Coming Back From a Running Injury Too Soon

Tuesday, September 15, 2015 | By Hal Higdon
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Coming Back From a Running Injury Too Soon

Have a question about running? You're in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon's Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.


Any tips for someone following your Novice 1 Half Marathon plan who has been out for several weeks with a leg injury? I should be running 6 miles this weekend, but I barely finished 1 mile the last time I tried to run. My doctor first thought it might be a stress fracture, but X-rays failed to show that. I’m struggling to get back on my program, but right now I feel defeated.


If you made it as far as a 6 miles, that suggests that there may be two months remaining before your half marathon, so there is hope. But that assumes you can jump back into the program pain-free at the same level where you left it. Before doing that, you need to be fully recovered.

Your doctor probably explained that even though your X-rays identified no fracture, that does not mean you do not have one. Stress fractures only begin to show on X-rays two or three weeks after the break when the bone begins to calcify, part of its natural healing process. You do not want to begin running again if you are caught in that two-to-three week window, pain still limiting your runs.

But let’s think positive and assume you are cured and can run pain-free. I would come back very slowly, returning to the week in my program (Week 5?) when you had to stop running. Begin at that week, only cut the mileage in half. That would mean 3 miles as your long run that week. Next, repeat that week at full mileage. Take some extra walking breaks if needed to finish each run. Assuming no more pain, continue on plan.

But wait!....

You will probably be three or four weeks behind, meaning that you are going to arrive at race weekend that much short in training. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix I can offer you. Ask yourself, how important is this half marathon to me? Perhaps you can switch to a substitute half marathon a month or two later. If you decide to persevere, you might be able to catch up by doing some mile-and-a-half jumps instead of mile jumps from week to week, but that could lead to another injury. See how your body responds. Maybe you can make it through your goal race by slowing the pace, taking walking breaks. Injuries are not fun, particularly when they cause this much lost time. Best wishes, whatever you decide to do.

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