Recovering From a Stress Fracture: My Experience & A Guide for Others

Today marks the beginning of the final & 6th week in #dasboot. To be honest, I kind of can’t believe I only have a week remaining in this thing. The day I first strapped it to my leg, I thought, “well, shit. This is going to be the worst 6 weeks everrrrrr.” I was pretty crushed that a fall marathon would be out of the picture (I’m not crazy enough to attempt 26.2 after 6 weeks off.) But I’m happy to report that with a little bit of consistency and a cross-training plan that felt oddly similar to a running training plan, I’m making it through just fine. A big mental boost was reaching the halfway 3-week point and thinking, “that wasn’t so bad. I can do it again.”

Recovering From a Stress Fracture: Life In the Boot

An attempt at making the boot look fancy.

I think one of the most frustrating things when I first found out that I had a stress fracture was that no one seemed to have information collected about what you can and cannot do while allowing a fracture to heal. Sure, there’s a LOT of information out there. But not all of it sounded wise to me and a lot of it just sounded entirely mind-numbing. [The only exception to this being Camille Herron’s blog. I devoured her posts about her own experiences with stress fractures and found them really helpful. I can see why more than a few people recommended them to me.]

So, I set about collecting information that seems reputable and trustworthy. I gathered it for myself at first, but I want to share everthing that I’ve done in the past 5-6 weeks so that anyone out there dealing with a stress fracture can get a good picture of what they can do while injured. I’m not the type of person to just sit on my a** for 6 weeks & hope to stay in some kind of shape. I wanted to do everything I could to stay fit so that getting back to running wouldn’t be a complete strugglefest. I realize I am *also* not a doctor or therapist authorized to give this advice. Everything I’ve done to recover has been 100% pain free. If my foot hurt or was uncomfortable, I would stop. I think it’s important to keep moving through an injury as long as you’re not experiencing pain.

So, the first step was obviously following doc’s orders.

Checking the vitals:

  1. MRI – confirmed stress fracture in 2nd metetarsal on the left foot, possible neuroma in between 2-3 metatarsals
  2. Began wearing Aircast (AKA #dasboot)- ordered for 6 weeks non-weightbearing – Approved exercise included seated-only spin, pool running, and mat-based pilates.
  3. Bone density scan – completely normal result [This was more a precaution than anything – I have no history of female athlete triad problems, but checking bone density was a smart step to take.]
  4. Began taking 600 mg calcium 2 x a day, 1000 IUs vitamin D 1 x a day
  5. Blood test (Vit D & Ultimate Panel from InsideTracker) – more on this in a future post, but Vit D and calcium levels found to be in healthy range. [Note: If you’re interested in giving Inside Tracker a try, they’re giving my connections the best discount possible only through December 1, 2015! Use this code when checking out: “BFRJENNY”]

Next, I made a list of things I *could* do instead of thinking about the one thing that I couldn’t. So, I decided to …

GivE Pool Running A Shot:

I decided that in addition to spinning (only seated; standing was ruled out because it’s weight-bearing), I wanted to give pool running a try. I’d never done it before and from everything I read, it was an activity that would keep my running-specific muscles in shape without impact on my foot. My first trip to the pool was pretty comical. It was a gorgeous Chicago summer day. The public pool in my neighborhood was fairly busy in the later afternoon. While the shallow end was full of kids splashing around, the ‘grown up’ area in the deep end was …completely empty. Adults were sunbathing on the pool deck and I sauntered in wearing my boot and carrying an AquaJogger a friend let me borrrow (thanks Lynton!). I’m fairly certain that at least 70% of the pool goers thought that I couldn’t swim and actually needed the AquaJogger to enjoy the deep end. In fact, I am able to swim. 🙂

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I wrapped my iPod cord around my ponytail and clipped it to my hairband. Works wonders for pool running!

That day, I did 30 minutes of ‘easy pool running’ and it felt like I had gone for a long run of at least 90 minutes. It’s definitely not easy and it takes a little getting used to, but once you get your balance and your body gets used to the movement, it’s a great workout.

I was really looking forward to getting some fresh air while doing workouts at the outdoor pool, but it closed for the season on Labor Day. For a small fee, I added another one of my gym’s locations to my current membership in order to use their indoor pool. Logistically, it’s more difficult but well worth it.

