Running is a very demanding activity. The force of your body weight plus some momentum can really create a lot of stress for your lower body. Because of this, runners are more prone to injury than cyclists or swimmers. Of course, the best training approach keeps you from being injured, but if the dreaded happens, here’s how best top approach it….
In coming up with an approach to working with triathletes that have running injuries, I’ve developed a protocol that works quite nicely. The basic concept is that a triathlete’s gluts, hamstrings, and quads get adequate stress on a daily basis from bike training. The only major movement (relative to running) that is neglected is hip flexion. Another less significantly neglected area would be the calf (soleus and gastroc), although this does get some stress through cycling. These identifications make it intuitively obvious that if you are not running and would like to stay in “run” shape, you must keep these areas engaged and fit.
The other major piece of information that we have to use to our advantage related to IM racing, is that bike durability plays a significant role in being able to run well off the bike. The simple way to say this is you want to be trained such that you get off the bike as fresh as possible as if you were just toeing the line of a marathon. Wait a minute, you are!! It amazes me how many people forget that very simple fact.
Armed with this information, here is the approach I like to use during the period you are injured (when you are not running at all):
1) Take half of your planned run volume and add that time to your bike mileage. This will improve your bike durability a huge amount and therefore help you run better, or arrive at the marathon start fresher.
2) Take the other half of your planned run mileage and add that to devoted time of engaged hip flexor work. This can come in the form of water running, Power Cranks on the bike, or kicking in the pool. Of those, I’d have at least half be pool running. While pool running, execute the workouts just as you would have if you were real running except note that pool HR zones are typically about 10% lower than on-land run zones. This is due to the venous return you get from the water pressure in the pool (like wearing a giant compression sock). Your body just doesn’t have to beat as much to move around the same amount of blood.
3) Spend three days a week doing Calf raises and hip flexor exercises. Just 3 sets of each on each day is sufficient for these.
This protocol has been so successful that in the extreme case, I’ve had a first time IM athlete, develop a stress fracture 12 weeks out from race day, we executed the above protocol to the letter, and on race day she ran a 3:38 and qualified for Kona. She achieved this run, without running even once in the preceding 12 week period before race day. If that’s not proof, I don’t know what is!