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By Dr. Kelly Shockley, our resident sports medicine contributor and Lauren Jones, Ultra Mama

Well, lots to share on the training front from the last couple of weeks.   If you have been following us on social media, then you’ve heard about Dr. Kelly’s hospitalization due to an infection that started from a small scrape after a fall on the trail.  More from her below.   I have also been dealing with a small injury, Turf Toe, or a ligament sprain of my big toe.  And our friends out east have been hit with some big snows and temps below zero degrees celcius, so they have had to get creative with their training as well.

All of this brought up a very important question, one that we will all have to face at some point in our running careers:   What do you do when you can’t train at all or have circumstances that don’t allow you to run?
Maybe you were hit hard with a case of the flu or have a minor injury to one body part like myself.  Whatever the case, it can be disappointing to say the least when you have to miss important workouts when training for a such a monumental event as an ultra.

First, let’s hear Dr. Kelly’s perspective.  She is training for the North Fork 50 miler which is only 3 1/2 months away.

“Over a month ago I was out for a long run in the snow.  I lost my footing a couple of miles in and ended with a decent abrasion on my left shin.  Little did I know this seemingly minor injury was going to take me on quite the journey.  A week later I was in AZ for a functional medicine seminar and ended up in the ER instead.  The doctor treated me for a local infection with a dose of IV antibiotics and sent me on my way with oral antibiotics.  What I know now, I was already septic (the infection was in my blood and throughout my body).

kelly leg
Kelly’s leg a couple weeks in.

Upon my return on Sunday, I ended up back in the ER where I was admitted for severe sepsis.  I was on IV antibiotics non-stop, alternating between 2 heavy, heavy hitters due to not knowing what I had gotten myself into.  They thought they were going to keep me for 2 days but the Infectious Disease doc (doesn’t that sound just awesome?!!), thought I could get out sooner.  Thankfully things were improving.  I just needed more IV medication.  Fast forward to today, now 3 1/2 weeks later.  I’m still on an IV antibiotic.  It’s like a nuclear bomb going off in my body on a daily basis.   I’m done with the non-stop headaches and extreme exhaustion already.

Kelly pre-infection. She will be back!!!

Just this morning, I was considering running.  I really miss it and really want to.  However, on Friday, I did a basic strength workout and went for a slow 2.7 mile walk.  Saturday, I woke up EXHAUSTED!!!   I spent the WHOLE day in bed again.
So, this morning I resorted to reminding myself how I felt Saturday.  I’ve been having to do a lot of self talk this past week.  I’ve been reminding myself about how far I’ve come, about how much worse it could have been and about how short of time-frame it really has been despite it feeling like it’s been forever.

I’ve also been working at reminding myself that I have enough time yet to train for my ultra in June.  Always trying to find the positive.”

As for me (Lauren), I really shouldn’t complain about this minor injury.  In reality, it gave me an opportunity to do some cross training and work muscle groups I have been neglecting.

Before I began training for an ultra, I set guidelines for myself which included cross training (biking, swimming and pilates/yoga) at least twice a week in addition to strength training at least twice a week (including some obstacle race specific body weight workouts).

I know this training approach isn’t necessarily commonplace among ultra coaches.  Out of the twenty or so 50k-100k training plans I reviewed, very few called for strength training and it was hard sought to find one that recommended cross training of any kind.  Just running, lots and lots of running.

However, most, if not all runners should be both cross training and strength training on a regular basis.  I know it may seem counterintuitive to run less but if you really want to prevent injury and burn-out, incorporating movements and exercises in different plans of motion are crucial.

Don’t have weights or a gym membership, no problem! You can get creative to fit in a strength training workout.

As Dr. Kelly has talked about many times in our periscopes and articles, running is in just one plane of motion, forwards.  We work the same muscles over and over, neglecting others that have important jobs in keeping our body upright, strong and balanced.

So this injury was a nice little reminder that I wasn’t fulfilling the cross training requirements of my training plan.  I was so happy I was able to run again that it was all I was doing.   Most of my workouts this week were on the bike pulling my kids behind me in our double carrier,  I forgot how grueling biking can be, especially up steep hills pulling 90+lbs.  See a recap of this week’s training log HERE.

So now to get back to that original question:  How to deal when you can’t train?

Here are 5 tips Kelly and I came up with, hope they can help you too!

  1.  Self talk:
    Remind yourself that this is only a temporary setback.  You will be training again soon!
  2.  Rest is good!
    Think of it as a good opportunity to rest.  Many athletes find that after coming back from an unplanned break they are stronger than before.  Their bodies actually needed that time to rebuild and repair from the current training load.
  3.  Cross-train!
    If you are are able to, consider some kind of cross training.  If you have a lower body injury, you can still exercise your upper body.   Find an upper body ergometer or run laps in the pool.  Maybe a snowstorm hit and you can’t make it outside or to the gym.  This is a great opportunity to do an in-home strength training/core workout!
  4. Do something:  
    If you’ve been sick with a bad cold or the flu the last thing you feel like doing is getting your heart rate up and breathing heavily.  However, just going for a walk outdoors can actually help you to get better faster.  The fresh air and vitamin D will help to boost your immune system and the blood circulating to your muscles and joints will keep them healthy and limber for when you are able to run again.
  5. Think about it:
    Sometimes injuries can be a blessing in disguise that allow us to discover something that will prevent further (or worse) injuries in the future.  Think about the all the factors that could have directly or in-directly caused the injury:  were you wearing the right footwear or is it time for a new pair of shoes?   Has there been a nagging pain somewhere else in your body you’ve been ignoring?  Maybe this caused you to compensate and changed your running form.   Did increase your mileage too quickly?   Were you overtraining?  Are your ankles, feet and calves strong?  Spend your recovery time working on whatever you think lead to your injury and you will come back prepared to train injury free and run strong in your event!
biking with kids
Biking is great cross training!

Here are a couple of other cross training workouts that I love on the bike or in the pool: 

  1.  Indoor bike intervals (great cross training for a lower extremity injury or snow day!)
    After a 5 minute warm-up cycle through the following for 60-120 minutes:
    – 5 minute climb:  start at a flat road and increase the level/intensity every 30 seconds until you are standing, hold it there until the time is up
    – 5 minutes of intervals:  Find a level that feels like a moderate hill.  Alternate between 30 seconds recovery, 30 seconds of sprinting.
    –  5 minutes of jumps!   Find a level that feels like a moderate-steep hill.   Alternate between 4 seconds standing, and 4 seconds sitting.  Working on maintaining a steady cadence above 60rpm.
    – 5 minutes of steady state:  Find a level that challenges you cardiovascularly, where you can keep a quick cadence (80rpm+) without feeling muscle fatigue in your legs.   Try to maintain this pace for the entire time.
  2. Swimming:
    5 minute warm-up treading water and easy crawl, breast stroke or backstroke and then…..
    – 400m crawl/breast stroke at 70% your max effort (this should be a cardiovascular effort, no muscle fatigue)
    – Intervals:  25m sprint, 25 meter recovery, tread water for 2 minutes (bonus points if you can keep your hands above your head), repeat 8 times
    – 400m crawl/breast stroke at 70% your max effort
    ** If you want to make this a tougher, longer workout, a couple ideas:
    – make the sprints 50 meters
    – repeat the sprint section again at the end
    – do 800 m crawl instead of 400

– This article was a collaboration between Dr. Kelly Shockley, our resident sports medicine contributor and Lauren Jones, Ultra Mama (written posts documenting training for her first ultra with kids in tow)


Scott is the founder of Becoming Ultra and spends most of his time with his family and ideas to get people moving!