Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Use your Head for a Faster Recovery

As someone who would call themselves a runner, be it 5kms, 10km, marathons or ultramarathons , we have all at some time or other been injured (That’s a pretty safe assumption).  I would also put it out there that 90% of us will have at the first sign of injury carried on anyway, hoping that it would pass, like a dose of cramps.

In those situations when the pain continues, we will probably run on the injury another half dozen times to make sure that there is no doubt that running is the cause of the problem. At this point we resort to Google’ing all the symptoms, still in complete denial that there is any real problem and that it will just go away. We then down play or divert or descriptions arguing that the pain is more shooting than stabbing and hence not the nasty injury we’re reading about which would involve an 8 week lay off.

Another couple of weeks pass, having followed all the online expert prescribed recovery exercises (of course doing 5 times more than suggested, so actually slowing recovery), there is little improvement, or worse still an additional symptom. Only now do we finally give in and head to the physio for a proper hands on assessment.

At this point we can’t resist telling the therapist what the problem is and how to do their job, and that the treatments normally used don’t work for you. 45 minutes later, you come out of the session with a clear idea of what the genuine problem is (if the therapist is knows their stuff), and with a course of action to ease the symptoms and most importantly to correct the cause of the problem. You will likely need a few follow sessions, and have a good few weeks of rehab (depending on the ailment), but at least you have a clear vision on when you will be up and running properly again.

The trouble with this approach is that you have wasted 4 weeks of sub standard training which has offered little physiological benefit, and at the same time been through a gamut of emotions most likely including frustration and denial – neither of which are all that healthy when training for your next event.

So while it may be a great thing to run with your heart (paraphrasing Dean Karnazes), when it comes to training, train with your head.

When you have the first signs of an injury, by all means do the normal self treatment of icing and resting, but if the injury doesn’t improve quickly go and seek professional help.  Yes it may cost a few dollars, but you will save an inordinate amount in time, quality training and mental stress. There could be nothing worse than having to pull out of a race you have been preparing for all year, for the sake of a visit to your friendly physio.

By adopting a sensible approach you will be back on the trails sooner, and quite possibly stronger with better form and a lower risk of future injury. Try and look at an injury as a positive, as it is better to happen in training than in racing and, unless the injury was cause by a trauma, it would have caught up with you eventually anyway. You may even find that a proper professional assessment and remedial training program could identify other potential issues before they impede your training progress.

Another benefit of an injury is that it can enforce you to take your foot off the gas and have a recovery week.  It’s very difficult mentally to accept that you should have an easy week every now and then, especially when you have been clocking up a lot of miles, but the benefits are proven.
Tylana, my friendly physio!

I’ve found that it’s encouraged me to look for alternative training sessions such as cross training, yoga or weight sessions. All of these are great for keeping the body strong and preventing injury.

The reason I post this now is that I’ve been so focused on running a lot of miles of late, that I’d let my weight and core exercise training slip. As a result I’ve suffered a minor overuse injury (I think!) which I’ll be getting confirmed and treated by my training partner and Physio this week.

A quick note on choosing a physio (and podiatrist if you need one) is that you should always try and find a therapist who runs themselves, or at least is sympathetic to the runners mind. They will appreciate that being told to rest up for 2 weeks isn’t going to sit well with the average runner, and will design a remedial program that encourages active rest which enhances the healing process.

Run strong and run long,


“Good people are good because they’ve come to wisdom through failure. We get very little wisdom from success.” – William Saroyan

Training 13-9-2010 (7.5km trail, Recovery run)


  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog; we seem to be on the same wevelength on recent posts. The only problem with taking it easy and following physio orders is when there's a chronic injury that won't improve, no matter what one does, like arthritis. We all reach a point when we have an injury that says we have to retire from serious racing; that's where I am and it's hard to accept.

  2. I dislike recovery...... It's a constant reminder that I was so insanely foolish for running (actually, it was more like hobbling) 50 miles even after tearing my hamstring!

    Sorry to SteveQ.... Can't imagine what it would be like to be chronically injured! Keep your spirits up :)