I’m in the midst of training for an ultramarathon and should be just past my peak running week. Instead, my mileage two weeks ago was exactly zero.
Why? I had an odd niggle in my right hamstring. Not enough to (totally) freak me out, but enough to make me stop and take notice (and get my over-active imagination working overtime).
With all the extra time I suddenly had that was usually taken up by all those running miles, I got to thinking about what it means to be an injured runner – and how to be a good one.
BTW- after a week off from running, I’m back and feeling great (phew!)
How to Be an Injured Runner
To state the obvious, it’s hard to be an injured runner. You want to run, your friends are running. You maybe have a looming goal race and the training weeks are ticking by while you are doing nothing.
But the occasional injury is part of running.
Many injuries are minor and only take a few days’s rest to heal. Others may not be so simple.
Rule #1: Rest
The first rule of being an injured runner is to rest. Rest is part of the cure for nearly every running injury (note: I’m not a doctor, so I’m speaking colloquially, not medically).
Your body needs rest. If you don’t give your body the rest it wants and needs, it eventually will force you to rest by breaking down.
You have the discipline to run and to train.
Have the discipline to rest.
If you feel something funny on the run, especially if it’s something biomechanical that makes you change your running gait, take time off and rest.
If it doesn’t go away with a few days’ rest or if it’s of concern to you, go to a qualified professional and get it diagnosed.
Know what you are dealing with and what you should do to get better.
And before you ask: No, self-diagnosing on Google or WebMD doesn’t count as a ‘qualified professional.’
Deal With Your Body
Follow the advice of your qualified medical professional
If they say rest, rest.
Don’t run anyway, thinking it’s not that bad.
Listen to people who know what they are talking about.
If particular rehab plan is suggested – do it.
If foam rolling is advised – do it.
Focus on what you can do
Work with your doctor to figure out what you still can do with your injury.
Even if running is out (for the time being), focus on the activities that are still possible. Can you do strength work? Yoga? Biking or a spin class?
Don’t rush the return
I get it. No one likes to sit on the sidelines, especially if race day is quickly approaching.
But rushing it may very well do more damage.
Running too soon “just to test it out” is rarely (if ever) a good idea and will likely just slow your recovery.
Deal with Your Mind
Often the bigger hit during an injury is to your mind.
Especially if your injury is minor and will only keep you from running for a little while, the mental stress of the injury can be greater than the physical stress.
Allow yourself to grieve, but don’t wallow
If you have to take time away from running, allow yourself to grieve. If your injury will prevent you from doing an event you long trained for, give yourself time to mourn the loss of the goal.
But don’t let that grief turn into wallowing.
Be sad. Be angry, but then move on to something more productive.
Journal about your feelings of being injured or about being kept from working towards your goal.
I know, I’m a cliche of myself sometimes suggesting journalling as a solution to all the world’s problems, but I swear it will help.
Don’t ‘if only’
If only you’d stretched more.
If only you’d run a different route that didn’t have a curb to trip over.
If only… In only…
The injury has happened, dwelling on it won’t change that.
If you find yourself ‘if only-ing’ make it productive. Don’t just dwell on what you didn’t do in the past. Note what changes you should make in the future to prevent this (or a similar) injury from happening again after you return to running.
Watch your thinking
Injured runners tend to have too much downtime.
We may get in our own heads a little too much about the injury or what it could mean.
“What if I can never run again?”
“I’m a runner – who am I now if I can’t run?”
“I’m all alone. No one understands.”
Sure, being an injured runner sucks, but you are so much more than a runner.
Be optimistic, but don’t rely on wishful thinking
As in, be hopeful about your (hopefully quick) return to running, but don’t hope/assume/believe that everything will magically get better or heal itself without rehab, stretching, foam rolling or whatever else your doctor recommends.
Recovery usually takes work.
Adjust Your Running Goals
Especially if your return to running is uncertain, adjust your goals and make sure your goals are within your control.
When injured, you realistically are no longer in control of when you’ll return to running or if you’ll be able to run your goal race.
You can, however, still be goal-oriented.
Set goals related to your recovery – adhering as strictly to your rehab plan as you would your marathon training plan, or foam rolling 10 minutes every day, for example.
Focus on the Non-Running Stuff
There is a whole list of things that make you a good runner, and only one thing on that list is running.
Good runners also have quality sleep, a good diet, positive visualization skills, regular strength and mobility work, and cross-training, just to name a few.
Sure, running may be out for now, but focus on everything else on that list for a bit.
Enjoy Your Time Off
I may be committing runner sacrilege here, but enjoy not running for a bit.
Try other fitness classes (assuming you get the OK from your doctor).
Catch up with the friends and family you had to ignore while training for your big event.
Remember what it feels like to sleep in on a Saturday morning.
Or, if you want to stay active in the running community, volunteer or cheer at local races.