Staying in Marathon Shape While Injured | Tips From Your Running Coach
As a personal trainer and avid runner, it’s hard to admit that I once had to pull out of a marathon based on an injury. It was fall 2015 and I was in the middle of training for The Pettit Center Marathon when a chronic shoulder condition finally required surgery. I balled my eyes out in the car after leaving my doctor's office. Running had become a major part of my life (I was a running coach, after all). Suddenly, I was facing life without running for the next four months.
My fears turned from not being able to run to losing my fitness over those four months. So….what did I do? It was time to practice what I preach, and focus on treatment and recovery. That meant I needed to slow down, modify my exercise routine, and dial in my diet like never before. Here's my best advice to stay in marathon shape while injured...
Let Yourself Heal
This is a hard one for runners. We’re used to pushing through pain and discomfort - it's part of the running "game." However, certain conditions require time to heal, as frustrating as that may be. A smart competitor listens to their body, doesn't force recovery time, and also knows what to expect when training.
Change your Routine (But keep training)
I stayed active - really active. My particular challenge was that after shoulder surgery, I needed to avoid using my upper body for several months. Also, anything that would risk a fall that caused me to try and catch myself. I held myself accountable by training for something different: The Fight for Air Stair Climb Ultimate Challenge.
The Ultimate Challenge is just that - you are challenged to climb the 40+ flights of stairs in the US Bank Center as many times as you can in 60 minutes. There is really no "break" in this challenge as a very short elevator ride returns you to the starting flight much more quickly than you can catch your breath. The Fight for Air Stair Climb benefits a cause that’s extremely important to me and also provided a form of training that kept my endurance high and competitive spirit satisfied.
To maintain strength and endurance, I recommend trying these exercises 4-5 times per week:
- Lower body exercises such as squats, lunges, bridges; core work such as Pilates; and cardio for endurance
- Bouts on the Elliptical machine, stair stepper or stationary bike will challenge your aerobic system without major impact on knees, ankles, and hips. Make sure to incorporate sprints and hills into the routine for additional fitness gains.
I Paid Attention To My Caloric Needs
When I wasn't able to run my normal 40+ miles a week, I needed to reconsider my energy intake to avoid unwanted weight gain. I tracked calories for this period of time to ensure I was getting what my body needed, but nothing more. My aim was to stick to a diet of 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% fat. But calorie counting was only a small piece of the puzzle.
I made sure the calories I consumed came from whole, unprocessed foods that had anti-inflammatory benefits and high nutrient content. My diet was based on lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and little to no simple sugars. When I went back to running, I reintroduced dense, slow-digesting carbohydrates to fuel long runs.
For those of you who are still not convinced that you can maintain your fitness while recovering from injury, let me share that my first race back that year, the 2016 Chicago Marathon, I PR’d by 13 minutes! By training for something different with The Fight For Air Stair Climb, I was able to allow my body to heal but also stay fit, focused and motivated.