Top masters runner Catherine Watkins had the year of her life: running PBs at 43, and even representing Canada at the Pan Am Games on home turf. Then, all that hard work resulted in an injury. But Watkins is turning adversity into opportunity, and she is sharing her plan with you.
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Those dreaded words no runner wants to hear: “You need to stop running.”
I heard those words from my sports medicine doctor after a foot niggle became too painful to run on. I had anticipated these words prior to the appointment, but they still hit me hard. I was in the midst of a marathon build and being closely monitored by both my physiotherapist and sports medicine doctor weekly. I had been experiencing pain off and on in my left foot for a while, however up to this point it hadn’t been painful enough to stop me running. My first reaction to being told “no running” was fear – fear of losing that hard-earned fitness; fear of not coming back as strong. Then sadness cropped up realizing I might not be making the start line of the marathon I had been training for.
Being a type A runner who typically runs seven days a week, logically my first question was: “When can I run again?” There was no definitive answer to this, but a minimum of four weeks was recommended, which led to my second, panicked question: “What can I do?”
I knew that to stay sane as a non-running runner I needed to have some structure to my cross-training, as well as a way to tap into much needed endorphins. In collaboration with my sports medicine doctor and physiotherapist we figured out a plan. Initially, as is often the case for most running-related injuries, exercise needed to be impact-free. I decided to look at this time off as an opportunity to get healthy and to focus on strengthening areas that we as runners tend to neglect, while still maintaining my sanity with some cardio cross-training to ensure that I didn’t lose too much fitness.
Typically, I run every day so I wanted to continue that routine with my cardio cross-training. For cardio, I was cleared to pool run, swim and stationary cycle. Pool running is a great running alternative as it mimics the motions of land running while in deep water. The added resistance of the water makes it a good workout, although it is much harder to get a high heart rate in the pool. It can also become quite tedious, so enlisting fellow injured runners or friends to join helps as does adding intervals.
I pool run with an aqua belt as it helps me maintain my form and cadence in the water, but some runners prefer not to use it. Use the pool running to focus on form and getting a smooth running motion. I often followed my pool run with a swim. I’m not a strong swimmer so I would complete 20–30 minutes of swimming just to get in some added cardio.
For stationary cycling I used my road bike on a trainer. Again, I focused on cadence and added in intervals to pass the time. I tried to either bike or pool run for the time I would typically be out for a run
In addition to cardio it was really important to focus on my strength and core to minimize my chances of reinjury when I returned to running. During a typical running week I do two strength workouts. This injury enabled me to increase that to three to four a week, as I wasn’t worried about it affecting a run workout the following day.
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I feel that with my cross-training and core and strength work I will come out of this injury stronger and faster as a runner, and I hope it can help you do the same.
The Comeback Workout
The exercises were chosen to improve my form for when I return to running. I did these at least three times a week but aimed for as many times as possible.
Squats, body weight only
Focus on keeping your feet relaxed and upper body straight and not rotated. As you progress, add weight as long as it doesn’t affect your injury.
Single leg squats — Photo A
3X15 reps per leg
The rear leg of this squat is balanced on a table or box. Focus again on relaxing the foot and keep the body straight. Add weights over time if not impacting your injury. These replaced lunges for me so that no toe bend was required. If your injury isn’t at the lower part of your leg, try lunges instead.
Again keeping your feet relaxed and upper body straight.
20 steps each direction
Add this in once your injury is stable.
Modified push-ups on a box — Photo B
In a partial handstand position, so your legs rest up and behind. Gradually lower and raise until exhaustion.
Hamstring pull-ins on a stability ball — Photo C
Typically, for core I do a lot of plank and push-up circuits, so I needed to become more creative with my workouts as my typical planks and pushups wouldn’t work with my injury. I typically do this circuit three times and it takes about 20–30 minutes total.
Stability ball roll-outs — Photo D
Before the injury, I did these balanced on my toes. Now I do them from a kneeling position.
Dead bug on a half foam roller — Photo E
Hold each rep for 2–3 seconds.
Medicine ball core twist
Double leg drops — Photo F
Side plank on a medicine ball with hip drop and knee pull in — Photo G
Resistance band kneeling pull ins
15 reps per side
Catherine Watkins discovered her talent for running only in the last few years. Today she’s not only one of the best female runners in Canada, but also a top masters runner. She lives in Vancouver with her husband and two children.
Editors note: This feature appears in the January/February issue of Canadian Running available now (you can subscribe here).