I’m injured, well strictly speaking I may not be injured, but my nervous system is telling me I’m injured so the end effect is much the same; over the last couple of days there have been points where I’ve been unable to walk without assistance let alone run. Anyway, this post isn’t to take you through the ins and outs of my injury, but to dig it into the psychology of injured runners and try and help other runners get through their injuries.
For me running is a big part of my life, I love being outside, I love the company of runners (well most of them anyway!), I love exploring by foot and the idea of an extended period without running makes me pretty miserable and, I guess, probably makes you pretty miserable too – in fact if it doesn’t, have you considered another hobby? Painting watercolours maybe?
Usually the first stage of the psychology of being injured is the realisation that something is not right, but there’s still that glimmer of hope – if its a niggle that’s been getting worse and strength training isn’t helping then you begin to think you might need to do something more dramatic but maybe just a few more days will fix it – or if its a sudden ping or tear or tweak that stops you in your tracks then you hobble home and think it might sort itself out with 24 hours rest. This stage is like a black cloud in the distance but heading your way; a rational person will tell you to put a coat on, but you keep hoping that the wind will change direction at the last moment…
The next stage is my least favourite, although that’s probably because I’ve not had an injury that’s put me out of action for months (yet), this is the stage where it has become impossible to live in denial any more and you have to accept that you need some professional help – for me, in my most recent state, this came when crawling to the bathroom as I couldn’t bear any weight on one of my legs – but you don’t yet have any idea of the prognosis. Am I going to be out of action for days? Weeks? Months? Permanently? At this point you can’t even start to plan for what’s next, because you just don’t know what’s next.
Hopefully, the next stage is seeing a professional (probably a physio) and getting yourself a diagnosis, prognosis and a recovery plan, of course, you might not and in a few weeks you might be back at the previous stage, but for the moment at least, there is hope!
This isn’t a post about the mechanics of returning from injury, but even so my key tips would be:
- Keep doing what you are able to – a long break (more than 2 weeks) will cause strength loss and put you at higher risk of injury when you do return – thankfully modern physios don’t usually recommend complete rest.
- Add things that you’ve had to stop doing with 48 hours between them, i.e., don’t go out and do a bike ride, a run and strength training on the same day – if they do trigger something then you won’t know which caused it.
- Make sure that you do the strength training needed to prevent recurrence.
- If the injury starts to become more uncomfortable during a run than when you started then stop straight away.
With luck you now have a plan to get back running, but its important to realise that recovery from injury is not necessarily a linear process, there will be set backs; some days you will wake an feel much better than the day before, but some workouts you will set out feeling good and then have to hobble home feeling like you’re back to square one.
What would my advice be? Firstly, focus on what you can still do – if you can still walk, go out and walk, if you can’t walk then maybe you can do some yoga or some bodyweight strength work, if you can’t do that then find other things that you can do that you have perhaps been neglecting due to all the running (my family is very pleased with all the broken things around the house that have been fixed over the last few weeks!)
Secondly, accept that you will need to grieve for a loss – some of your plans, some of your enjoyment of the next few weeks and some of your goals may be no more; it may feel a little self indulgent to wallow in those lost things, but you will need to at some point and the sooner you do it, the sooner you can begin to enjoy what’s next.
Next, remember that time goes quickly – maybe a month from now, maybe 6 months from now, maybe a year from now, you will have arrived at some new reality; you may not be the same as you were before you were injured, you may be faster, you may be slower, you may have learned to love something new, but one thing is for certain; time will not stop.
I’ve said this a few times before and I’ll say it again here; keeping a training diary is so helpful – even when you’re not training – a record of how you felt in the morning, whether anything triggered a relapse, how you felt in the evening, any exercise you did – it will all be incredibly helpful in learning to avoid the things that worsen the injury. But more importantly, with a little luck, a scan back through the diary will show you just how far you’ve come.
And finally, a word of caution, it can be very easy for an enjoyment of a sedentary lifestyle to creep back in, so once you are at a point where you feel you have some confidence in how much you will be able to do over the course of any give week, start planning your sessions for the upcoming days or find a friend or coach to keep you accountable as you begin to get back into some kind of routine.
Anyway, its now two months since I began writing this post and its reached that time in my injury journey where I can start looking forward again and planning for the future – I know I may have set backs – but for the moment it’s good to be back! Stay healthy everyone and happy running!