Lessons Learned from a Cycle of Career Threatening Injuries

This is the story of my return to competitive racing after a three-year hiatus.

I haven’t had a race where I felt like I was running 100% normal since the 2017 World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships in Premana, Italy — that is until this past weekend at the Pikes Peak Marathon in Manitou Springs, Colorado. The past few years my running career has been plagued with several major injuries including stress fractures and an Achilles rupture, the latter of which left doctors and myself wondering if I’d ever return to competitive trail racing.

As a professional athlete for the Nike Trail Team, it’s a tough thought to consider that at the age of 23, when I’m just beginning to understand what trail running is all about, I might have to give up on my dreams of making this sport my profession. Not to mention how disappointed I felt letting my Nike teammates down for not being able to perform at the level I had hoped when I signed a contract with the team in 2017. These past few years seemed to be defined by a cycle — recover as fast as possible and rush into fitness for a race — only to discover shortly after a race I was still injured (or created another injury!) and I’d start the process of recovery all over again. I couldn’t string together even a month of consistent running and spent more time in a boot than out of it.

Pikes Peak Summit

The recent Pikes Peak Marathon goes down in my running career as a much-welcomed departure from this injury cycle. Aside from a few bruises and tweaks, I walked away from this race feeling perfectly content with my body and the way I ran. I felt happy with my performance, knowing that I did my best to get the most out of myself, while also feeling hungry for more next year. There are still many things I need to work to improve my time and have a shot at winning this race! In this article, I will describe what I did in my build up to the Pikes Peak Marathon to finally break out of my seemingly endless injury cycle. I hope you can learn from my mistakes and insights and find ways to avoid/recover from injuries to run healthy and happy!

Forget Racing!
When you’re diagnosed with a serious injury, you should forget about racing. I know this is hard to hear, especially for those of us who are naturally competitive or motivated by racing, but this is the best way to prioritize recovery. It’s too tempting to shorten recovery periods and re-injure yourself should you put racing above healing. I learned this lesson several times in the past few years. Most recently, I told myself after having achilles surgery in December 2018, that I would heal up in time to run the 2019 USATF Mountain Running Championships (photo below) nine months later in New Hampshire, USA. I successfully ran at the championships, but I was in no condition to race and realized afterwards that my body was compensating for imbalances and weaknesses still present throughout my body.


I allowed myself to get distracted by racing when I should have been doing more PT work and fixing these imbalances. I was extremely lucky to have walked away from that race without creating new injuries from these imbalances. My achilles certainly took an unnecessary beating because I’d set my mind on racing goals as opposed to doing my best to heal. In my “build up” to the Pikes Peak Marathon, I actually didn’t have racing on my mind at all. I signed up for the race in the last few weeks before the event. My number one goal these past few months was getting back to feeling 100% on my runs and through first achieving this goal, I raced to my potential at Pikes Peak.

Complete Recovery Over Speedy Recovery
Although injured runners want to get back to running as soon as possible, this goal should come second to making a full recovery. There were several times throughout the past few years where I felt small “niggles” or little injuries that I chose to ignore and run through. Little injuries often lead to bigger injuries! It’s always the smarter choice to let injuries heal before moving forward with your training or racing. In these past few months before the Pikes Peak Marathon, anytime I felt a small injury or even just too much fatigue, I would stop running and rest until I felt normal. I learned that to be a serious athlete, you must commit to your recovery as fully as you do to your training. No shortcuts. It’s the more logical choice in the long run to treat little injuries with the respect they deserve. Ask yourself which of these two scenarios is the better choice: take five days off of running and you can be fairly certain your injury will heal completely, or take one day off and return to running with a minor pain and hope that it will go away on its own. Odds are that in the second scenario the injury won’t go away, or even if it does it will return in the following weeks and you will be stuck in the injury cycle. In the long run, it’s the better choice to never rush recovery.

Tayte Winter Running

Trust Your Training
Let training be your guide for what you should or shouldn’t do, not your expectations or pressure from others. In the past few years, I often had it in my head that I could race or perform challenging workouts off very little training because that’s where I expected or wanted myself to be. In June 2018, I thought, “I should run at the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships because I’m qualified for the team, even though I’m not properly trained.” Somehow, I made it through that race with a decent result, but physically and mentally this race put me on a downward spiral. Without proper training, my body broke down throughout the weeks after the race and I watched my fitness deteriorate, as opposed to building — a difficult process to deal with mentally.

My approach to the Pikes Peak Marathon (Photo below by Peter Maksimow) was different. I signed up for the race because I realized that my training this summer had sufficiently prepared me for the challenges of the race. I had hiked or run nearly ten 14,000-foot peaks this summer, including Pikes Peak, and was able to run and recover from significant uphill training runs nearly every weekend. There was no doubt in my mind that I could run well at the Pikes Peak Marathon. I say this not out of self confidence but to remind you that when you put in the training the race is much more likely to go your way. I like to think of racing as the celebration of all the great work you put in during training. There’s nothing to stress about when the miles are in your legs!

Tayte Pikes Peak Marathon

Take it Slow
The biggest difference in my training these past few months was my SLOW buildup. When you come back from injury and get the green light from coaches/medical professionals to begin running, it can be very tempting to run too much too soon. Think less (running) is more (beneficial) as opposed to more (running) is just more (damaging). This is especially true if you are coming back from serious injuries that have kept you from running for months or years. Even if your major muscle groups and lungs stay strong due to cross training, that doesn’t mean your body is prepared for the specific demands of running. It takes time for your connective tissues, fascia and smaller muscle groups to adapt to the stresses of running. This past February, I was able to Nordic ski nearly three hours everyday and hardly feel sore, whereas when I went for a 20-minute training run I’d feel sore everywhere the next day. Build up your weekly running mileage slowly, and don’t go too fast. Speed intensifies stresses on your body. To better understand the slow nature of my progression into running for 2020, see below:

  • January: 1 or 2 short runs per week (no more than 15 minutes each)
  • February: 2 to 3 runs per week (15 to 20 minutes)
  • March: 3 to 4 runs per week (20 to 35 minutes)
  • April: 4 runs per week (30 to 40 minutes)
  • May: 5 runs per week (30 to 60 minutes)
  • June: 5 to 6 runs per week (30 to 75 minutes, with one longer run)
  • July: 6 to 7 runs per week (30 to 90 minutes, with one longer mountain run). Roughly 50 miles per week.
  • August: (6 to 7 runs per week (30 to 90 minutes, with one longer mountain run). Roughly 60 miles per week.
Leadville Skiing

Replace Running
For those of you experiencing a very serious injury that will take you away from running for months or even years, it is important that you find new activities that keep you happy and motivated. If you’re like me and trail running is your favorite activity in the world, it can be difficult to come to terms with the fact that you won’t be able to do this activity. In the past few months, I’ve been able to fill my life with more activities that bring me joy than I ever thought possible. I’ve spent more time writing, taking photos, playing guitar, cooking, going on mountain adventures with friends and learning to Nordic ski and make goat cheese. Also, don’t be afraid to try something new! I tried skydiving and learned to dirt bike, two things I’ve really enjoyed and completely didn’t expect! All of these activities have helped me feel fulfilled and stay mentally strong throughout the comeback process. Trust that your running will return, but in the meantime let it go and find fulfillment in new and healthy ways.

Tayte Pollmann’s articles are supported by American Trail Running Association corporate member Nike Trail Running. You can follow Tayte’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you liked this article, read even more of Tayte’s articles on our website.