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 I found myself with an unexplained injury, I knew it was time to figure out how to handle it.
What happens when your daily therapeutic tool for relieving stress, working through problems and finding a moment of zen is ripped away?
It’s like that Mike Tyson quote, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
Except, I really thought deep down in my heart, I had a solid plan!
- I do daily PT to keep my IT Band happy
- I started consistently cross training
- I’ve been running roughly the same mileage for ages, no major ramp ups
- I focus on making anti-inflammatory choices
- I watch my stress levels and make training choices that keep me overall feeling happy
Which is why when my knee began to swell and I lost complete knee extension, I assumed it was a niggle. You know those little weird things that happen sometimes with distance running. I pulled on a compression knee sleeve, iced and after a few weeks hit up my sports specific chiropractor who does deep tissue work.
Swelling went away, but I still couldn’t extend my leg. Then I started to get some knee pain.
MRI, Orthopedic Dr, new Orthopedic Dr, CT scan, new vascular Dr, another MRI, back to second ortho….7 months of insanity with no clear cut resolution yet. Which leads to the very smart and inevitable question:
“How are you handling this emotionally? I mean running is your passion, your life…but you seem to be pushing on. What would you recommend for those who are going through it?“
Oh man, you bet I do. So here goes. If you’re injured, this one’s for you.
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’d 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. I’m not saying stay there forever, but I don’t know anyone who skips this phase and doesn’t unleash fury on unsuspecting people later.
Step 2: Ignore Everyone Who Brightly says, “It’ll Make You Stronger”
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!” “But it’s just going to make you so much stronger.” “Everything happens for a reason.”
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 this moment, in my heart, in my life, it doesn’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,” and you do know deep down you’ll likely come out the other side, stronger, smarter and a better person…just not today, 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.
One of the ways I did this was to immediately figure out, what I could still do.
Can’t walk well, but I can bike.
Can’t do lunges, but my upper body is fully functional for some killer strength workouts.
Can’t run long distances, but trails seem to feel a little better for some hiking or short runs.
Next, it’s time to embrace the world of affirmations and gratitude. You’ve got to be willing to work on your mind because your standard tool for working out issues has been removed.
- Try the 5 Minute Journal to help you stick to a daily gratitude practice
- Walk and listen to things like Louise Hay and Esther Hicks who focus on choosing better thoughts
- Consider adding a little mindfulness to your day
- Remember gratitude can be tiny…I woke up today, I felt the sunshine on my face, no one told me “it could be worse”.
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.
Step 4: Make Rehab Your New Sport
“I ran 20 miles last weekend and now I can’t walk the length of the grocery store!!” If I had a dollar for each time I said something like that. Because yeah, injury is demoralizing, especially when you’ve got plans that you’ve announced to the world! Look at me I’m running this race, aiming for that PR, sponsored by a great company…oh and PS, now I can’t do diddly.
But what if, instead of moaning about all the fitness you’ve lost, you make rehab your new sport?
I’m consistent with pre-hab, but fanatical about REHAB. 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 Love Other Things
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.
That also means that as a runner, you have to give yourself permission to enjoy the bike, hitting the gym, swimming, reading a book! They aren’t the same, but as long as you hold on to the notion of “I’m a runner” it makes it much harder to give yourself freedom to truly enjoy doing other things.
Step 7: Remember 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.
It may not happen in the time frame we’d like, but it will be ok. Maybe a new normal, maybe the old normal, either way it will be ok.
“Emotional recovery isn’t really linear,” says Carrie Cheadle in an Outside Online article, a professor of sports psychology at John F. Kennedy University in Pleasant Hill, California, who leads an injured-athlete support group. “It cycles through denial, distress, determination, and often back to denial again. There are lots of highs and lows.”
What’s the worst injury you’ve had in running?
How long did you have to take off?
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This is a revision of an early article on RTTF written in conjunction with Nicole Antoinette.