Mailbag Monday with Coach Joe: Coming Back from a Setback | The Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans LLC


Hello Sisterhood Readers. In our Mailbag Monday section today, we’re going to look at a question from a reader the experienced an injury and is now trying to resume training. Let’s look at the question first and then get down to business:

“Most recently I was training to run in the San Antonio Rock N Roll 1/2 marathon on November 14th, but after a car accident in early October, my training has come to a halt. I’ve accepted that I’m not going to be able to run the race, but I’m wondering where to go from here. I didn’t sustain any serious injuries, but I’ve been having some tightness in my lower back and it’s just about subsided. I think more than anything, I’ve experienced mental setbacks. I believe I’m ready to start running again, but I’m not sure where to start. Do you have any advice on how to get back into running after having a setback that’s lasted almost a month? My highest mileage long run before the accident was 7 miles.”

Despite the fact that you were in a car accident, may I start this by saying that I am so happy to answer a question that involves an injury NOT sustained during running for a change! Seriously, I hope that you feel better soon and I hope that all others are OK. But other readers not that the principles here don’t change if this were a training related injury and an illness of some kind that knocks you out of your running program for a few weeks or more.

To get us started, let’s think about the issues. When we take a break from our workout program for any reason, there will be a decline in fitness. That will be the first thing that we talk about today. After that, we’ll consider the mental impact of being out of commission and the difficulties of getting started again.

First things first: how much fitness do you lose when being forced to quit your workouts for about a month? The answer is sort of an “it depends” based on your level of fitness. In this case, the more fit you are, the more you’ll notice the lay-off. The technical definition says that you would expect to lose about 5% of your fitness in a lay-off of a month. But in practice, how you notice this tends to be in terms of a loss in performance more than a loss of endurance. In other words, after losing a month of training, you should expect to go about as long in your workouts, but you will likely lose some of your edge in terms of your pace. This is where it makes a difference how fit you are: really fit performance runners may feel this loss of performance more than people that are not that acutely attuned to their pace.

So what I would expect is that high performance runners may have trouble hitting their paces or getting through their most intense workouts for a period of time, but their endurance should be about the same. For other runners, there may be minimal impact of a transition back to working out. This may be a place where it pays to be less fit!

Let me be clear as we move in to the mental impact and resuming your workouts that a month lay-off is actually a very short time away from running. Many injuries and illnesses have people out for a much longer period of time. A 5% decline in performance in really not that much. For you then, you need to tell yourself “break’s over, back to work.” Convince yourself that you haven’t ruined your career as a runner or taken a major set back and you likely will not suffer from one.

As you transition back to working out, my advice is to just go out and run in the first week back. Leave the watch at home and don’t put pressure on yourself to hit paces or do intense workouts. Just enjoy the time you spend getting back to running. After that first week, try to resume your workout schedule, but just know that in that first two weeks things might be a little rough. Things should smooth out after that.

For our advanced runners, after that first two weeks, you may want to re-test your fitness with a time trial to see how your fitness may have changed and then re-test again in six weeks to check your progress.

So get back out there and resume having fun. You’re going to be OK!

Coach Joe English, Portland, Oregon, USA

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