On Sunday 6 September 2020 I broke my left ankle. It led to a lot of rehab, as a I described in my Broken Ankle Chronicles. Now, eight months later, I am back around the volume I was running pre-break. In this post I will describe how I went about that.
As described in more detail in the Broken Ankle Chronicles, I started running again on 1 December 2020. I use the word “running” here with some poetic license. It was mostly walking with some brief moments of attempting to run. That first session had 3×3 minutes of running, at least 3 minutes of walking between each running part. It was scary, it was rough. I got through it, I needed more.
My PT wanted me to rest two days between each day of running. I was allowed to slowly increase the running, but only allowed to do so every other run. By the end of the month, I switched to running three times a week. On 31 December I ran 10 minutes, 3 minutes walk, 11 minutes, 3 minutes walk, and again 10 minutes. Heading in the right direction, but still so so little compared to what I add been used to before the break.
The week of 11 January was my last PT session. I sat around 30 km for that week after following his increase every other run approach and still running three times a week. As he kicked me out of the nest, I spread my wings and switched into planning mode. I was in unfamiliar terrain and decided to use Jack Daniels’ rebuilding after injury plan. For someone who had been out as long as I had, he says to run:
- 3 weeks at 30% of original volume, all easy
- 3 weeks at 50% of original volume, all easy
- 3 weeks at 70% of original volume, add in some strides
- 3 weeks at 85% of original volume, add in some Repetition work (say 200s and 400s at ~1500-mile pace)
- 3 weeks at 100% of original volume, add in Threshold work
For original volume, I decided to pick 100 km per week. That makes those percentages easy enough. 110 km may have been an option too, but I ran a little less pre break due to some hip issue, so I settled on 100. The plan still sounded aggressive, based on how I felt at the time, so I promised myself I would keep an eye on the body and abandon following the plan to the letter to give it the rest it might require.
As mentioned, the week of 11 January I already sat at around 30 km. I counted that as the first week of the serious rebuilding. In the week of 18 January, I moved away from the “just keep increasing distance every other run” idea. I switched to a more conventional looking schedule, made it four days of running per week, and also decided to slowly get rid of the walking breaks. That week I still planned in minutes, which made the planning look like this.
- Mo: 3×10 minutes, 2 minutes walk break
- Tu: 10-15-10 minutes, 2 minutes walk break
- We: -
- Th: 3×10 minutes, 1 minute walk break
- Fr: -
- Sa: 3×15 minutes, 1 minute walk break
- Su: -
The third week at 30 km looked the same as above, but without the walking breaks.
It should also be noted that ever since Novemberish, I had been doing the elliptical rather vigorously. Just about an hour daily, a little bit less on a day where I ran, a little bit more on Sundays. This did not help me much in terms of getting used to impact again, but I would think it made a big difference in terms of being in some sort of shape throughout this.
On 1 February I switched to 50 km per week. This jump up in volume was the scariest to me. Going from 30 km to 50 km is a big increase when you look at it in percentages. I figured at the time that if I made it through this one, the rest of the increases would be easy. I had planned out the week to, ideally, look as follows.
- Mo: -
- Tu: 10 km GA
- We: 7 km Recovery
- Th: 11 km GA
- Fr: -
- Sa: 7 km Recovery
- Su: 14 km GA
Where “GA” is just your every day run and “Recovery” is a little bit easier still. In reality those Recoveries might have been pretty much GA too. My heart rate was still skyrocketing easily on nearly every run so I ignored it and went entirely by feel. The one thing you notice when running so little: your body does not really need those Recovery runs to be slower because there is no workout or long run that tired you out. Perhaps more correctly: when doing all the harder days, your body will be craving that calmer jog to relax again. No need for that now.
I do not think any of my weeks followed that planning to the letter, shuffling days around as it fit my planning, the weather, whatever. What was important was just getting the distance in and that worked out fine.
In the second week, the medial side of my shins started acting up a little. Just felt a bit off, a dull pain of sorts. I ran through it as it did not seem bad enough. Throughout the third week, I still noticed it too often. I weaned off some of the ellipticalling I had been doing still, hoping that giving all the muscles some more rest would help take on the impact. I don’t think that changed much. I decided to do a fourth week at 50 km and, if it did not feel better by the end of that, jump back down in volume.
What I think eventually solved the issue, was one of the two pairs of shoes I was using. It hit my arbitrary limit of 1000 km usage. I retired the pair and within some days, the shins felt normal again. Oops. I am relatively sure that was the culprit, but I was already some days into a fourth week at 50 km by that point, so I stuck to completing that fourth week.
The 70% and Strides
My next jump up in volume came the week of 1 March. Having survived the jump to 50%, I was not particularly worried about this one. I was more active again, I blamed the feeling off on shoes falling apart, and things were beginning to look good. A week in this phase looked somewhat like this.
- Mo: -
- Tu: 13 km GA
- We: 12 km GA
- Th: 7 km Recovery
- Fr: 13 km GA
- Sa: 8 km Recovery
- Su: 17 km Endurance
Where “Endurance” is the long run. First week I put it at 16 km, second week at 17 km, third week at 18 km. I figured 18 km was around the maximum long run I wanted to do when running this little in a week, but also did not want to immediately jump to 18 given my “long run” the weeks before it was 14-15 km. So instead the little ladder working up to it. Evidently I adjusted some other days to still make it add up to 70 km for the week.