*Note: an unexpected hassle of all of this cross-training is that I have to constantly work around the group fitness schedules for the spin room and the pool. I didn’t want to attend a spin class and be the only one seated for the duration (even though I’m sure the instructors would understand) and I don’t want to get in the way of others doing swim workouts in the pool. I put workouts on my calendar just as I would work meetings because of these conflicting schedules!

Here are some helpful pool running resources I found:

Cross-Training Plan:

The first few weeks, I struggled to find the motivation to actually commit to a cross-training and strength-training routine. I wallowed a little bit while I collected resources & tried to figure out what I wanted to do. Looking back on my training log, though, I’m actually surprised I dragged myself to the gym after just two days in the boot and then to the pool for my first pool running workout just two days after that. In the first week, I had my MRI & bone scan — and spent much of the rest of the week pretty bummed.

Here’s a short synopsis of the cross-training I’ve done the past 5 weeks:

Week 2: 
Monday – 1 hr spin

Tuesday – 45 min spin + 30 min Pilates abs DVD

Wednesday – 1 hour spin with 10 x 2 min sprints, 1 min RI + 25 min core & glute strength routines

Thursday – 36 min pool run – 2 x (6 x 1:30 hard, 30 sec RI) + 30 min glute & arm strength routines

Remainder of week – traveling to Copenhagen! 

Week 3: entire week in Copenhagen on vacation! No exercise

We spent at least 6-7 hours of each day walking around the city. Because I was on my feet so much (in the boot the whole time), I didn’t have much energy to workout in the hotel gym. I slept soundly, enjoyed every single delicious meal, and enjoyed time off.

This vacation had been on the calendar for months but I think having a getaway while injured is a great idea. Getting completely away did wonders for my mood & distracted me from thinking about how many more days I had left in the boot. Put fun things on the calendar if you can!

Week 4: Back to it!

Monday– Rest + jet lag

Tuesday– 80 min spin

Wednesday – 90 min spin + 30 min strength (core, arms, glutes/hips)

Thursday – 45 min strength (Pilates DVD + random YouTube videos – this channel is particularly challenging and has a lot of workouts that can be done while injured)

Friday – 60 min spin + 20 min core strength

Saturday– REST

Sunday – REST

Week 5:

Monday – 60 min spin with 12 x 2 min hard spints, 1 min RI

Tuesday – 45 min pool run (ladder workout) + 35 min strength (core, glutes/hips, arms)

Wednesday – 90 min spin endurance

Thursday– REST

Friday – *55 min pool run (8 x 2:30 hard, 1 min RI) + 90 min spin (endurance with 10 x 1 min sprints at finish) = 2 hours 25 min cross-training session!

Saturday – REST – so much fun with friends in town & spectating Corey’s tri + beer festival

Sunday – REST

*I made a point to do one longer cross-training session this week to replicate the feeling of a long run. Splitting it up between the pool and the spin room was nice. I listened to my iPod in the pool and to a few podcasts on the bike so that the time would pass quickly. I definitely left the pool feeling like I worked hard. And the next day my legs were sore for the first time in weeks. Success!

Week 6: 

Monday – 75 min spin inc. 10 x 3 min sprints, 2 min RI (almost almost almost felt like 10 x 800s!)

Tuesday – 55 min pool run (2 sets 8 x 1:30 hard, 0:30 sec RI) +

Wednesday* – 60 min spin + 30 min strength (core, hips/glutes, arms)

Thursday *– 60 min pool run including 45 min ‘steady’ + 30 min Pilates core DVD

Friday* – 60 min pool run (7 x 5 min hard, 1 min RI) + 90 min endurance spin

Saturday & Saturday – REST + fun plans!

*Wednesday-Friday = what I have planned the remainder of this week

Once I got into a routine, I found it pretty easy to do 5-6 hours of cross-training a week and commit to strength training.

Don’t get me wrong. There have been some days when the absolute LAST thing I want to do is go to the spin room at my gym or take the bus to the pool to run. I miss my favorite running routes and especially the lakefront, especially given that it’s been so nice out lately. But lacking motivation to work out isn’t far off from a normal training cycle, especially when training for a marathon. It’s not all going to feel good and you’re not always going to want to do the work.

