Stress fracture to 100 mile race in 4 months.. tips for getting back running post injury!

As I’m sure everyone knows in July this year I was diagnosed with a runners worst nightmare; a stress fracture in my 4th metatarsal. I was told that I’d need to take at least 7 weeks off, of which 5 would have to be non-weight bearing, so that meant an Aircast boot and crutches to get around. As someone who regularly runs 80-100 miles per week in training this was obviously devastating, but it was time to put a full on recovery plan in place.

I was now certain I was going to miss the North Downs Way 100 – a crucial 6 UTMB point race that was going to be my final qualifier to getting an entry in the 2018 ballot. The UTMB is the pinnacle of trail racing, the great and the good from all around the world descend on Chamonix, France to take on the epic 106 mile, 10,000m climb course. But now this dream for 2018 was seemingly over. It’s never been my style to get down, become rejected and withdraw myself completely from running. But this was well and truly testing that. 6 long weeks of hobbling around with big gaps in my life where running usually sat, I was hitting rock bottom.

Week by week I could feel myself start to get stronger, then after some test runs it was time to get back to training and what I wanted to document here is what that training has been. The human body has a remarkable ability to fix itself, providing you give it all the right ingredients and that’s the crucial part. By following this strict regime I am now in a position where I’m back on the start line of the White Rose 100 mile ultra on the 4th November, about 4 months after the fracture. The race gives those most needed 6 UTMB points, so my dream of getting in the race is still alive!

For me it was about three key areas; strength work, diet and sleep. 

STRENGTH 💪🏻

Strength training is something that all runners neglect, but I was very worried that after 7 weeks off that my body was in no fit state to charge back into training. So, I put together a strength programme that I would incorporate into my recovery runs as well as a home based routine that I could do on rest days. 

The first two weeks I followed a run/walk plan. Run 1 minute, walk 9 minutes, three times was the first day. Day two rest, then day three it was run 2 minutes, walk 8 minutes, three times. And so the pattern went on. As part of these runs I’d make sure I stopped 3 times near a bench to do a mini set of three key exercises, three times. 

30 seconds calf raises on each foot

30 seconds squats

30 seconds step ups

When I was at home on rest days I’d do the following set.

30 seconds walking lunges

30 seconds calf raises

30 seconds hip bridges

I’d do three reps, then gradually increase the amount of time for each set as I felt myself getting stronger and that was it really. Simple, effective and short enough so there was no excuse not to get this done. 

As part of the whole picture it’s also crucial not to ramp up your weekly mileage too quickly. As you can see here on my Strava profile, my weekly volume is gradually increasing week by week. Just going back to your pre injury volume, however long you’ve had off, if a recipe for disaster and potential for a reoccurrence.  

My recent weeks have been 16k / 15k / 50k / 81k (then the pain came back and so I dropped it back again) 66k/ 75k / 90k / 101k / 110k / 125k and that was last week. 

I also have a very good journal document on returning to running post stress fracture, so if anyone would like it just email me at benparkes@me.com 

DIET 🥛

Diet is obviously a hugely controversial topic – so I can only say what works for me and fits in with what I believe in. Make sure you take professional advice before altering your own diet in any significant way. 

Naturally after a stress fracture I was looking for rich sources of calcium. That consisted of milk, kale, broccoli, asparagus, avocado, almonds, yoghurt, butternut squash, green beans, chia seeds, oranges and cheese. I stick to a vegetarian diet, so this gave me lots of options for tasty calcium rich meals. 

Here’s three recipes that worked for me!

1. Chocolate Smoothie (great for post exercise)

– Unsweetened Coco

– Unsweetened Almond Milk

– Chocolate frozen yoghurt

Simply add all to the blender, blitz and enjoy this calcium, protein and fibre rich drink!

2. Macaroni Cheese with Butternut Squash

– 300g Macaroni

– 1 butternut squash

– Olive Oil

– 50g butter

– 50g plain flour

– 500ml milk

– 200g cheese

– tea spoon French mustard

– breadcrumbs

Chop up the butternut squash, cover with olive oil and seasoning then add to the oven on a baking tray. Cook the macaroni following the pack instructions. Melt the butter in a pan stirring in the flour and mustard and whisk into a paste, then gradually add the milk and let it simmer to a sauce consistency, while stirring constantly. Take the sauce off the heat, mash in about half the squash, then add the remaining squash with cheese and add the mixture to a oven proof dish. Add breadcrumbs on top and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown!

3. Yoghurt

Natural yoghurt is such a simple breakfast, lunchtime snack or dinner time desert. You can add in fruit; berries are a great antioxidant, especially blueberries so focus on those. Pomegranates, Acai and Goji berries will add a lot of flavour. Nuts are a great source of calcium, so almonds are a great addition too.

SLEEP 💤 

The third key to returning to training is to take things slowly, which of course is easier said than done, but it takes your bones a lot longer to adapt to the work load than the rest of your body. Sleep is a crucial part of this and in many studies lack of sleep is said to be a primary factor in runners suffering stress fractures. Giving your body at least 8 hours sleep every night to repair and strengthen is so important. With every run you do you are breaking your body down and it’s only over night that it can properly rebuild and help you crack on again the next day. 

LETS GO!

So am I ready to run 100 miles again? Well of course not, but I don’t think anyone can say they truly are. All I know is that I’ve put in the work. I’ve ran 2 marathons in the build up in 2:57 and 2:52, so the fitness is returning and now it’s just a case of getting the right kit in place to tackle the distance.

I’ll be lining up on race day with the best preparation, gear, supplies and mind-set that I can imagine ready to take on the 100 mile distance. Fingers crossed for a great race, 6 UTMB points and getting that qualification done!