Monday, 8 October 2012

The injury comeback trail

I once read that being a runner means that you are always in one of the following three states:
1) Injured
2) On your way back from an injury
3) On your way to your next injury

Personally this has been my lot for the best part of the last 2 years. Some that know me well would argue its been more like 13 years - unlucky for some (me!).

Four weeks ago I was placed firmly back in state 1) after my old calf injury came back to haunt me during the last Sphinx Club Handicap race of the year. It seemed innocuous at the time, coming on gradually rather than the sudden tearing sensation I have been used to. But it kept me from running for a while nonetheless.

Within a week of sensible recovery I was back into state 2) and that is where I have been since. As an indication of my recent recovery, my best 5km time at parkrun is 17:28. My parkrun times over the last 4 weeks have shown a nice downward trend during my recovery as follows: 26:22 (tentative), 22:46 (still slightly wary), 20:02 (confidence returning) culminating in my 18:17 this Saturday just passed. Safe to say that confidence in the calf has well and truly returned after that.

I think that in anyones book it is hard to convincingly claim that you are still injured if you can run within 49 seconds of your 5km PB. So does that now mean I have left state 2) and am heading for state 3) ? I really wish I could find a state 2.5) and find someway to stay there for a long period, or in fact, any significant period of time.

At least I do seem to have found the common sense needed for successful injury recovery, which was all too often missing in days gone by. Far too often I would make my injuries worse by coming back too soon and targeting improvements at too fast a rate. There is no way I would have waited 4 weeks to go from not running to running flat out in the past. This is a good step forward at least.

One change that I seem to have stumbled on in a recent issue of Runners World magazine, is a change in my running style. I am relatively short (5 foot 7 and a bit), but I normally notice that I take roughly the same number of steps as the taller runners around my pace. Common sense tells me that I therefore take longer strides for the length of my legs than most others. I believe this is what the professionals call over-striding. The fact it has a name with negative connotations suggests it is not a good thing to do. The recent Runners World article stated a few related topics based around better running style for both speed and injury prevention:
- take shorter strides.
- runner at a higher cadence (more steps per minute). 180 steps per minute being the optimum.
- try to land your foot directly below your body, rather than out in front.
- land each foot as gently as possible.
- aim to have each foot only on the ground for 0.2 seconds (hard to time, but basically as short as possible). This was related to natural elasticity in muscles and tendons and the benefits this could give to performance.

I tried to do exactly that this last weekend at parkrun. It is hard to say whether or not I achieved those goals or even got close, but I certainly tried.

As a result I noticed a few things:
- Running felt easier.
- I went faster without feeling as though I had tried. 49 seconds outside my PB would normally feel hard. It really didn't. I was talking to marshalls the whole way round!
- I didn't feel like I was risking a recurrence of the calf injury.
- The impact of each stride felt less.

One other thing that I noticed was that if I didn't concentrate, I soon fell back into longer and slower strides with heavier impact. This tells me that it isn't going to be something that I can do without thinking for a while yet. This style of running is going to have to be worked at and it may take some time to perfect. But I certainly think it is well worth a go if there is any chance of the benefits that Runners World suggests. Particularly if I get less injuries and end up running faster! The Holy Grail - for me at least!


  1. Have you thought about trying barefoot running?

  2. I did try it for a couple of runs a year or so ago. The technique that is rather than actually running barefoot. I think I did it too soon after injury as it actually caused a recurrence. Perhaps I didn't get it right, but until my calf is strong I would be very worried about trying it again.

  3. According to Zola Budd in an old Marathon Talk interview running barefoot is dangerous unless you've done it from childhood - be careful!! Glad you are back running mate- I have the opposite problem though, short stride length for my 6'2" frame!! More flexibility required methinks...

  4. Keep trying the new style. Coming from triathlon(swimming)and golf I've read that it takes 4,000 repetitions to ingrain anything new so that you do it without thinking! but it can be done . . . in think. I am a left side breather in front crawl and everyone knows that bi-lateral breathing is desirable. At 55+ I can now breath both sides easily . . . .but my left side technique is more efficient. Still working on it though. Graves - Hills and Highland Cows.


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