I just recently did a 35 mile run. The next day I did a short shake out run and then followed that day with a no run day. However, on the third day I did an intense interval workout and total day of 18 miles. I look back on it now and it was too much too soon. My calves were still recovering from the really long run and after the hard workout the following days were met with calf pain. My left calf was especially tender and had some sharp pains when I tried to pick up the pace. I could not put in any major mileage or fast paces because of the pain for a couple of weeks. However, I did keep running and still got my 90+ mile weeks in. The question I pose today is, should I train with an injury? How much? How hard?
It really depends on what is injured and the severity of the injury. For example, as a runner when major muscle groups in the legs are injured like the calves, hamstring, and quads you might need to take a few days off completely. It would be good to rest, ice, compress, and elevate your legs. I also advice good nutrition to help with providing your body everything it needs to heal itself from the inside out. Meanwhile, massage and heat may also be helpful in the recovery and healing. I would be careful about stretching as it can sometimes aggravate and make an injury worse.
Other areas that are usually hard to train through for runners include the back, neck, knee, ankle, and foot injuries. Again, the severity of the injury will depend on how much you can do. For calf muscle injuries for example, in severity they can be 1st degree, 2nd degree, and 3rd degree injuries. My injury was mild because I have a lot of experience to notice potential problems that might lead to major injury. During my intense interval workout I adjusted my pace and the number of reps I was doing to not over do it. My calf injury was most likely at worst a 1st degree (which just needs a few days off or a few days taken easy) but a 2nd degree injury might have required me to take 3 to 6 weeks off while a 3rd degree injury would have me taking even months off. The gastrocnemius (which has more of the fast twitch muscles for explosive athletic efforts) and soleus are the two calf muscles. Again, I have had calf pain in my past so I am usually very aware of how they feel during training and I know when to back off and not overdo it. On my intense speed workout days I put a lot of strain and impact on my gastrocnemius muscles and it is often a long and slow process to get them back to 100%. This is why it is vital to stay on top of nutrition and recovery.
The sooner you eat, ice, compress, and massage your muscles the better. You’ll also want to watch how much strain you put on the muscle doing other things like yard work. I was lifting heavy rocks and filling in a hole in our backyard and that was putting strain on my calf muscles which in turn probably slowed down my recovery as well. Another trick to help prevent injury and come back out of an injury stronger is to do strength training. Using weights, resistance bands, or even your own body weight is a great way to strengthen your muscles. Your muscles will have a greater capacity to take on great loads when you do strength training and this in return helps prevent injury because your muscles will be able to handle more total load. Aim for 2 to 3 strength training days a week.
Training through minor injuries is okay but I would never advise someone to run through a major injury or one that is very painful. It is better to let minor and major injuries heal because you can do more damage in the long run to your muscles. Another thing to consider is how a persons running form changes when we compensate for hurting muscles. This can lead to other injuries as we overload other muscles. One of the things I tell runners who have leg injuries is to look for other ways to get a good workout for a few days or weeks (however much time they need). These other ways include cross training, swimming, biking (spinning), or an elliptical machine.
Lastly, there is a difference between “soreness” and “injury”. Soreness is tenderness, tiredness, and tolerable pain that may last for a few days but injury is flat out pain that can be sharp, unbearable, and last for weeks to months. Soreness is a good indicator that you shouldn’t keep pushing it to hard and too long because you are on the brink of overloading your muscles to the point they are pulled, strained, and severely damaged. Not all of your workouts needs to be maximal effort or hard days. Often times I get runners who think they must give their best effort or maximal effort every run or every time in the gym. No! You need easy days. In fact, most of us need more easy days and medium effort days than we need maximal days. Therefore, we can prevent a lot of injury by not over doing it. In the end, I hope you take the safer route and choose not to train through injury or learn how to back it down when you have soreness. Be patient, be consistent, and keep grinding! You’ll get there, don’t let injury scare you.