I am a little over a week away from my first real "race" (treating it like a training day) since pulling my hamstring back in August and I am feeling pretty good about it. My hamstring pain is almost completely gone. The only time I run into pain issues is when I run too fast on a hilly course. Even then, I can't really describe the pain as being more then a phantom pain.
Based on my last two speedy injury recoveries, I think I can say that I have really found the perfect recovery protocol (as long as I follow it). Flash back to this time last year. I had strained my calf for the second time. I had been competing in a stair climbing competition at work for the month of October and was well on my way to climbing Pikes Peak (21,000 stairs about 700 floors). This made my calves super tight. At the last minute, I decided to join a team for a local 200 mile relay race through Georgia. About 3 miles into my first leg, I picked up my pace as I passed the team van. About 100 feet later, I felt a familiar pop and knew what had happened.
The next day, I began researching recovery protocols. The last time around, I just did no running for a few months. This time, I wanted to be more proactive in my recovery. I stumbled upon this article on Running times. By following this protocol I was back to running in November. In December something amazing happened, I had my first 100 mile month ever. Not only was it my first 100 mile month, but prior to that, my highest mileage month was probably close to 60 miles. Over the next 3 months, I ran 2 marathons and a 50K, all with no pain.
So what is the magic to this recovery protocol? In addition to the "normal" recovery protocols: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, stretching; the key to this protocol is to run as soon as there is no pain, usually 1 - 2 weeks after the injury. Of course, you aren't going to go out and run 6 miles. The first few weeks, you are on a run/walk protocol of 1 minute run, 1 minute walk. After a week, they recommend testing out a 3-4 mile run. For me, I like to ease back into all running, I go from a 1/1 run/walk to a 3/2, and finally a 4/1.
Once I feel comfortable on the 4/1, I start to take my shorter runs out to taking a 1 minute walk break at every mile, while keeping my long run on a 4/1. Eventually, I eliminate the walk breaks on the shorter runs, but I still feel that walking breaks are important on the long run. Previously I would stretch my long runs out to walking the aid stations, or every mile. I am starting to think I may keep the 4/1 method for my long runs and see how that works out.
So back to my latest injury, my hamstring strain. Two weeks out from a half marathon where I was shooting for a PR I pulled my hamstring about 5 miles into a 10 mile race pace run. I initially started on this protocol, waiting 1 week before running. I got a little greedy thinking I might be able to recover enough to at least finish the half (who doesn't want a glow in the dark alien medal) and reaggrivated the strain. I took almost 2 weeks off before I returned to running. This time around I followed the protocol to the letter. Even though this protocol was described to recover from a calf strain, I think it is a great protocol to follow for other strains as well. It might not work for every type of running related injury, but it has worked for me so far.
It has been about 6 weeks since I started running again. This past weekend, I made it through 10 miles with no pain. My mileage is still lower then it was pre-injury, but by the end of this month, I should be close to pre-injury mileage. I am not going to worry too much about it, but I think I may be able to salvage my goal of 1000 miles by the end of the year. I need to average a little over 20 miles per week, which I hit for the first time last week. If I don't make it to 1000, I will still be happy knowing that by a long shot, this year was my highest mileage year ever since I started running back in 2003.
I still have some ways to go till I am back where I was with my pace, but I know this will take time. As I mentioned earlier in my post, the only time I feel any pain in my hamstring is when I run to fast, especially on hills. One thing I have learned with my last 2 injuries is that at least for now, speedwork and I do not get along. I strained my calf accelerating my pace in a race, and my hamstring injury occurred not too long after I started adding tempo runs back in. Until I stop seeing improvement, it is Zone 2 (and maybe some Zone 3) for me all the way.
A week from Saturday, I have the Silver Comet Half Marathon. I don't have any time goals for this race. I am going to treat it as a training day. Two weeks after that, we head down to Disney World for the Wine and Dine Half. For that race, I will be running with Cathy. That race is also not about time, but having fun, and hopefully taking lots of photos. I am starting to look at the calendar for spring marathons. I am itching to run longer distances again. I also would like to do the entire 12 hour Stroll in Central Park next year, instead of just doing 50K.
Do you have a favorite injury recovery protocol or any tips for a faster recovery?