6 Things Every Runner Experiences When Coming Back From Injury
The Stages of Dealing with a Running Injury
You set your alarm for 5 a.m. every day so you can be running by 5:30. You enjoy the quiet darkness during your first few steps, and take a moment to appreciate (and Instagram) the always-impressive mid-run sunrise. By 6:30, you're ready to start your day, and you ride that runner's high all the way to an inevitable 3 p.m. crash (because, remember, you woke up so early).
You're a runner. It's what you do, it's how you sweat, and it's who you are.
But maybe one day you accidentally trip over the curb while Snapchatting-and-walking, or you get into a pattern of training so hard for an upcoming race that you're suddenly running too much. And then—BRB, putting entire life on hold—you find yourself injured. (Watch out for these five common running injuries.) It's tough to deal with the physical ramifications of a running-related injury, but it's equally difficult handling the emotional aspect of being benched. You're bound to encounter these six emotions as you deal with your injury and comeback. (And, promise, they're all totally normal.)
No one plans to get injured. So when you find yourself sidelined, it's understandably irritating. Whether you were training for a race or just adding extra cardio to your fitness lineup, getting injured as a runner pulls the rug out from under you, says Beth Risdon, a runner, triathlete, and blogger at Shut Up and Run. "Suddenly you're unable to do something that makes you feel so accomplished, that helps you cope with life, and that makes you feel strong. It's natural to feel angry, frustrated, sad, or even a little pathetic," she says.
It's tempting to treat the anger with Cheez-Its and quality time with The Real Housewives, but self-pity won't make the road to recovery any easier. "Get up and find something—anything—that makes you feel athletic," says Risdon. "Water running and swimming aren't my favorite activities and they pale in comparison to how much I love running, but they got me out of the house and got my heart rate up when I was coming back from a stress fracture. I felt like myself again."
That thing you did that led to your injury, whether it was a klutzy fall or over-training? Now's the time to curse yourself for letting it happen in the first place, says Megha Doshi, local marketing director of Strava. "You can't help but play the if-only-I-hadn't-done-that game," she says. "And regardless of whether you're scolding yourself for deciding to go downhill mountain biking with no experience or because you ran through the achiness in your foot that turned into Plantar Fasciitis, there's almost always a feeling of wishing you could press rewind and have another chance to make the right decision."
The best way to move forward is to remind yourself that we all make mistakes—even professional runners—and that you will bounce back. "Taking time off isn't going to change who you are or make you a lesser person," Doshi says. "It's just another challenge to get through that will ultimately make you stronger physically and emotionally, as both a runner and a human."
You're cleared to run—yay! But you're terrified. "Every step in the first few weeks or months back will be plagued with fear," says Elizabeth Maiuolo, a running biomechanics coach and blogger at Running and the City. "Fear you didn't wait long enough, that you didn't do enough while you were off, or that the injury will come back. It can make you second guess every run." But instead of letting fear paralyze you from enjoying those sweet first post-injury steps, just ease into it. Start slow and make it fun for a while before pushing yourself to go harder, better, faster, longer.
"After a few days back on the run, reality sets in," says Michele King Gonzalez, marathoner and Ironman finisher, who blogs at NYC Running Mama. The excitement of being able to run again is gone, and now you've realized that, whoa, all that time off didn't do much for your physical fitness. (Your Fitness Progress Fades Faster Than You Think.)
"It's extremely frustrating to feel like you're starting from the beginning," says Gonzalez. "You've spent weeks and months working hard to improve your fitness, mileage, and paces, and then you have to retrace your steps." The best thing you can do, Gonzalez says, is have patience. "Allow yourself the time that's necessary to rebuild, and remind yourself that you can be stronger and faster the second time around."
Coming back is hard. Once you can accept that and move on, it's time to set your sights on your goals. "You can either pout and work through all the Ben & Jerry's flavors, or accept it and fight like hell to stick to your rehab program and look for progress," says running coach Isang Smith. "But accepting your position and focusing on a new strategy can help you cope." Set a goal, whether it's an upcoming race or a distance goal, and commit to working toward it. "Your recovery will be faster if you maintain a positive mindset," Smith says. (And Cutting Yourself Some Slack Can Lower Your Risk of Running Injuries.)
Once the injury heals and the awkwardness subsides, thankfulness tends to sink in. "Sorting out the emotions around running setbacks can sometimes be more difficult than dealing with the physical pain," says Debora Warner, founder and president of Mile High Run Club in New York City. "I've often joked that I feel like half a person when I'm not running, so there's no better perspective that can only come from a forced break to remind me of how lucky and grateful I feel when I can return to running again. The gratitude far outweighs any fear or stress associated with recovery."