Running in the 'Meda: Handling an injury

Running in the 'Meda: Handling an injury

Marty Beene

Photo by Marty Beene.

Practicing what we preach isn't always easy. Sure, I tell people to be patient when something hurts: rest, maybe walk or ride a bike instead for a week or two. But would I do that myself?

I thought I would give it a try last week.

The Friday before the Midway Shelter 5k, I incurred a housecleaning injury. Yes, I know. I was on my knees wiping a floor or a bathtub or something, and I felt pain in my right knee. When I got up, it continued to hurt.

Saturday morning, I wanted to run the race, but didn't want to make my knee pain any worse. I jogged around a little and it was mostly okay. When I was standing at the registration table, there was a slight pop or click in my knee, and what little pain there was seemed to instantly - and strangely - go away. I decided to start the race and simply stop running if it hurt. After the start, there was a tiny amount of pain for the first minute or so, then zero pain the rest of the way. (And I ran my fastest 5k in over four years!)

Later on Saturday, it hurt more, and going up and down stairs was quite difficult. On Sunday, I was with the Kaiser Permanente employee group I'm training, and I just walked a few miles. It was okay during the walk, but then the pain increased throughout the day. I thought I might have to - gasp! - seek medical attention!

Or I could just take it easy for a week.

I picked the latter option. I did go for a few walks, but nothing more than two or three miles at a brisk, but comfortable, pace. I iced my knee for several days, even when it didn't hurt any more.

In the vernacular of the day: "What happened next will blow your mind!"

My knee felt better. Then better still. Then even better. Then I went for a seven-mile run on Sunday with no pain or any sort of unusual feeling whatsoever. Wow!

One thing to consider about taking a few days or a week off is the extent to which you might "lose" the fitness that you've built. Without spending six weeks reading the dozens of scientific studies that have been conducted on this topic (for various types of training - running, cycling, weightlifting, etc.), I can summarize the basics for you. Taking a few days off, especially if you do something active that doesn't hurt whatever hurt in the first place, won't take much fitness away from you.

Yes, it depends on how fit you are to begin with, i.e., the "detraining" effects are slower for people who start from a fitter baseline. Unfortunately, most of the studies in this area have been conducted using subjects that tend more toward the high end of the fitness spectrum - this is not surprising given that the people most concerned with losing fitness are those that are more competitive, or even their $pon$or$. But the rule of thumb seems to be that the biggest detraining effects occur with complete layoffs of two weeks or more. Frankly, if you have pain that requires more than a week of time off, then it's probably a good indication that a visit to your favorite medical practitioner should be in your future.

What are your experiences with taking brief times off from exercise?

Marty Beene, a USA Track & Field certified coach, is owner of Be The Runner; he coaches adults from beginners to veterans individually and in groups. Visit BeTheRunner.com to join Marty's half marathon/10k training program starting in January. Marty can be reached at marty@BeTheRunner.com.