Undoubtedly, an injury is a setback for a runner (or any athlete for that matter). Or is it? I think the hardest thing about an injury is the timing. It never fails – the injury shows up when you have a solid goal in mind. Am I right? Rest days had been turning into run days, a night out with friends turns into an 8pm bedtime to be ready for the next long run. Your calendar is meticulous with workout paces and notes. Snap. It happens. Whatever it is. For me, it was an avulsion fracture. For you it may have been severe shin splits, a stress fracture, hip issues, a dislocated knee, major knots, an accident, severe illness, or something else. Whatever it is, it is miserable both mentally and physically. If you’re like me, you may even deny the fact something is wrong for a day or two. You’ll try again to run on it even if you know you shouldn’t. Why - because maybe, just maybe it will feel better. You may even feel mentally weak for not being able to push through the pain. Deep down, you have a feeling something is wrong, but you’re not ready to admit it. You’re not ready to admit the fact you know your training has been derailed and that you’re scared about what comes next.
Then it clicks – this injury isn’t going away with a couple days off and some ice. In fact, it’s not even going away with a couple weeks. Nope. Even though the doctor said “give it a couple weeks” you know deep down two means about eight. Of course your spouse and training partners have been telling you this, but you’re in denial. I know I’m not the only one who operates this way.
So how am I supposed to go about making the best of this time off? Not only am I in pain, but I cannot do what I enjoy. I cannot run – heck I can barely walk. It hurts when I walk, sit, lay, stand – it hurts to do anything. How frustrating. I guess I can catch up on all the recorded stuff on my DVR? But that’s not really what I want to do. I want to run.
If you’re like me and you feel as though you take good care of yourself (minus the occasional donut or four), it becomes even more frustrating. For me, I felt like I was in line to take on a physically demanding and challenging goal and then Coach Life said “Joy, you’re out” and pulled me out of the game for a while. Mentally, that’s challenging. Why now? What the heck am I supposed to be learning from this? Patience? Humility? Both? Maybe it’s a way of saying slow down. You’re not ready yet. Maybe something better is coming. Maybe there’s a lesson to learn or my body needs a break. Maybe I won’t know what the lesson is until a year from now. Perhaps it’s a reality check. Maybe it’s the fact I’m no longer 20 years old. Maybe it’s life telling me that my focus was in the wrong place and that I need to re-focus and re-prioritize. I could go on and on (and I bet you could too).
But, I realized the longer I beat myself up about it, the longer I was going to be out both physically and mentally. I tried to shift my focus into healing mode. What cross training could I do? How could I maintain some level of fitness? How could I incorporate more basic activity into my daily routine until I was able to run again? How could I be ready to begin easing back into training when those 6-8 weeks were up? Easing into training wasn’t quite as easy as I thought. Despite my time on the bike (I should add that I really dislike biking), I was riding the struggle bus pretty hard. But hey, a mile (or a half mile) at a time is something, right? Maybe it was the fact I was not in as good of shape as I hoped. Maybe it was because I was scared to re-injure myself. Maybe both. I was quickly frustrated by the fact my miles were no longer at 7:15-7:30 pace, but were closer to 8:30 pace. Then I told myself I needed to chill out. Stop it. Seriously. Just let it be, and let your body do what it needs to do to get back on track. As the injury heals, I could begin to work on speed, but it would be ludicrous to attempt to do too much at once. The point is to get better, not to re-injure myself again and end up back in that stupid boot. I think the key here is not to be in a hurry. It’s so easy to be driven by the “I want it now” mindset, but with an injury, it will take time. I’m still learning this. By “time” I don’t mean a week or even a month. Sometimes it can be a very long process. That’s something hard for me to grasp.
Do you ever take for granted the fact you are able to run? I know I do. A few weeks ago I met a little boy who was able to walk for the first time. Yes. He had been in a wheelchair his whole life and was finally able to walk. The smile on his face almost made me cry (and I don’t do that very often). He explained to me what it felt like to finally be able to walk. So here I am moping about the fact I have a fracture in my foot (that is almost healed now), and I’m not in the best shape, and I want to be faster and blah blah blah. This kid was beaming from ear to ear because he could walk. Did you catch that?
How easy is it for us to get so wrapped up in our own issues that we forget how fortunate we are? My fracture is almost healed and I’m back to 8 miles or so. So maybe it’s not at the speed I want yet, but at least I can run. I have decided to make the choice to celebrate the fact I am able to run. I want to celebrate nature, the outdoors, the freedom that running brings – I’m choosing to celebrate every step. Why not look at it this way? A healthy body is a gift and I am grateful for that! You know how sometimes we let one little bad thing ruin the whole day? Essentially, it’s the same thing. I’m not going to allow a little injury to ruin my running journey. Yes, that fracture is a flat tire on the way to work, or hot coffee spilled all over a new shirt, but guess what – it’s just a tiny thing that will later be a blip on the radar if I chose to make the best of it. If I choose to allow it to “ruin my day” and let it force me to give up on my goals, it will become the focus of my energy. It will not be a blip on the radar, but rather an all-consuming force that drives my mindset. I’m not going to allow that and I hope you don’t either.
I know it can be frustrating to deal with an injury especially when you have dreams and goals ahead. But remember that injuries of all kinds (physical, mental, emotional) are part of playing the game. They’re part of the sport, and they’re part of life. Quite frankly, being knocked down is part of life. That doesn’t make it easier though. Even if you eat well and take care of yourself, things will not always go smoothly. It’s so easy to feel down about your situation. I know. It recently happened to me. But let’s think long term. Focus on recovery, not on your current state of frustration. Remember that you still have goals, and that in order to reach them, your body must be healthy. So, work to keep your mind positive. I’m a firm believer that a positive mind is imperative to healing in a timely manner. So get your mind in the right place, and do what you can to heal your body. Cross train, clean up your diet, get adequate sleep, and stay positive. In the meantime, use your downtime from running to do something else you enjoy. Maybe it means more family time. Maybe it gives you time to read that book you wanted. Perhaps you’re able to try some new recipes in the kitchen, or have the garden you didn’t have time for. I have found that sometimes the time we gain during an injury allows us to take a step back and re-organize our time and priorities. That’s not always a bad thing.
Here’s the last thing I have to say. For me, an injury is a test. It’s a pause in training – an obstacle or hurdle to overcome if you will. It doesn’t mean failure and it doesn’t mean defeat. It’s a chance to heal your body and mind. It’s a chance to come out stronger, faster, and smarter on the other side. So here’s my advice. Work hard and be patient both in your training and in life. You’re going to be hurt whether it be in your career, personal, or athletic life – that’s a given. Learn from your injuries and realize that you cannot control everything. Don’t forget your injury as it taught you a lesson of some kind – a lesson you probably needed. If you are able to find a path with no obstacles, it likely doesn’t lead to anywhere worth going. Keep your head in the game and remember what Buddy Buie said, “A dead end street is just a place to turn around.”
Better. Faster. Stronger. Smarter.
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