Returning From an Injury

Woman injured from exercise

If there’s one thing I (unfortunately) have a lot of experience with over the past few years, it’s dealing with injuries. A sacral stress fracture in 2021 less than two months out from my A race, a nasty bike accident while descending at 35mph in 2022. A few months ago, I tripped on the sidewalk and broke my fall with my knee, then subsequently rolled my ankle trail-running a week later resulting in a grade 2 sprain. I clearly lack coordination skills!

For someone who was injury free and consistent in training for years, this stretch has been frustrating at times to say the least. Here’s what has worked well for me in coming back from some big injuries to getting back to racing.

First, Don’t Rush Back!

This might be an obvious one, but rushing back happens far too often. Coming back a week early really isn’t going to make a difference in your fitness, but it could set you back significantly if you re-injure yourself. I’ve taken an extra week or two off after being cleared to run just to be extra cautious, which has resulted in no lingering issues after returning to activity.

Focus on What You Can Do

After my bike wreck, I could barely move around the house for a few days. I started out with a VERY slow walk around the block. It was great for me mentally to just get outside and move around. I made the decision to not stay injured, and had the mentality that that was the start of my journey back. It could be just walking, or maybe you can still swim or bike. Use this as an opportunity to work on a specific sport or skill as your injury permits.

Ease Back In

Once you are cleared for activity, accept where you are and that your fitness isn’t going to be where it was before the injury. Trying to rush back or push harder than you should is a great way to re-injure yourself or burnout quickly. Focus on consistency over volume. You’ll be surprised with how quickly it comes back after several weeks of consistent work!

Set Short-Term Goals

Working towards a big goal race can feel out of reach when you’re coming back from time off. Setting intermediate, measurable goals can help keep you motivated as you progress towards full activity. After my stress fracture, I started with a 1-minute run/5-minute walk protocol, and measured my progress by increasing the run and decreasing the walk duration. Small victories like this can help keep you motivated.

Whether you’re in your offseason or in the lead up to a big race, the most important thing is your health and giving your body the time it needs to fully heal. As discouraging as an injury can be in the moment, following these tips will enable you to build back stronger and faster in the long term!

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