My personal journey and a review of a return to running program
For the past 2 years, I have struggled with running. I haven’t had any acute injuries, no strains or sprains, just chronically sore hips and back that made running both completely uncomfortable and 100% not enjoyable. I’m a stubborn mule sometimes, so I persisted in the hope that it would go away. I’d get treatment every now and then and would be fine for a few weeks, and then I’d have a week off as things would go pear-shaped.
Before I dive into the program to return to running from injury, I’ll share a bit of the back story.
In 2017 I resided in Sydney and spent most of my time training in the Blue Mountains on the weekend. I’d log a couple of easy runs during the week (10-15km all up) and then head out into the mountains for long missions of 3-6 hours, and sometimes do that on Saturday and again on Sunday. This strategy was never going to make me fast, but my body loved the mix of walking and running. Plus my mind loved the escapism from city life. Heading down into the Grose Valley to find a waterfall or creek with no one around was my idea of heaven. The climbs out were tough and helped build strong legs.
This loose strategy allowed me to knock over a few ultras that year, a couple too many no doubt. Buffalo Stampede, UTA100, Peaks and Trails, and Hounslow Classic. All bloody hard, and taxing. I loved it. Though I knew by the end of 2017 I was physically cooked and needed a change. Plus the long drives to the Blue Mountains each weekend had taken me away from precious family time and I was feeling very guilty about that.
After Hounslow in October 2017, I took a break until the end of the year. At the start of 2018, I decided it was time to run more near home and maybe try and get some speed back. I remember turning up to a running club in Centennial Park and on the first day there we had a set of 400s. I ran sub 4:00/km for the first time in many, many years, as the competitive drive to keep up took over. It was a sensationally bad move that hit me like a volcano after 2 weeks of dreaming I could run fast. One day on an easy 8km flat jog I was done. My back locked, my hips locked. After a couple of km I knew if I stopped that I would not be starting again any time soon, so I trucked on. By the end you would have thought I had been shot, bashed, and had the crap beat out of me. My forward flexion was about 5mm, my back extension was 0. It was over. I couldn’t even kick the cans on the way home, so I yelled at them.
For the next few months I kept trying. Out the door, maybe get a good run in here and there. Attempt some more speed work, then shut down again. I was angry, and getting angrier by the minute, and far too stubborn to do anything about it. After all, look how many ultras I ran in 2017 – to me, my head was bigger than Ben Hur and full of self-righteousness and ignoring the plain obvious facts – I was a broken mess and was being a complete dick.
Not long after this, the frustration of not being able to run and missing the head cleaning rituals of the Blue Mountains, I had what can only be called a complete breakdown. Like proper, tears, excessive drinking, more tears, being a shit Dad and Husband, and a useless employee. I was done. It coincided with leaving Sydney and moving to Ocean Grove in Victoria. So as that happened, I spent 6 weeks in a health retreat / mental joint to sort my shit out (that’s a whole other story). During those 6 weeks, I kept trying to run, as that was my only outlet in that place. It mostly sucked. Therapy was more fun.
From there it was stop-start all through 2018 and most of 2019. Stubbornness and a lack of willingness to accept my current reality were my main attributes. By mid-2019 I attended the Injury Clinic in Geelong and Laura sorted me out. Some dry needling had an instant effect on my back and hips, and I could run more freely. So I did. Then the shit hit the fan again. It was at this point, November 2019 that I went, screw it, I actually need to start running from scratch.
TBM Locker Rooms return to a running program.
I’ll disclose I am a paying member of https://www.tbmlockerroom.com/ so there is no bias in my review.
You can read about the program here. This program is close to but not exactly the same as the paid version. There are some differences in progression, but it is effectively the same.
The program starts with running for 2 minutes, walking for 1 minute for 5 reps. You repeat that level twice and move to the next if your body feels ok. Now, running on that sort of regime does not suit someone who believed they were an ultra hero. I pretty much cried through that level and the next few. It hurt my head, my pride, my ego a lot. Yet, my body loved it. It was easy and it felt right.
As the program progresses the minutes of running increase, but there is always a minute break between reps. After a few weeks, I really appreciated the walking breaks. Even though I was only running for 4 or 5 minutes, my body was always telling me that was enough. It helped enormously to have that structure as it allowed me to do the next session, and then the next.
I hate structure like my cat hates not eating food for an hour. I stuck with it though, religiously. Well, until Xmas when I entered the Rip 2 River with a mate who was here from the UK. I was pretty nervous about what would happen. It hurt, though not so bad that I had to take a month off. A day or two’s rest and then back on the jogging interval bandwagon. Bullet dodged and a fun run completed.
As the weeks rolled on things got easier on my head and my body got stronger. One of the challenges I faced was still that transition from run/hike to running continuously on the flat. Flat running was problematic for my back. Thankfully Mark has included in his program plenty of stability and strength work. Not so much that you need a gym membership. Enough though to make a significant difference. This is what my body needed to blend in with flat running so I could keep getting back out there. Who knew standing on one leg and swinging the other around could make such a difference, yet it did. And this comes from me, a guy who ran a pretty good PT studio in Sydney, so I kind of know some stuff around strength training – and yet I didn’t. Another part of the ego needed to be cleansed (destroyed) and I accepted I didn’t know everything and attacked things with a learner mindset. That helped.
By the end of Jan 2020, I was done with the program and could run non stop for 40 mins. From there I have followed some of the other programs on TBM Locker Room to build up a base and now in April, I am able to knock out 50km weeks without much bother (as long as I do the other work). Most runs feel good and when they don’t, it’s mostly because I haven’t stood on one leg and swung the other around, or done enough lunges and single-leg deadlifts (with no weight). They are simple things, easy to pass over, though now I see their merit as they pay great dividends by allowing me to get out and run consistently.
In the early weeks, the program can be an absolute head wrecker depending on where you are coming from. It pays to think like a kid, explore and play with your jogging intervals and create some awareness on how you run. And stick to the plan. The 16 levels (32 sessions) don’t last long – about 8-9 weeks for me. I did some levels 3 or 4 times. I regressed once (post Rip 2 River) to be safe. The biggest benefit once I got my head out of the way was the conservative nature of the build-up. It got challenging at points. Not that challenging that it broke me. That was important. So without a doubt, I’d recommend following the program if you have had injuries, or like I was – a broken old man (or woman) and stick with it. Be conservative and in a few months, you will be amazed at what you can do and how well you will be running as you return from the injury wilderness.
By Paul Ryan (2020)