How to continue with marathon training after illness or injury

Overcoming obstacles in your running schedule

This guide will show you how to continue with marathon training after illness or injury. Training for a marathon is a journey and unfortunately you may become injured or ill at some point during your training. However, whilst such obstacles can be very frustrating, we have some great tips on how to stay on course with your marathon training despite any illness or injury you may face.

If you do get injured or ill during your marathon training, then our coping strategies and recuperation training recommendations are easy to follow and include:

  • When to train and when to rest
  • How to maintain your marathon fitness
  • Getting back into marathon training – safely

 

How severe are your symptoms?

Initially you will need to impartially gauge the level of your illness or injury. Please consult the following table to guide you on appropriate training for your the level of complaint. The table lists common causes of training obstacles and assesses what running preparations you can or cannot do.

Problem Assessment Training strategy Notes
Cold Is your cold higher up or lower down the neck? 1. Higher-up. If the only symptoms of your cold are that you are a little bunged up, cut back on the volume and intensity of your training until the cold has dissipated.
2. Lower down. If symptoms include aches and/or pains in the body with a sore throat it suggests a more severe cold stop training until the cold has gone.
Please continue to vigilantly check even minor colds closely, in case your condition declines.
Flu/fever Do not train. Proper flu or a fever can be dangerous, so cease training until you are fully recovered. Training with flu or a fever can be extremely serious and will increase your recovery time.
Other illness Seek medical advice. If your symptoms are other than a simple cold or flu, your doctor is the most appropriate person to advise you on whether you can continue with your training sessions.  
Leg injury Can you train
without experiencing any pain and avoid the risk of exacerbating the problem?
A muscle injury will need rest, followed by flexibility and strengthening exercises as well as injury therapy in some cases before you can return to full training. Other leg injuries will require specific assessment and rehabilitation protocols. Seek advice from a sports therapist, who can provide expert advice and help you return to training earlier.
Other injury Seek advice from your doctor or injury therapist. If you have a certain type of injury then you may still be able to train, but seek professional advice before you decide to continue.  

 

What training is appropriate now?

If your doctor has consented to your taking part in other types of exercise, but not to run, then you could follow one or more of our different training choices to keep your body marathon ready.

Man swimming and how to recover and injury or illness when training for a marathon

Continuing to train the Cardiovascular (CV) system

Pool running. Pool running aka 'wet-vesting' is a wonderful substitute to a run if you are suffering from an injury. It is important to remember to maintain a strong upright stance. You can achieve a good posture by attaching a little flotation device around your waist. Next, ensuring that the water is sufficiently deep that your feet are unable to reach the floor, you start to run! However, in order to drive your body forwards through the water you will need to over emphasize the normal running movements in your arms and legs. This is, essentially, the only difference between a run through the air or a pool and there's not a great discrepancy in the CV workout you achieve either!

Swimming. Swimming is an excellent general work out and exerts less stress on the body than running. You should also find swimming easier as your bulk is constantly supported by the surrounding water. In order to maintain a similar level of training to that of running you will need to 'freestyle' (aka the crawl). The good news is that the more inferior your technique the better the work out you get. Experienced swimmers can freestyle seemingly effortlessly but exertion is what's needed to get the heart and lungs really pumping.

Cycling. Cycling is a great form of exercise and comparable to swimming in that your weight is constantly supported here as well. However, if you wish to achieve a similar work out to that of a run you will need to cycle for longer. You can further intensify a training session by regularly coming out of the saddle to change up into a higher gear. This should make you more breathless and increase the CV exercise. 

Rowing. Rowing is an excellent work out for your legs as well as the upper body. The only drawback is that it can be difficult to traverse the length of any stretch of waterway for long periods of time. You could keep your rowing sessions short but it's probably more convenient to use a gymnasium rowing machine. Rowing machines are great but can be a little dull. You may want to liven up your training by interchanging a high impact rowing session for example for about five minutes with a lower intensity one for about two minutes. You can repeat this to give your body a great work out and maintain your concentration.

