Mark Armstrong: Runner’s guide to coming back from injury

6:00 AM May 27, 2022

I feel like I need to start this column by saying first and foremost that, don’t worry, I’m not injured again.

But then again, I get a lot of messages from people that are.

Being sidelined can feel like a very lonely place and you see so many other people running and think ‘why can’t I be doing that?’

The probability is that as a runner you’re likely to be injured at some point.

According to a recent article in Runner’s World nearly half of all recreational runners sustain an injury at some point.

So, as someone who has been on the bench far more than he would like over the past couple of years, here are my seven tips for coming back fitter, stronger and faster than ever.

Accept it and make a plan

When you have got goals you’re working towards then it’s very easy to dismiss a problem as ‘just a niggle’.

Like anything, the sooner you confront the problem, the sooner it gets sorted. No goal is worth sacrificing your body for and there is always another race you can target. By the Monday after an event, everyone has forgotten about it and moved on anyway.

If your body isn’t quite ready to reach the goal race you want then don’t force it. You’re only likely to make the problem worse in the long term and no goal is worth being sidelined for a significant amount of time.

Pain scale

I don’t know many runners that haven’t got something they are keeping an eye. When you’re running on roads regularly like a lot of us are then you are going to get a touch of soreness here and there. But it’s important to realise what the difference is between something that’s causing you genuine discomfort and a bit of soreness. Something I’ve borne in mind is a pain scale of 1-10… if anything gets to around three or a four then it’s time to stop running and give it a bit of rest. If it doesn’t go away then it’s time to get some professional help.

Listen to your body

I remember before the Snetterton 10K last year I was getting a lot of tightness in my hamstring. However, I was chasing a sub 40-minute 10K so hard that I did the worst thing you can do… ignore it. I was managing this problem a good month or so out from the race but instead of taking a step back and targeting another race further down the line, I struggled on.

I remember telling my wife, Alison, before the race: ‘This could be my last one for a while, I think I’m going to pay for this.’

It was a stupid decision and I’m embarrassed to admit it now. There are always other races and I well and truly paid the price for it (I didn’t even get the time I wanted!).

But I’ve tried to learn from it and that’s why I’m starting my marathon training for Chicago so early to give myself enough time for a few lighter weeks where I can focus on recovery and give my body the time it needs to adapt to what I want it to do.

See a professional

YouTube is a great resource for runners used in the right way… trying to diagnose what your issue is not one of them. I’m all for the following relevant strength, stretching or yoga classes on the platform but it really isn’t helpful to try and work out what your injury is and type in the fatal question… ‘when can I run again?’

If you’ve got to that stage then it’s time to seek professional help from a sports therapist or physio. We’re lucky to have some great ones in Norfolk with the kind of expertise that is going to get you back running quicker than ‘Bob and Brad – the most famous physical therapists on the internet’ (if you know, you know).

Take your recovery seriously

Just as there aren’t any magic workouts, there aren’t any magic recovery tools either. There are things that can definitely help but that has to be a bit of a voyage of self-discovery – one person might not get on really well with a foam roller, for example, but their friend might not.

Bear in mind, the recovery industry is huge but before you take the plunge ask yourself if you really need it and is it convenient enough for you to use on a regular basis? If the answer is ‘no’ to either of these questions then save your money.

Personally, I like to use a foam roller and a massage ball on a daily basis and I’ve also been getting monthly sports massages this year.

Strength work is your friend

This is a very personal and unscientific opinion… but I believe that once you have an injury it never fully goes away. Of course, you hope to get to a stage where it’s not causing you any pain and doesn’t affect your running. However, it is the strength and conditioning work dished out by a professional that helps you recover and get you strong in the area that led to you breaking down. It just makes sense to keep doing those exercises, albeit perhaps not as frequently over time.

I’m still doing a lot of the exercises I was prescribed for my hamstring problems last year – I’ve made them part of the regular strength and conditioning work.

You will be back…

It’s so difficult, particularly in the early days of an injury to keep faith that you will be back… but you will. As long as you really want to get back then, within reason, you will. It’s about making the right decisions and exercising a bit of patience and discipline. It’s also important that on the way back that you only look upon what kind of runner you were before the injury as inspiration… not a stick to beat yourself with and bemoan how far there is to go (I’m still working on this ).

Leave a Comment