It’s said that somewhere between 50 to 90% of runners take time off each year due to a running related injury. So, it’s safe to say that if you’re a runner, you’ve been injured. Even if you’re one of the fortunate few who get to work with a Coach, a Physical Therapist, a Massage Therapist, AND a Doctor, you most likely haven’t been able to avoid injury. And if you’ve been injured you’ve likely experienced a slew of emotions similar the 5 stages of grief that are felt when we lose a loved one. Why ? Because being a runner becomes part of our identity and when we’re injured and can’t run, it often feels like we’re losing part of ourselves. Tell me if this sounds familiar:
Denial: “I’m not injured. I’ll just keep running. It doesn’t hurt that bad.”
Anger : “Damn it! These damned shoes must’ve caused this! And what do I even pay my coach for if I’m getting hurt?! THE SUN IS TOO DAMN BRIGHT!”
Bargaining: “If I can just run I’ll do less speed work… I’ll run on softer surfaces… I’ll run lower mileage…”
Sadness: [this is often a private feeling]
Acceptance: “I am injured. I need time to heal.”
While it is essential and necessary to process emotions like these, we need not feel all of these emotions in such extremity over a set back in our training. Is it ok to feel frustrated? Yes. Is it ok to feel bummed out? Absolutely! It’s perfectly normal, but if we can skip straight to accepting our injury, we can get on the path to recovery and heal much faster.
You’re most likely an endorphin junkie, so first order of business is transferring all running related workouts to non-impact aerobic activities so that you don’t slip into a fit of endorphin withdrawal induced rage and end up on Judge Judy. Here’s an example: If you had 10 miles total planned for today with 10 x 1 minute on, 1 minute off @ Critical Velocity pace, hop on the stationary bike, warm up, and then hammer out 10 x 1 minute on, 1 minute off @ perceived 10K “run” effort. Most of your non running aerobic maintenance can simply be easy to moderate effort activities such as cycling, elliptical, or water aerobics (depending on the injury). You should also focus on balancing out any weaknesses that may have contributed to your injury, so that you can limit the chances of it recurring.
To keep self pity to a minimum it’s helpful to remember that we all experience struggle. I often think of one of my favorite quotes by Thomas Moore “We are wounded simply by participating in life… To think that the proper or natural state is to be without wounds is an illusion.” This reminds me that I am not special in regards to this injury, and also, that I am not alone.
During your healing process it’s also important to stay positive and to keep running in perspective. It’s part of who we are, it’s part of what we do and it’s something that we love, but for most of us, it’s not ALL of who we are. I encourage our athletes to order the following in this way: 1. Family 2. Career/Academics 3. Running.
Remember that there are plenty of other enjoyable things in life to focus on while you’re taking time off. Do your best to do other things that bring you and your family joy. Take your spouse wine tasting, go out to eat at a new restaurant, take the kids to a wildlife safari. Use the time that you normally have allotted for running to do other things that matter even more. Make breakfast for the family, walk the dogs a little longer, clean the house, read a book. Enjoy your life!
Your running injury is not the end of the world and you are not alone. You will likely be a stronger runner because of it – just take a look at Shalane Flanagan’s story! Smile. Balance your body, calm your mind, and move forward. You are amazing and you will continue to do amazing things.