I also did some strides on Tuesday or Wednesday, getting some vague notion of speed back in the legs. The first set did not feel as smooth as I seemed to remember. I also had the feeling I was missing some hip flexibility, not being able to extend the leg behind me as much as before. I seem to manage to solve that for the next one by doing some dynamic hip stretching / leg swings before the strides the next times I did them.
These three weeks passed by pretty calmly. Boring is good. I had completely given up on ellipticalling by this point. It never had truly been fun (though handy to get through shows), just a tool to get back to running. I decided I had reached the point I was satisfied with just my running and did not need the elliptical any more.
The 85% and Repetition
I reached enough volume to decide to switch back to running daily. Just find it easier to not add monster runs midweek if I do not have to.
- Mo: Recovery
- Tu: GA
- We: Recovery
- Th: Repetition
- Fr: GA
- Sa: Recovery
- Su: Endurance
Not being explicit as more moving targets are introduced. For the long runs I decided to continue my ladder of increase, aiming for 19 km, 20 km, and finally 21.1 km for the third week. GA days I usually aim for 13 km. These Repetition days too, though if it runs a bit long cause of the track situation, then I do not mind. Recovery runs I keep under 10 km. Still tried to do strides on Tuesday.
The interesting thing here is of course the reintroduction of Repetition work. Wednesday or Thursday were the ideal choices for this, wanting to keep it away from the long run. Ended up going for Thursday because that is when the club track is accessible. Not much of a choice really. To remind you what Repetition was: 200-400 reps, around 1500-mile race pace, rest for 2-3 times the time the rep took. For the better definition, I have some notes elsewhere on the site or get the book “Daniels Running Formula”.
For the first attempt back, I decided to do 200s, anywhere from 4 to 8 of them. Deciding the pace was a bit iffier. Pre-break I would have gone for 37 seconds, based on JD’s tables. Now I just figured 37-40s would be good enough and started out at 40s. After four reps, it felt too easy, so I sped up a little and kept going. Ended up doing 8. Should have known it would come to this. I felt my thighs the day after.
For the second attempt I replaced two 200s by a 400: 3×200, 400, 3×200. Still aiming for 37-40 seconds per 200m. The third go, I replaced another two: 2×200, 2×400, 2×200.
Going through my notes, I am reminded the ankle still was (is) not perfect. Bending it sideways further than the standard position is painful/has sore spots, whereas on the other side I do not even notice such occasions. Still, it is in this phase that I dared doing some more traily runs again. And survived! Missed those.
At the end of those three weeks, I injured my knees unrelated to running. As long as I remember, they cannot handle me sitting on them for very long. Of course I managed to do that and hurt myself in the process. I skipped the Saturday of the third week, thought it was OK again on Sunday and did my planned long run. Two days later I realised the knees still felt inflamed, so I took the Tuesday off. I dropped my plan of going up to 100 km that week and instead did a down week. Had been debating that option any way. That week added up to 60 km of pretty calm running. The knees felt OK again.
I did not want to make the jump to 100 km immediately after that slight injury, so instead decided to play it safe with another 85 km week. The long run was still planned to be 21.1 km, but ended up being just shy of 22 km. The ladder continued. I also did Repetition work on Thursday again, aiming for 4×400 this time around. Ended up doing a fifth rep because I was feeling good.
The 100% and Lactate Thresholds
With that extra delay, I was finally ready for it. A 100 km week. Two of them even. Following the idea of 3 weeks up, 1 week down, I wanted to do two of them and then a down week (evidently I count the previous 85 km week as another up week). I also decided that getting through those two weeks was the end of my (volume) base building period. An arbitrary goal line as an extra reward to make me not do anything dumb.
- Mo: Recovery
- Tu: GA with strides
- We: Recovery doubles
- Th: Lactate threshold workout
- Fr: GA
- Sa: Recovery
- Su: Endurance
Not too much difference between the two weeks. Still increasing the long run slowly (23 km, then 24 km). I adjust the recovery doubles in function of that. For the rest aim for 13 km for GA, 10 km for recovery, 16 km for the midweek workout.
For the workout the first week, I decided on Threshold work as described by Jack Daniels. Did it mostly by feel and heart rate. Kept it short enough with 4×5 minutes, 1 minute rest in-between. This ended up being about 3:37 pace per rep as measured by GPS running along the canal. The second week I did a similar, but a little bit faster pace. A CV workout as described by Tinman (again, some notes can be found elsewhere on this site). I opted for 5×1000 metre on the track. Pacewise I aimed for pre-break values: 3:30 per rep. Rest (shuffle jog) about one third of the rep time. It went well enough, though I started feeling a bit low on carby energy by the final rep. Bit too fast for where I am currently at? I do not think I ate enough either to be fair. Regardless, it was fun.
Daniels’ plan looked a bit aggressive when I first got my eyes on it, but in the end it seems to have worked out fine. The only setbacks were because of shoes needing replacements and hurting my knees through something unrelated to running. In terms of running, I seem to have survived the build up without issue. Good to know for next time! (Please do not ever let there be a next time where I need this)
As I safely got through those final two 100 km weeks, my body decided to self-sabotage on the final Saturday.