HOW TO COPE MENTALLY WITH AN INJURY
As runners there are three words we never want to hear: “No more running.” It’s tough news to digest and especially if you are just starting to find your stride or you have a race coming up. Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the sport and they happen to many of us but as you go through your own abbreviated version of the Kübler-Ross stages of grief - denial, anger and acceptance - here are a few things you can keep in mind to help you cope mentally with being injured.
You are listening to your body. If you typically give your body what it wants & needs while you’re training (the proper nutrition, hydration, etc.) then why wouldn’t you allow it to recover from an injury? This is also something else it needs and it's found a very effective way to show it. It’s a tough thing to do, but by listening to your body you are doing yourself A LOT of good.
Even good runners get injured. It’s true! Running injuries don’t discriminate; they can happen to anyone regardless of ability or experience level. This is not to suggest that we should find comfort in other people’s misery but it does help to know that you are not somehow exceptionally prone to getting injured. There are others just like you!
This is a learning opportunity. Every runner that I have ever worked with has benefitted from something he/she learned while recovering from an injury. Whether it’s a new recovery tool or technique, or a better understanding of how your body responds to training, there is always something that being injured can teach you and that is a very big silver lining. Start to think about when the injury began to manifest itself (because it’s often something that starts off relatively small, then gets progressively worse) and what your training was like around that time. Did you run longer and harder than you have in a while then follow it up with a very intense workout without much recovery time? Did you build your mileage up too fast? Did you wear the right shoes for the activity? Were you getting enough sleep? Were you diligent with your recovery (stretching, rolling your muscles, icing any sore or irritated joints)? Take mental notes and commit to incorporating this knowledge into your training next time.
The running will still be there. Whenever you get back to good running health, the running will greet you at the door and show you a good ol’ time! Most of us are not elite athletes who are on performance-based sponsorship contracts or on a strict timeline and worried about the longevity of their career. The majority of us can take our time while recovering from an injury, and the key to doing this is getting out of our own heads about how fast we think it should take. It’s always in our heads!
You can run while you recover. All hope is not lost. When I was recovering from a hairline fracture in my lower leg I would routinely test it to see if I was able to run again. Then the time came when I could indeed put some running weight on it while it was still healing. This required a proper warm-up, the right shoes (the more cushioned the better) and a very gradual return to running (10-15 minutes at a time). I was less concerned about the miles than I was about the total time spent on my feet and I continued to run like this for weeks WHILE I was healing.
Stay involved. Running has a natural way of keeping you connected to others and motivated through the collective spirit of the running community, but the opposite is also true. When you’re not running it can be easy to become withdrawn because you’ve suddenly lost this connection. It doesn’t have to be this way. Finding ways to stay involved with something that is running-related can improve your mood and help you cope with your time off. This can be a great time to volunteer at a local race, help with a youth running program, assist with a running or fitness clinic or just drop by your local running store and chat it up with the staff or your running buddies. You may be surprised by what you learn or the perspective that it gives you.
Lean on your friends. Another way to avoid being withdrawn is to share the nature of your injury with your fellow running buddies. Runners are exceptionally supportive people and being able to talk about your experience can have a therapeutic and reassuring effect.
The fact is that running injuries are all too common but I’ve discovered that the trick is to be able to mentally cope with them and keep your head in the game so that you can come back to the sport stronger and better prepared to train again.
Stay mentally tough! You'll get through this.