Strength training:

I had to modify some of my strength routines slightly to be non-weightbearing. I cut my hip/glute strength routine down to just two simple exercises because the rest of them put pressure on my foot. I know that once I’m cleared for normal exercise, I need to vigilant about committing to that routine again. The core routine is pretty similar to what I was already doing but I swapped out a few exercises. (Example: hip bridges were swapped for other exercises because I normally do these on a single leg – and didn’t want to put all of my weight on my left, injured foot.)

MODIFIED CORE ROUTINE:
  1. Slow bicycle
  2. Side plank – on knees!
  3. Bird dogs
  4. Leg lifts
  5. Locust pose/ Superman
  6. Australian crawl – (swim freestyle on stomach)
  7. Donkey kicks – 15-20 each leg
  8. Pushups with bent knees
  9. Side crunches- obliques
  10. Crunches with knees up – chair or couch
  11. Long lever crunches
MODIFIED Hip/Glute Routine:
  1. Clamshells with resistance band
  2. Lateral leg lifts

“Return to Running” Plans:

This advice is completely premature, as I’m not out of the boot quite yet. That said, this return to running plan caught my eye. A lot of others I found didn’t seem suited for a somewhat competitive runner. This seems like a conservative plan that aims to get you back to a full hour of pain-free running in about 7 weeks.

Screenshot 2015-09-24 16.03.00

My list of RECOVERY SANITY TIPS:

  1. Do something OTHER than obsessing about not being able to run. I picked up 2-3 books that I’ve been meaning to read and enjoyed actually having the time to read them! We fill our time so much with running sometimes that we forget there are other ways to enjoy an evening. I also went to a concert, joined some friends at a beer festival, celebrated a friend’s engagement, and scheduled dinners with friends on nights when I’d normally be running. 6 weeks is a good mental and physical reset.
  2. Podcasts podcasts podcasts, music music music. I listened to music in the pool and podcasts on the bike. There’s endless entertainment to get through hours of cross-training.
  3. Drink beer. There’s really nothing more I should have to say about that!
  4. Especially if you’re wearing a boot, wear a shoe with a heel or higher stack height on the opposite foot. I attempted to wear flats for all of 2 days after I started wearing the boot and my back was already noticeably sore. If you wear a higher shoe on the opposite foot, your hips won’t be all out of wack. (I was tired after walking so much in Copenhagen but not nearly as much as I would have been had I’d worn a flat.) ALSO – if you’re using the standard Aircast, buy a cheap insole to stick in the bottom of it. The boot itself is completely flat, so my doctor advised me to buy an insole so that my arch didn’t become sore and cause other problems. 2015-09-25 12.54.31 2015-09-25 12.55.22
  5. Complain to people that love you – to a point. A group message with friends can really help your mood when you’re feeling down and out. I tried not to complain about my own situation but whenever I did, I felt like my friends were there to make me laugh and ultimately get through 6 weeks without going crazy.
  6. Think about what your next race might be but do NOT register for it. I’m reminding myself of this even more now that the boot is close to going in the trash :fingers crossed: At first, I thought, “Oh, well I can definitely run a half before the end of 2015!”. Now, I feel like the last thing I want to do is rush back into a training plan. I’m looking at a run/walk plan for the first 4 weeks that includes 1-2 rest days between every single run before I get back to a normal schedule again. I’ll register when I feel ready but I haven’t spent much time dreaming about racing lately.
  7. Know that a lot of other runners have ‘been there, done that’! I was surprised at the number of strangers that asked me what happened to my foot and had a story of their own to share. While I didn’t really welcome it at first, it gradually started to make me feel like I wasn’t alone and that 6 weeks isn’t an eternity. Know that your life will still carry on and there are so so so many more miles to run in the future.

In my last post, I wrote: “I figure I either have 6 weeks to get a 6 pack OR 6 weeks to drink a many 6 packzzzz. I have a feeling those goals are not simultaneously compatible, but I think I’m up for the challenge, as always.” I can’t say whether or not I have a 6 pack and I lost count of how many 6 packs I consumed in 6 weeks so… let’s just say I’m feeling much better about running and *enjoying it* the rest of this year.

I hope this post helps someone else recovering from a stress fracture!

-J

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