One of the hardest parts of being a coach, is having one of your athletes suffer an injury that sidelines them mid season. Whether it was an accident, like a fall, or a sprained ankle, or whether it was caused by overuse due to training load, or improper mechanics, they are all difficult to bare for both the runner and the coach.
The first thing you need to do, is come to terms with it. If the injury was stress related, due to training load, or overexertion, you’re going to feel quite a bit of guilt that it was your training program and your guidance that lead to it.
What you need to understand is that every runner, no matter who they are, is going to contend with an injury, or several, over the course of their running careers. Many of the injuries high school aged runners suffer are due to their own lifestyle choices and not adhering to consistent training stress, recovery routines and dietary habits. You only have so much control over how fast your runners choose to run, where they choose to do their weekend runs and what they do before and after.
Having suffered several season ending injuries, and watching many others experience the same, you earn a new level of respect for the human body, and it’s limits. Not that anyone ever wants to be sidelined by an injury, but helping them understand that this is opportunity for them to come back stronger, both mentally and physically is critical.
An injury does not need to be career ending. I’ve only seen one career ending injury resulting from over training, and it was a defect in the individual’s anatomy that could not be corrected, even with expensive surgery, and it only became apparent under substantial mileage load of 90-100 miles a week (on a college team).
Unfortunately, once this defect was recognized, it was too late for the individual, anything over a couple miles in a single day aggravated the region and caused serious inflammation and distress, and still does to this day.
Now this is a sad story, especially for someone who up until this injury had such a bright future in the sport. However, this is one out hundreds of runners that I’ve known over the years. So the chances are very slim that any high school aged injury will be career ending.
With that being said, I am totally opposed to placing the high school age body under unnecessary stress and high mileage training. They are still undeveloped at this age, and as such can not handle high volume training. I’ve also seen several runners get burnt out and have their college careers riddled with injuries as a result of inconsistent high school training.
This isn’t a post on appropriate per week mileage for the high school aged runner, however, I will say this, what is the end game of a high school aged runner completing weeks at 75-80+ miles?
So they become the best in the area, or even their state, but what happens when they go off to college already completing the volume most programs allow in their freshmen year? They don’t see immediate improvement and this eventually can result in loss of motivation. It’s a vicious cycle, so don’t be that coach so near sighted on these high school goals to potentially hinder your standout runners college potential and beyond.
Remember, it is our mission to hand these athletes off in the best possible place so that they can be further developed under someone elses tuteledge. What’s better, a state championship in high school, or a qualifying time for the Olympic Trials. This is how we need to think in terms of our young athletes.
End of rant. Back to dealing with injuries.
So you have an injured runner, and you feel as if your prescribed training may have lead to his or her fate. Get over it, move on. It’s your and your athlete’s job now to see the injury for what it is… a chance to grow. This may be the first major setback in the individual’s life, maybe they trained diligently all summer only to come back the first few weeks of practice and strain their hamstring during a hill workout.
You need to keep them focused on what’s important.
They’re not going to lose fitness overnight
All that training is not for nothing, because with a strained muscle, they can come back in week and ease back into training, depending on the severity. During that week, they can see if biking aggravates the region or some other low impact activity. But if it ends up that they need to take total time off, so be it.
Make sure to ease their mind, that they’re not going to lose that much fitness over the course of a week or two. If it’s early season, there is plenty of time to come back, and get back into the rhythm. If it’s late season, during championship races, they would be lowering mileage anyways. Do whatever possible to get them back out there for races, but training isn’t important at this stage.
Injuries are a chance to focus on other weaknesses
If your injured athlete is known for having weak areas, like their form collapses towards the end of races, or they struggle with hills or speed, this is the perfect opportunity to focus some attention on those areas, and try to improve.
Hit the weight room, do some plyometrics (if possible), stretch and roll out. These are all things that are typically secondary to running, now make them the primary focus. Focusing on anything positive during this period will take their mind off their injury and what they’re potentially missing on the track, and help them see they can still make progress toward their goals.
Lastly, injuries are a valuable lesson on how to listen to your body
I’ve never been more hypersensitive to how I’ve felt than when coming back from injury. I am so in tuned with my physiology at that point that I could feel even the slightest twinge. This hypersensitivity isn’t necessarily a good thing. In fact, it can drive a runner mad!
However, the takeaway here is, you’ve learned how to listen to your body. You can now, learn from your mistakes. When you’re young, in high school, you feel invincible a lot of the time. An injury is a quick way to learn that you’re not, and that you need to pay better attention during your training, listening for possible warning signs of over training. If you do hear your body telling you something, now you know what to do about it.
Injuries allow athletes to learn how not only to deal with and overcome setbacks, but how to prevent them through being in tune with their bodies. And when something does occur, having the knowledge to know what to do to mitigate and reduce the risk of another sidelining injury.
As coach, it is your responsibility to support your runners during these tough periods in their careers. But to also help them see the light at the end of the tunnel, and to take their mind of it as much as possible through positive action, and acquiring the knowledge on how to care for themselves to reduce future chances of suffering another.