Overcoming Injury And The “I’m Back” Run

“I’ve been waiting weeks for you. Yeah, it was only three miles. And it was slow. But it felt so right. My legs felt light. My lungs felt fresh. Everything came together. Tonight, I had an “I’m back” run.” -Friday, May, 11th, 2012

Like the terminator, I'm back! Photo courtesy of thefinancialstudent.com.

An “I’m back” run is just that. Whether you are trying to come back from a nagging injury or even mental burnout, it’s comforting to know that eventually (in most cases) you will be able to run again without feeling awkward, unsure, or even having pain.

Listening to one’s body takes time and practice. As much as I get down on myself for not being able to break 22 in the 5k during the last three years, I have to constantly remind myself that in each situation, it was the timing and not my ability that has held me back. I set a 2 mile PR (13:26) this year and a 4 mile PR last winter (28:36). Both of those times equate to a 21:50 5k so I know I have the ability to break 22. But when I fail to listen to my body, for fear that a few days to even a week off will hurt my training, I end up with something worse than the original problem.

Looking back at my logs, it’s easy to learn from my lessons. With this last injury, I started to complain of localized pain in mid-late March. Yeah, I would take a day off here or there by swimming. But then I would get right back to it. I would have a few good days. Then a few bad days. I then would take it easy, thinking I could run through the pain. And before I knew it, I couldn’t stand on my tip toes. If I would have taken the week off back in March, that I just did now, I would probably be hitting 50 mile weeks and running well under 22 minutes in the 5k.

Such is life. And the lessons it brings. In order to keep from dwelling on what I could have done, the best thing I can do is continue to learn from my mistakes. “I’m back” runs also provide a chance for one to reflect on the lessons learned.

A meme I actually kind of like! Image courtesy of el3mentsofwellness.com.

In 2011, I cross trained like a mad-woman. 90 minute pool running sessions? But the cross training helped me to transition back to training a lot quicker. I was injured twice last year. My “I’m back” runs for those two mishaps were actually half marathons. Last May, I was trying to train for the Cleveland Half before developing a stress reaction in the ankle. I cross trained for four weeks and then ran for one week. I decided to still run the half. I ended up running 1:48:02 and felt ready to begin a summer build up after that race. In the fall, I developed the same foot pain I have now but in the other foot. I had four weeks of off/on running before deciding to jump into the River Run Half marathon in an effort to see if the pain was just in my head. I also finished in 1:48:02. No joke (I also ran 1:48:01 in my very first half marathon)! Surely, much of the pain was over-reacting because after that race, I was able to easily start my 40 miles a week buildup, which eventually led to running my fastest times ever in my workouts and in the 2 and 4 miles races.

Don't be afraid of cross training! Image courtesy of regretfulmorning.com.

And there in lies the overcoming injury battle: knowing when to back off and when to train through. After this last round of pain, I feel like I have a better grasp over reading my body than the previous two years. I also learned that with ART, I don’t need to take so much time off as I had before. Keeping logs on your shoes isn’t a bad idea either. This time around, I was definitely in need of a new pair. More importantly, I am now more comfortable with taking 1-2 weeks off from running (but still cross training) every once in a while to recharge. And if I find myself injured again, I at least know that I’ll have that bittersweet “I’m back” run waiting for me.

How do you feel after overcoming an injury? Have you ever had your own “I’m back” run? 

I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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  1. It seems as though I am constantly injured. I’ve been running for about 2 1/2 years now and have already had 2 stress fractures, (one tibial one foot) and Plantar Fasciitis. This time around, I’ve been working with a Physical Therapist, I stupidly skipped it last time. I’m in the health care field and we are often the worst patients. Anyway, the stretching and flexing techniques shown to me at therapy have made my feet feel stronger than ever and my psyche in overload. I still have a couple weeks before I am allowed to run, but I am so looking forward to that, “I’m back run”. The Cleveland Color Run in June will be mine!

    Your article made me realize that it’s not just the beginners that get injuries. Thank you.

    1. Your injury battles sound all too familiar! I think a lot of mine are due to a three year process of trying to transition to less heel strike and more midfoot running while also trying to overrun my shoes. I just now noticed that every time something happened, I was due for new shoes but tried to hold off to save money!

      Good luck with your training! What are some of the PT exercises you are doing? That race sounds so fun, too!

  2. Welcome back. We’ll probably both struggle with taking it easy enough in the beginning and not getting impatient to reach our goals. My last “I’m back” run in March led to too quick of a ramp which then led to needing another “I’m back” run two weeks ago. Hopefully this time it works.
    I wonder how many “I’m back” runs end up being more a statement of hope than a promise? Hope yours is the latter.

    1. Yep, I had a too soon “I’m back” run in April! I ran with Salty today and felt ok for the most part but I hate the questioning part when there is a little pain. Though “they” say you may feel some while getting back the first week or so. But you are so right…not getting impatient in the beginning is key! Welcome back, too!