Returning to Running After an Injury
Based on My Own Recovery Journey of Getting Back into Running and the Things I Learned Along the Way
In January 2015, I had a freak accident where the ligaments in my right knee almost completely tore. I thankfully didn’t need surgery to correct the tears, however, I was placed in a full knee brace for four months. But due to the damage, I was advised by my doctors not to do any sports (including running) for at least the remainder of the year. Now of course for someone who enjoys running and participating in races on a regular basis, this was devastating news to get my head around.
Once the large brace came off, I was placed in a smaller yet more mobile brace and started intense physiotherapy which lasted throughout the remainder of the year. 2016 rolled around and I was given the go-ahead to start my running training again. While I was excited to ‘get back at it,’ the first lesson I learned came incredibly fast — I need to take it slow. As much as I wanted to go back out and run 10 miles right off the bat, I had to face the reality that this was not something I could rush and patience would pay off in the long term. Not only had I not run in over a year and needed to build back up my general fitness levels, but I also had to be aware that my knee was still vulnerable to getting reinjured quite easily.
This was where I learned that listening to my own body and reacting accordingly to what it was telling me was something I had to take incredibly seriously going forward. When I was younger and got a small pain or twinge, I used to just ignore and push right through it. But now this was critical for me, and I basically had to rewire my mindset to understand when my body needs to take it easy or a full-on break, that I had to do exactly that. Of course this part does seem like a no-brainer and general common sense to most, but this one was a little harder for me to grasp due to having a very competitive and somewhat stubborn mindset. But I have been able to grasp this concept in the past couple of year, and I slowly built up the endurance to longer and longer distances overtime to get my fitness levels back. I also came to find that the cross trainer, a machine I once used to ridicule, was a great machine for runners with injuries to use to get back into shape, as the impact/pounding effect from running that gets put on your knees is greatly diminished.
Granted it has been a little more than two years since I got back into training; the one thing I haven't done is give up my physiotherapy. While I don’t go several times a week anymore like I did throughout 2015 and most of 2016, I now try to average at least two sessions a month. I do this to ensure that not only my knee remains healthy, but to help prevent a possible future injury as much as possible by continuing to learn exercises to build strength in not only my both of knees by my surrounding muscles and ligaments. I find it common for athletes, in general, to stop this type of treatment once they are deemed ‘recovered,’ which I think is a mistake. Continuing on for a while longer can be highly beneficial in the long-term. For me, having a professional who is able to help monitor my progress and determine if the activity I am doing might cause more problems down the line has helped me in my confidence of getting back into running regularly. Of course, some people do choose to switch to a personal trainer and not continue physio for three plus year like I have, or just workout on their own, but the exercises that you learn in physio are something that you should continue down the line regardless of which path you choose.
The final thing I learned throughout my recovery and return was to just have fun with it again. The truth is that I the runner I am today is not the runner I was pre-2015 and I have come to peace with that. I used to be one who was constantly trying to improve my personal best times and I had some fairly impressive results. Today I am a much slower runner than I used to be, but that is nothing to be ashamed of. I have gained back my distance endurance and that is something I am proud of. Rather than racing for my best time, I enter races and run for the fun of it and get the most enjoyment out of each race I now do. The running community, regardless of where you live in the world, is a very accepting and supportive one, and they have helped me make my return all the more enjoyable.
Will I be able to run as fast as I did before my injury? Who knows, maybe one day I will but if that doesn't end up happening, that is alright too. I have learned to enjoy the journey I have taken so far and will continue to see where it leads me to.