Gymnasium CV machines. Apparatus like steppers and cross-trainers are wonderful at working your CV system. Furthermore, unlike rowing, cycling or swimming you are required to support your own body-weight so the exercise is more rigorous. To keep yourself interested and motivated why not try taking your favourite tunes along on your iPod or frequently alternate the intensity of the workout as described above.

Other training options

Resistance training. By increasing your general well being and vigor you will turn yourself into a stronger, quicker and more proficient runner. It will only take two resistance training work outs a week to make considerable strides in your strength. Moreover, knowing that you are continuing to participate in your training should help you maintain your motivation.

Mental training. Long runs take a lot of stamina, both physically and mentally. Having the right frame of mind can keep you on course and motivated. If you can take a proactive approach to training, when hampered by injury or illness, and begin mentally training you are off to a great start. Try and think through the run see yourself successfully finishing it and what it will take to get there. Give yourself time to concentrate on all aspects of the marathon from the correct nutrition and hydration, to your speed and running technique.

Core training. Core training is a great foundation for runners as it helps with bodily alignment and control. You can practice it for just several minutes after a resistance training session or on alternate days to begin to make a big difference to your marathon efficiency. This type of work out comes into fruition towards the end of a big run when normally posture and coordination begin to weaken. With a solid base of core training under your belt you will find that your running economy is significantly improved. 

Flexibility training. Flexibility is key to a safe and successful marathon. Training in this way will not only mean that you resist injury but having a supple body will, obviously, aid your overall running technique and movement. 

Relaxation. Both training and rest are important aspects of any marathon training program. Making time to relax means that your body and mind can be revitalized to help you remain focused. Relaxation is also necessary as it is during this time alone that the body can make physical enhancements.

How soon can I return to marathon training?

The major concern you are facing now is probably when you can get back to your marathon training schedule. And although the below table can guide you, when returning to training from an absence due to injury or illness, it will need to be sanctioned by the medical professional in charge of your health.

 

Time off ill/injured
Fitness lost Plan for returning to training
1 to 2 days None Continue as you were before your break.
1 week Slight to no fitness lost. 1. Keep the returning few runs at an undemanding and comfortable pace.
2. Return to your regular routine when you feel you are able to.
2 weeks Some fitness lost. Week 1: undemanding runs only.
Week 2: Return to your regular routine when you feel you are able to.
1 month Evident fitness lost. Week 1: Easy training at a lower intensity.
Week 2: Stable training runs no rigorous or lengthy sessions.
Week 3: repeat week 2 but increase the length of run.
Week 4 +: slowly integrate back into your pre-break routine.
1 to 2 months Considerable fitness lost. Weeks 1 and 2: low intensity jogging only.
Weeks 3 and 4: undemanding running when you feel ready no rigorous or lengthy sessions.
Weeks 5 and 6: stable running at a comfortable speed.
Week 7 +: slowly integrate back into your pre-break routine.
Over 2 months Large amount of fitness lost. 1.   You will need to think of starting your training at the beginning again.
2.   Start with a routine of low intensity jogging.
3.   Gradually increase the length and volume of your work out sessions. Don't worry about rigorous training to begin with.
4.   Re-introduce speedier runs into your training only when you feel capable and have undertaken at least two months steady training.

Stay optimistic about your marathon training

There is hardly a single person approaching a 26.2 mile run will not have come across some obstacles in their training at some point. So when illness or injury interrupts your marathon training do not despair. It is essential to keep positive and concentrate on returning to and increasing your strength. Be positive in that you can always contribute to your training even if it is only in a small way to begin with. Each exercise will assist you getting to the starting line on race day. If you can continue to remain optimistic and follow the recommendations and guidelines above, you can sustain your fitness level and build on it to help you participate in a marathon!   

Comments (1)

  • HannahPerry 'With only six weeks left until the London Marathon I have not been able to run for 3 weeks due to injury, however i have been doping other activaties. Will it still be possible to get myself ready in time? The longest I ran was a half marathon on the 21st Feb..... I need advice how to get running again - help :-) Thanks'

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