Training — Dealing with late season injuries before a marathon

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

A reader named Lucy wrote me last week asking a question that reads in part:

Last Thursday, I was pushed off the road by a truck and slightely twisted my left ankle. I ran 2 more miles following this incident and did 10 on Sunday, without problems. Yesterday I had to run 6, but just couldn’t deal with the pain on my ankle, calf and shin. It only hurts when I run though. I can walk, bike, or water-run with no pain. Here is my question: until I can run again, hopefully in 10 days or so, can I simulate a long run by doing time on the elliptical, or bike for 4 consecutive hours?

Although Lucy’s particular injury is unique, this situation comes up every season. Lucy explained in her question that she is about six weeks away from her next marathon and she’s looking for help in deciding what to do in the mean-time. I would frame this problem like this: when a runner injures herself just before a marathon for which she’s been training, what should be her strategy in the closing weeks before the race?

There are three areas that I would look at in answering this question for a particular runner: 1) how bad is the injury, 2) how many weeks are there until the race, and 3) how fit is the runner?

How bad is the injury?
The first factor to look at is the severity of the injury. If the runner is only injured to a minor extent and can rehab the injury in a 1-2 weeks, then chances are that their marathon plans are not going to be badly disrupted. Often when runners hit their peak mileage, overuse injuries like shin splints and IT Band issues pop up. In many of these cases, taking a week or two to let the injury heal will put the injury behind the runner and then they can continue on with their training or — if this is really close to the race — just extend their taper by a couple of weeks. In these cases, the runner may want to consider backing off their pace goal somewhat, but they should still be able to compete in their target race.
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