Question: I recently upped my training for a half-marathon in the spring, and I've started to get shin splints. I've been stretching and swimming. Are there other workouts that won't derail my plans?
Answer: There are two issues you need to deal with: maintaining fitness and healing your injury. There's a risk that if left untreated, your shin splints could worsen into a more severe problem such as a stress fracture, which will result in even more time off and a complete loss of the end-goal race. You've started doing the right thing by cross-training; you might want to add in icing and take a mild anti-inflammatory as well.
In longer races the energy system that is used most heavily is aerobic metabolism (versus anaerobic lactic or alactic). In fact, recent studies have shown that it provides more than 97 per cent of the total contribution to your race. The good news is that the type of training needed to develop this aerobic fitness is relatively easy to mimic using activities other than running, such as swimming or pool running, biking and elliptical. Take your current plan and translate any distances run to an approximate time and then log that amount of cross-training. If time permits and you have the motivation, multiply your run time by 1.5 and aim for that. Mix up the modes of training to keep motivated.
It will likely take two weeks to get your shin splints under control, the blink of an eye for a distance runner. Once you return to the impact of running, do so a bit at a time while continuing to cross-train for balance. A rough rule would add in 20 per cent of your impact load each week, so that your connective tissue can adapt.
Don't worry, you will stay fit. Canada's top marathoner, Reid Coolsaet, fractured a bone in his foot a couple of years ago, but that didn't stop him. While cross-training, he averaged well over 1,000 minutes a week for eight weeks, roughly 2.5 hours a day. Six weeks after his return to running, he won the national marathon championships, his debut at the distance, in 2:17:09. You don't have to be at his elite level, nor do that type of work, to take comfort in the fact that if you modify your training and keep your eye on your goal, you'll be just fine.
Dave Scott-Thomas is the head coach of the University of Guelph and Speed River Track and Field teams. He is a 19-time Canadian University Coach of The Year and has coached Olympians and 17 National teams.
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