I have read many threads about the protocol of returning from injuries, how long it takes to build up mileage, etc. Many describe the months of slow return to fitness and are obvioulsy discouraged by their setback.
I would like to share my experience and perhaps lend a bit of hope to those who are struggling with the return to fitness and competition. I will not directly address the protocol of the actual return to running but the way to actually increase fitness during this "down time".
A bit of background. I have coached for over thirty years and, though not running presently myself, ran for thirty years. I have coached at the high school Div III, II, and I levels. I have even had an athlete finish in the top eight at a world indoor championships in a distance event. I am fairly unknown, which is fine by me but do at the moment coach at the Division I level (no, I do not want to post by name....I'd rather keep this anonymous handle so I can freely comment on occasion....listing my experience simply to show that I have some).
As a developing athlete one is limited in one's training by the body's lack of adaptation to the demand of intense training. Once injured an athlete is freed from the constraints placed on both soft and hard tissue by the pounding of either volume or intensity (either can be the culprit in causing injury).
I have had very good success over the years in preparing individuals for competition even though they have been unable to train on their feet. I have had individuals PR within six weeks of commencing running. In the most extreme example I can think of, I had two women who were injured for eight weeks get back to running only ten days prior to a major indoor championship and both PR in their prelim.....and to my amazement return to the final the next night to; 1. tie the PR of the night before, 2. run 2 seconds faster. So this stuff works. The crying shame is that this is not rocket science yet seems to remain out of the mainstream when it comes to training. It is an obvious way to train once injured. Anyone (the exceptions being those with IT Band injuries or patellar tendinitis) can do it.
Once injured a young athlete can train like a 30 year old world class athlete. My training plan for those 15-30 years ago was simple (it has changed in recent years which I'll address later). Now that they were hurt, I could train them with greater volume and greater intensity than they could do while running because they were limited by their age and lack of adaptation.
So what is the mystery secret. Well, it is no mystery, and it is no secret, but sometimes we overlook the obvious. Sit your butt on an exercise bike and train like you are a 30 year old Kenyan.
A two week block might look something like this (though I have never written the same training plan for the bike twice).
The foilowing might be for a 3000-5000 meter runner
Monday 20 X 1' with 1' rec
Wednesday 60' tempo
Friday 6 X 5' with 2' rec
Saturday 2 Hours
Sunday Off or easy
Monday 3 X 10' AT with 3' rec
Wednesday 3-4 X (10 X 30") with 30" rec/rep, 3' rec/set
Friday 3-4 X (5', 4', 3', 2') with 2' rec/rep, 5'/set
Saturday 2 Hours
Ok, I have to admit looking at this it looks insane. The combination of volume and intensity is far too dense.
Could most 17-22 yr old North Americans do this if on their feet running? Absolutely not! But they are not on their feet, they are sitting on their butts on a exercise bike. They are not limited by their soft tissue or bones because they are not being pounded, they are only limited by their determination and ability to deal with a situation most runners find boring.
So my suggestion to those of you who find yourself injured is to take this time to actually advance your fitness more than your teammates during the same time period. Being injured ironically allows you the opportunity to become a better athlete than you could while running during the same time period.
Now, to the reality that I do not train athletes on the bike the same way as I did 15 or more years ago. Why? Because athletes now frequently balk at doing this much work so I have to scale it down. This is the reality I face as a coach. Twenty years ago if an athlete got injured I would write a porgram similar to the one above and they would just start doing it. Now I write programs that are very mild in comparison because athletes won't do the program above. C'est la vie!
So in my eyes, an injury is an opportunity for an athlete to become a better athlete. Come off the injury in better shape and a better athlete by training the way you wish you could train, like a world class veteran!!!
Go get'em, tiger!