After two months off running due to injury, Jack Gray sets out how he intends to get off his couch, and onto the start-line of the Mid-Cheshire 5km. 

**editors note – this article was written before Coronavirus started to impact on UK race schedules. Whilst there is a chance that Jack might need to wait a touch longer to test his fitness we hope that you will enjoy the article just as much!**

When runners get injured, our first two questions tend to be:

1) How long until I can run again?

2) What training can I do in the meantime?

Then, when we get permission to bob up and down in the pool (aqua running), stare bleakly at a wall whilst cross country skiing our way to nowhere on the elliptical, or churn too big a gear on the bike (that we can’t handle very well), we think of the fitness we are losing/retaining.

In the first edition of this two-part article, I document my own cross-training journey and my return to ‘terrestrial’ running. In the second, I test how much fitness I’ve lost through the medium of the Mid-Cheshire 5km. 

Slippy winter training

For me, December 2019 was a time of too many mince pies, pigs in blankets and miles for my own good.

A slip during a cross country session, and my short-sighted neglect of recovery time as I pushed to get ready for the World Half Marathon trials, led me to develop a crippling gluteal injury, which was compounded, a few weeks later, during an icy cycling accident.  

It was no coincidence that I sustained my injury when my partner, and brilliant physiotherapist, Becky Hair, wasn’t around to keep me in check. Upon her return, Becky instructed her ‘hobbly’ partner to resist his urge to cross-train and prescribed a week of rest, followed by a week of gentle glute activation exercises.

After the calm of a rest period

Following initial rest, I began been mixing up the cross-training, jumping between aqua running, cycling and spinning, and, my least favourite, the elliptical. Although one might argue aqua running and the elliptical are more running specific, the traumatic incident of witnessing a lifeguard inelegantly fish a toddler’s stool out of the pool, a mere 13 metres away from my head, was the only excuse I needed to isolate my cross training to my second love, my bike(s). 

I’ve always loved the sensation of cycling, and living in Cambridge has compounded that even more, to the extent that I now sit on a saddle at least 6 times per week. Feeling at one, even in love, with a piece of carbon or aluminium, is a sensation that’s hard to explain, but, ultimately, I’d sum it up as follows: 

On your bike you can power yourself for miles and miles, go on adventures and see more things than are usually possible in a pair of trainers, and, for the sadists among us, you can break yourself hitting impressive speeds; then, the next day, you can do it all again.  

In practical terms, my sessions on the bike largely mimic my running sessions, but they are longer and include less recovery time, with my shortest ride being 50 mins or so on a turbo trainer. For example, after some extensive warm up / steady riding I may do 24 x 45 seconds hard off 15 seconds spin, to replicate a 16 x 300m session off 1 minute. 

After 7 weeks off running, I plotted my return to hardcore karate chopping action (reference to Jack’s unique running style), with a simple and sensible plan of action: the couch to 5k programme. Although frustrating, initial slow progress was made more tolerable by workouts on the bike, and after 3 weeks of “slowly, slowly”, I received permission to start ramping things up.

Running strong again

I’m now at a point where running is my predominant form of exercise again, and I’m using the bike to make up for time lost on my feet. For example, I am now running 30 miles per week, but cycling for 5 to 6 hours to make up for the missing 50 miles or so of steady running.

Unlike many runners, who focus on ‘building a base’ upon their return to injury, I prefer to get back to the speedy stuff as soon as possible. Although getting back to higher intensity workouts straight away exposes your lack of fitness, and limits the number of miles you can run, I have always seen interval sessions as the most important part of my training and have never been afraid of a challenge. 

Hence, my strategy is to replace proportionally more of those base and ‘junk’ miles with quality workouts on the bike, in the pool or at the gym. In my eyes, this enables me to become accustomed to ‘fast running’ more quickly, whilst reducing the impact on my body and actively strengthening my weaknesses. 

This injury has served as a reminder that I can succeed on lower miles. Therefore, once I get back to full fitness, I’m going to avoid those tokenistic 4 to 5 mile easy runs, and, instead, I’ll put on my cycling shoes, clip-in, and spin as fast as my runners’ legs will carry me.  

Looking ahead

After successfully completing my first few interval sessions in early March, which yielded promising results, I now have 7 weeks to build-up to my first ‘key race’, the Mid-Cheshire 5km. Over the coming weeks I will document my return to running, and, on the 1st May, find out just how fit I am.

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