Last October I signed up for a marathon that would take place this May. I had a goal time in mind (sub 5 hours), I had my training plan prepared. By February I was ready to kick off my 16-week-training plan. However, there was one problem (well, two actually); my shins. I’ve had ongoing problems with shin splints over the years and two weeks into my training I was being x-rayed for suspected stress fractures.
I was given the usual advice of rest, but knowing my marathon was creeping closer I had to come up with a plan B. I knew I couldn’t let my running injury completely derail my training plans, so, here are my tips on how to stay in shape when injured.
Manage your expectations
I knew the likelihood of running a sub-five-hour-marathon was limited. I decided my goal would simply to be finish. After a running injury, if you take the pressure off yourself, you’ll be able to enjoy each moment and the race will be a positive memory to look back on.
I’ll admit this is the third race I’ve gone into with shin issues. Each time previously, I’d nodded and agreed not to run, then completely ignored the advice. I had awful races and ended up in a lot of pain. This time I actually listened, and stopped running. But if I wasn’t running, how was I going to stay in shape when injured?
While training in the past, I’ve always assumed that to run a race, you need to run beforehand. Clearly, this was not in the cards so I had to think about what training I could do while injured to be in the best shape possible for the race. For the injured athlete, cross-training workouts can be his best friend – especially if you need to continue stimulating muscles while reducing stress and strain elsewhere.
Biking, swimming, yoga and aerobics are low-impact activities that can help you stick to your training plan despite your injury. In my case, I started weight training, concentrating on my legs, glutes and core. By regularly completing weight intervals, I got stronger and built my stamina without putting any pressure on my shins.
Listen to your body
If at any point I felt the slightest pain in my shins during my cross-training workouts, I’d immediately launch a preventative routine of stretching, foam roller and ice. By treating each minor tweak, I managed to avoid them escalating into anything worse.
Really, this one goes without saying and has nothing to do with strength training or cross-training workouts instead of running. I did find myself occasionally feeling like I had to make up for not running by lifting heavy weights every day. It didn’t take long before I realized this was a ridiculous attitude and I wasn’t doing my body any favors by not resting. Sometimes that’s the fastest way to recover and be ready for race day.
Because of my adjusted training plan while injured, by marathon day I was ready to race, knowing I was strong and without putting pressure on myself. The end result? I ran the marathon in 5 hours, 24 minutes and 36 seconds. No, it wasn’t breaking any records, but I enjoyed every minute and I certainly didn’t end up having to take a month off to recover from my running injury!
By the way, I certainly wouldn’t recommend running a marathon without training, or with any sort of serious injury. But if like me, you’re so stubborn you won’t give up on your race, think differently! You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish with some cross-training workouts and an adjusted training plan. Consult your doctor before running with an injury and ask them for suggestions on how to stay in shape when injured – they may have ideas that have worked for other patients.