Is it possible to run without injury, absolutely. Do most of us do all the things that would require (daily PT, stretching, never pushing beyond our limits, avoiding misplaced man hole covers)? Well no…so when rock star, shoot for the moon goal setter Nicole of Life Less BS recently found herself injured I wanted to know how she MENTALLY handled it because I knew she wouldn’t hold back!
This one starts where all adventures start, with one person looking at another person and saying, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if….?”
18 months later, I was well on my way to attempting to run across the US, 3,000+ miles from Los Angeles to NYC.
The route was set, the money was saved, the gear list had been checked and re-checked, and I had finally convinced my mother that I (probably) wasn’t going to die out there in the middle of a cornfield.
My fitness was soaring, my nutrition was on point, and everything was right on track. Until it wasn’t. It’s like that Mike Tyson quote, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Except mine was less of a dramatic face punch and more of the typical running-related injury that comes on slowly, from miles of overuse and days where my stubbornness kept me from listening to my body and backing off.
Have you ever tried that? Not listening to your body, I mean. It works for a while, but eventually your body’s messages just get louder and louder until you finally find yourself sitting in the physical therapist’s office, unable to even walk without pain.
I was injured, and it was time to put my ego aside and admit it.
In the eight months that have passed since that first session of physical therapy, the question I’ve been asked the most is this: “How did you handle that kind of setback? Do you have anything to share with people who are injured?”
Step 1: Throw yourself a pity party
First thing’s first: it’s okay to be sad. You just spent months (maybe even years) preparing for your event, and if you weren’t furiously disappointed I’m be concerned. Of course you’re upset! Angry. Questioning every little thing you might have done differently. I say, wallow in it – at least for a little while.
Let yourself actually feel your icky, confusing, stuck-in-the-bottom-of-the-hole feelings. You deserve time to grieve for the way your best laid plans and biggest dreams fell apart.
Step 2: Ignore everyone who brightly says, “It could be worse!”
After a few weeks of being injured, I considered making a shirt that said, “I KNOW IT COULD BE WORSE. PLEASE GO AWAY.”
Because oh my god if I didn’t want to smack each and every well-meaning person who rushed to tell me how much more serious my situation could be. “At least it’s not a broken leg!” “At least you weren’t in a horrible car accident!” I know. Believe me, I know. Just like I know that there are children without clean water, I know that in the grand cosmic scheme of things, my running injury is minor.
But in the moment, in my heart, in my life, it didn’t feel minor, and that’s okay. When you’re injured, it feels like a big deal because it IS a big deal. So let yourself off the hook for any guilt you have about being sad even though “it could be worse,” okay?
Step 3: Start a daily gratitude practice
On the heels of everything I just said, here’s some real talk: it could be worse. Once you’ve thrown yourself the galaxy’s grandest pity party, it’s time to get some perspective.
Start small. Buy a little notebook, leave it by your bedside, and write down three things you’re truly grateful for each night. Because no matter what’s going on with your running injury, you have plenty to be grateful for. A new episode of your favorite show, a warm breeze, your overall health, the fact that your shower has gloriously hot water – the list goes on.
I know this seems like hippie woo-woo advice, and that’s because it is. But guess what? Those hippies must know something, because this works.
Injured? It’s ok to feel like it’s a BIG deal, how to mentally get over it from @nicolelessbs on @runtothefinish
Step 4: Make rehab and physical therapy your new sport
“I ran back-to-back marathons a few weeks ago and now I’m not even supposed to WALK for more than a few minutes at a time!” If I had a dollar for each time I said something like that. Because yeah, injury is demoralizing.
But what if, instead of moaning about all the fitness you’ve lost, you make rehab your new sport? Do all those exercises and stretches with the same focus you’d give to a tough interval session on the track. Earn yourself a PR in “most consistent injury recovery.”
This type of work will never feel as fun and freeing as a long run, but getting serious about it instead of binge-watching Netflix while you dive face-first into a chocolate cake is what will get you on the road to full recovery. (You should probably have a little of that cake too though.)
Step 5: Remember that you are not your running
Running is something you do, but it’s not who you are. Sometimes we forget that, because running has the tendency to crawl under our skin and into our hearts and become both our therapy and our church. Without it, we feel lost.
“Who am I if I’m not a runner?” I asked myself that question a lot.
Turns out, it’s a question that needed to be asked, because any time we’re becoming overly attached to something it’s probably to the detriment of something else. So yes, being injured totally sucks, but maybe it’s also an opportunity to spend more time with the people who love you enough to support your crazy running antics all the other months of the year?
Step 6: Give yourself permission to let go
You had to pull out of your goal race. You went from being in the best shape of your life to… not. The season is ruined.
Listen (and you’re not going to like this) but it’s time to let that all go.
You can obsess about it and play the “what if” game from now until eternity, but what’s done is done, and the reason you’re suffering so much is because you’re desperately wishing that things were different. Things aren’t different; things are how they are. Give yourself permission to let go of the fact that things didn’t pan out exactly as you’d hoped, and move on. There’s always another race, another adventure.
Step 7: Remember that you’re going to be okay
This is the most important thing. You (yes, you) are going to be just fine. You’re wonderful and worthy, just the way you are, and no matter what happens with your foot or your knee or your IT band or whatever, I promise that you’re going to be okay.
What’s the worst injury you’ve had in running?
Nicole Antoinette is a writer, runner, and real-talk advocate. When she’s not out exploring the trails of Bend, OR, you can find her over at A Life Less Bullshit, hanging with her community of kind, fierce, and refreshingly imperfect people who are committed to the idea that we’re all just doing the best we can, and that no matter what we’re in this together.
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