The Injured Runner: It Sucks to Be You!
Yeah, we all know injured runners are unhappy, hyper, worried they’ll gain weight, worried they’ll have to miss (or screw up) their next race, and driven to run no matter how much it hurts!
It sucks to be me, too. I was rarely uninjured during my running career. After 1987, I always had to take at least three “rest days” from running a week. Yet I still managed to run a PB in the 10,000m in 1988 and PBs in the half-marathon and 20K in the early 1990s (true, I hadn’t run those distances before then…) But I also set numerous age-group records when I was in my 40s in distances from the 5K right up to the half marathon, while running only three or four times a week.
So what’s the truth about cross-training? Let’s bust the myths first. Let’s be honest: nothing can replace running for a runner; and running workouts are the best way to improve your running.
If you’re a running fanatic (as opposed to a triathlete or a recreational runner), you cross-train because you have to. You cross-train to avoid letting injuries get serious enough to ruin your racing season or even end your running career permanently. You cross-train to stay fit and to maintain your sanity when your body is used to exerting itself hard every day and suddenly that stress- and energy-release is cruelly snatched away.
So once you’ve made the wise choice and accepted that you’re going to cross-train for a few days or weeks or months (as long as it takes for running to be safe again), what cross-training activities should you choose?
This depends on several factors:
1) Your injury. Some running injuries will allow you to cycle but others may not.
2) Your preferences. It is better to choose a substitute activity for running that you actually enjoy, especially if you’re going to have to put in a lot of hours for an extended period of time.
3) Your motivation level. If you are highly motivated to achieve your running goals, you may be willing to do an activity you hate, if you are convinced it is the best way for you to maintain fitness and return to a high level of running quickly. For example, I’ve known elite athletes like Lynn Kanuka and Tina Connolly who spent countless hours in the pool water-running because it proved to be a very effective way to maintain fitness. During her top years as an international runner, Lynn suffered many stress fractures but was always able to return to competitive running quickly.
4) Your schedule. Some kinds of cross-training take more time than others.
The table below summarizes the pros and cons of various kinds of cross-training. Remember, this information is somewhat subjective, because it is based on my preferences and experience.
Before you start, try to have a positive attitute about your substitute workouts. You may rebel at first, if you are like me. Running will always be my favourite kind of working out. There is nothing like running on a forest trail, fast enough to feel like a powerful animal, yet relaxed enough to be graceful and enjoy the synchronized rhythms of loping and breathing. I love all the sensory experiences that come with being outside: the fresh smells of the forest, the moisture in the air, the warmth of the sun or the sharpness of cold air. When I run my body feels a part of that physical world around me.
Yet I’ve learned about the “silver linings” of not being able to run. The bonuses of cross-training include:
- Developing and enjoying new skills that you never suspected you had; for example, after starting Pilates four years ago, I’ve become more flexible than I’ve ever been in my life. I think doing Pilates would have improved my running earlier in my career.
- Making new friends and becoming immersed in the “culture” of a new sport, such as mountain biking.
- Developing overall body strength that will contribute to your success and longevity as a runner.
- Preventing boredom and burnout from doing a relentless number of running workouts every week.
For the above reasons, I suggest that even when you’re not injured, you might try incorporating one to three cross-training workouts per week into your training program. These workouts could take place on your “easy” days. If you do this, it will be easy to switch to a complete cross-training program should you get an injury that requires you to stop running.
Cross-Training Options for Runners: Pros and Cons
|Cycling (road or mountain bike)||Pros
|Cycling (stationary bike)||Pros
|Arc trainer or elliptical||Pros and Cons
Do you have any comments to share about your cross-training experiences? I’d love to hear them!
Olympic Training Log
May 7, 1988
AM: Rode easy for about 1 hr to investigate park near Pam’s house. Then did ½ hr (35 laps) hard on track—but couldn’t work too hard because track too dry and slippery. Felt lethargic. Also foot very sore—virtually no improvement in a week—I’ve decided I can’t even walk on it.
May 8, 1988
AM: Did 3 hr bikeride, 5 laps around lake, then out to Terveuren on great bike path, along country road and back.
May 9, 1988
AM: Swim 50 lengths 38:00. Felt fantastic, pool very empty—don’t know why I wasn’t much faster.
PM: Weights—new gym—“push-endurance” plus hamstring curls and extension, situps, hyperextensions. Worked hard 63 min, followed by 3 min and 15 min on bike.
May 10, 1988
AM: Rode bike to Von Karman with Paul (easy), did 4 times up and down long road (˜1 hr hard), rode bike beside Alan about 1 hr (easy), rode home (medium). Freezing because of rain, but good workout—tired after.
PM: 30 min continuous stationary bike. Legs very tired after.
PM-2: Weights—about 1 hr. Did about 3 sets of “pull-strength” workout but part of time was easy because I was showing Pam weights.
May 11, 1988
AM: Swim 50 lengths 38:00. Arms very tired.
May 12, 1988
AM: Did bike ride with Alan [my brother, visiting from Copenhagen where he worked for a few years]—about 3 hrs. Good ride, beautiful weather and countryside. Good pace much of the way—quite tired after—quads getting stronger.
May 13, 1988
AM: Rode to acupuncture appointment and back—1¼ hrs easy riding each way.
PM: Weights—“push-strength” + situps, hypers, hamstring curl & extension, chinups, bent-over rowing, curls with bar—combo workout. Worked very hard 67 min—then 15 min on bike.
This week: 5 bike workouts (outside), 63 min on stationary bike, 3 weight workouts, 2 swims.