Let’s face it. You’re devastated. I’m devastated. We’re all devastated when it comes to running injuries. So much of our identities revolve around running, and while we’re often fine taking running off by our own omission, it’s terrible for us to take time off when it’s thrust upon us instead.
My first major injury occurred in Grade 9 from being pushed on an indoor turf soccer field, landing on (and breaking) my collarbone. Following this, it then became easier to accumulate other injuries, particularly on my left-side. Other than a broken big toe on my right, my other major injuries have all come on the left – from a torn hamstring to a collapsed diaphragm to now plantar fasciitis. I see this all the time with athletes in professional football. Once one major injury occurs, it then becomes easier for a host of other injuries to follow. And as I mentioned, this can often be devastating to our ultramarathon training.
While I wanted to go back into the running with the intention of not re-addicting myself, it obviously became incredibly easy to fall in love with the sport again to the point of addiction after seeing my progress. My pace across speed workouts and long runs shot up like a cannon, and I could handle longer distances like never before. Unfortunately, I also beat up an undiagnosed plantar fasciitis in my left-foot before it became unbearable to not only run, but walk. Knowing that my metabolism, mood, overall happiness and my craving for competition had all shot up like a cannon just like my pace and endurance, needing to take time off occurred at a frustrating time.
But now that I’m in this situation once more, I must maintain a positive mindset and work toward recovery. So with that, I give some of my best tips for coping with a running injury, partially for my own sake (but also to aid you in your recovery).
ACCEPT THE SITUATION
It’s incredibly easy to dwell on the negative when we suffer through an injury. So the key to the process is in eliminating the suffering, and maximizing the positive. It’s easy to focus on all the progress lost, or the frustrations of having to restart the process from scratch. But you need to accept the cards that you’ve been dealt, and make the most of it with a new training regimen on whatever you can do to stay fit, whilst avoiding pressure to the injury.
Depending on the injury, this can be a difficult task. But for most of my injuries (in fact – even the broken toe), I’ve been able to carefully hop on an indoor cycle. I lost significant levels of fitness each time during this period, but now I’m getting smarter with my alterations of workouts and ensuring that I’m still doing some speed work on the bike to maintain that cardiovascular strength and endurance (within the bounds of my injury).
Before doing any form of exercise on an injury, I always make sure to research whether it’s safe or not to apply pressure in this manner, or if in fact, no pressure will be applied at all. I’ve done pool running on a broken toe, walks around the neighbourhood on the torn hamstring, and now cycling workouts on plantar fasciitis. Endeavoring to stay active and keep my fitness high, I’ll do whatever I can to stay fit without aggravating the injury. For a majority of injuries, you’ll likely find yoga or strength workouts dedicated to your specific injury, that might even help your recovery.
The key to continuing physical activity in the midst of an injury is seeking activities that bring you 0% pain and minimal pressure or strain on the injury itself. If you’re able to research beforehand to ensure no further damage will be done, and you’re not experiencing pain during the workout, I would suggest you’re good to go. You can then try and apply workouts that would closely resemble what you’d be hitting out on the roads. I recently did a 60-kilometre indoor cycle haul, trying to replicate the feelings of those long 30km runs I’d been conducting pre-injury. Obviously the energy being expended is in many ways dissimilar, but the feeling in the legs was not all that different. So while many injuries restrict your movement, you don’t have to let them be a death sentence if you’re careful and meticulous about your recovery.
Regardless of exercise on an injury or not, the important thing is to let those fears and doubts go, and focus on getting stronger for the future. Instead of dwelling on the past, focus on ensuring these kinds of injuries don’t happen again from the new knowledge you’ve now gained.
KEEP YOURSELF OCCUPIED
Beyond exercise, it’s important to thrust yourself into other hobbies that you enjoy, and perhaps even taken on new ventures that you hadn’t previously had the time for with your persistent running. Since taking time off, I’ve focused more on yoga and injury research. This has led me on a path toward learning how to prevent injuries on a grander scale.
Meanwhile, I’m endeavouring to maintain the routines I had pre-injury. This is an essential component to the recovery process from a mental perspective, ensuring your whole life isn’t thrown upside down from the injury.
While the balance of your life may be thrown for a loop, you can still maintain a similar schedule, and work toward finding new and exciting opportunities. If you’re like me and you suffer from chronic injury-itis, you may want to take the time to develop strategies over how you’re going to avoid injuries in the future. My old running coach used to joke about wrapping me up in bubble-wrap. While it was the kind of joke that was and still is just so true, this kind of mentality only helped to reinforce in my mind that there was nothing I could do – I was always going to get injured. In fact, throughout my first eight weeks of ultramarathon training, I was almost waiting for something to go wrong. Now I’m trying to develop better mindsets, and put together an action plan for how I can achieve greater longevity in the sport.
STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS
One of the greatest mental battles of the injured runner is to stop thinking about all that they have lost, not just in relation to themselves, but in relation to others. Like life, you need to stop comparing yourself to others. You will get back out there and eventually be fitter, faster and stronger than before. You’ve done it before through previous injuries. Remember that.
So while you won’t always know how long it’s going to take and how long you’re going to be out, you need to focus on yourself and what you can control. That controllable is (to an extent) your recovery and your mindset.
Running injuries can be devastating and debilitating, and can often only lead to more injuries as you compensate or weaken one side of your body. But with the right training regimen throughout your injury and the right mindset – focusing on the growth that you can gain, you can come out the other side of your injury as a better runner. It takes time and patience, and a lot of frustration, but you will get through this. You’ve done it before, and you can do it again.
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