current injury (for example, shin splints progressing to a stress fracture).
Jim Murphy is in his 12th year with the Chicago Area Runner's Association and serves as a volunteer Site Coordinator for CARA's Marathon Training Program. He has run 56 races of marathon distance, or longer, and is certified as a USATF Coach (Level 1) and a RRCA Adult Long Distance Coach.
What are some of the most common set-backs your members suffer?
A key to a successful marathon is consistency in training. So anything that interrupts a training plan can cause a set back. The most common and obvious cause, is injury or illness. A less recognized cause, but every bit as important, is balancing the demands of training with the demands of job, family and the million other things that make up day-to-day life. Life can "get in the way," and if training suffers, then the conditioning of the runner suffers, and the progress necessary for a successful race gets set back.
I often see runners cutting corners on training because of long work hours, or skimping on sleep (key to necessary recovery), and these can have a cumulative effect that becomes apparent the longer it goes on. So their conditioning suffers, and then they try to make up for lost time piling on training miles which can set them up for a physical injury and a major set back. Everyone has to deal with these demands, and properly managed, missing some of the training runs, or modifying the training is no big deal. It is mismanaging the setbacks that make the problem bigger.
When a great deal of time has been invested in working towards one's goal, how can someone stay motivated and positive if, for example, they suffer an injury only weeks before their event?
This comes up pretty much every year, at least for some of my runners. For many of them, it is more nerves than injury. Particularly for first-timers, they have been running weekly mileage higher than ever before, and shortly before the race they are feeling the cumulative effect. As they taper they begin convincing themselves that every new ache or pain is a sign of a serious injury that will prevent them from racing. Since I am not a physician, they need to see one, and if their doctor says OK, we will work with them to modify the workouts to get them to the starting line. Other runners always have recommendations of doctors who they like, and who helped them keep running, rather than doctors who write a couple of prescriptions and tell the runner to sit at home for the next six weeks.
Other runners are very encouraging that they had good races even after having the same doubts. For runners who do need a period of recovery, and the doctor does not recommend running the race as scheduled, I will work with the runner, telling them to get to a good physical therapist who can not only work on the injury, but also give advice on how to maintain as much fitness as possible. We can then get them back in shape to run a race, and help find another race when they are ready.
For people who derive an enormous amount of joy from running, what advice do you give members who are injured and saddened by the fact they can't run for a period of time?
First, keep involved with the running group at least socially, because they will be your biggest source of positive energy and biggest cheerleaders. Show up and bring water and sports drink refills, Come to the end of the long run with homemade, healthy snacks. If you can't run, but can walk, meet the group and walk while the others are running. And also stay in the best shape you can (swim? bike? strength training?) which will make coming back that much easier. Another piece of advice is not rush recovery but approach it as methodically as a marathon training plan. I ask runners why they started running, and one of the main reasons, of course, is to improve health. I tell them if they come back too soon, or do too much, they are hurting their health, so they are working against their stated goals.
How do CARA members put a positive spin on their set-backs?
The more experienced runners often tell the newer runners of the problems they had in the past, and say something like "I made that mistake so you won't have to." Serious setbacks are always bad news, but runners will take their physical therapy very seriously, and vow to come back stronger, and maintain a very positive attitude towards a full recovery. Having the support of a group is key to staying positive.
How can someone make that mental adjustment from being in peak-form to having to spend weeks resting from an injury?
Runners know it takes dedication over a long, rigorous training program to prepare for an important race (18 weeks for marathon training). Runners like challenges. This is a challenge. The runner's usual mindset is to remain on task, methodically working through a training program of running, stretching and strength training typically through all sorts of unfavorable weather. If a runner will be off for weeks, they need to shift that mental attitude from race preparation to recovery. Instead of maintaining a running log, maintain a physical therapy log. Work towards incremental improvement, remaining aware that rest is key to health and recovering from rigorous PT. Vow to follow perfectly the recovery plan, returning to full health, because you never want to be taken off running status again. Experienced runners know the power of mental toughness, which helps getting through a marathon, can also help get through recovery from an injury.
What do you find are some of the benefits of set-backs? Can people take anything positive away from them such as learning patience or feeling the benefits of an enforced rest period?
Certainly runners who had to stop running to engage in a multi-week rest and recovery program notice that the time off has helped a lot of other little nagging problems. But I think runners often feel they have learned a valuable lesson when they experience a set back and work through it. Many runners can be brutally honest about their own shortcomings. They will often say something like "I knew the importance of not doing too much too soon, and I thought I was getting enough recovery, but actually I did something really stupid, and could not run for six weeks." And then tell their story, and we all learn from their mistakes. Although marathoners come in all sizes, ages and speeds, we all do share one common trait -- persistence. I think suffering a set back and then coming back reinforces the runners' belief that with persistence they can overcome anything. Coming back is just another victory over adversity.
The Chicago Area Runners Association is a non-profit organisation which has been dedicated to running advocacy in Chicago and it's suburbs since 1978.
To find out more visit cararuns.org