Injuries are a runner’s worst nightmare, but how you react can make a big difference in helping you return both physically and mentally stronger from the sidelines.
Someone asked me recently what scared me the most. I had a simple answer. Injury.
Like it or not, injuries are, unfortunately, part and parcel of the sport we are in. If you speak to any runner, I can guarantee the memories of their injury nightmares never leave them.
Those dark days of rest, rehab and cross-training can be long and lonely and at times demoralising, especially when you hit setbacks along the way.
Positively though, you can get to running your best, without running. There are great stories of individuals who have run personal bests within a couple of races back post injury and having experienced plenty of injuries myself I have learnt a thing or two along the way.
So here is my advice, from runner to runner, to returning to the start line both physically and mentally fit.
Admitting the truth
Admitting that you are injured is the first stage of a positive return to running, but it is also possibly the hardest stage of them all.
Running through pain usually not advisable and I have adopted the saying ‘no pain, no gain’ too many times, when really I should have stopped, walked home and gone straight to the physio.
Of course, you will inevitably pick up the odd pain and ache here and there, and sometimes you can get away with reducing the intensity and amount of running you are doing to maintain your training.
However, if you are getting back from runs in more pain, waking up in pain and not being able to go about your everyday life without the aches, then it is time to admit to yourself that your body is injured.
Google does not count when seeking medical advice. Referring to the ‘Dr Google’ will not only lead you to down a false path of horror stories and soon you will believe you’re going to lose a leg.
It could also guide you down the wrong path in relation to what exercises and rehab programs you should be following.
So the most important step is seeking the correct medical help. This should be your number one priority, whether that be going to see a physio, doctor or both. Getting a proper diagnosis won’t only help you sort out the problem, but also help to settle your mind too.
Also don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion if you believe that it might be necessary.
Doing what you are told
This is way easier said than done, especially when you are concerned about keeping fit, working hard and getting back to running as soon as you can.
We all have race plans and goals that we want to achieve and when an injury comes and slaps you in the face, it is almost like you are waving goodbye to something you have worked so hard to achieve. But you’ve got to be realistic.
At the end of the day you only have one body, and listening to the advice you have been given is ultimately going to help preserve it for as long as possible. I am sure I am not the only person who has been told to stop running by a physio, only to go home, lace up and just ‘test it out’.
Well, from bitter experience, I urge you not to try this. Rather, by doing what you are told, you are more likely to make a comeback sooner rather than later.
Use cross-training to your advantage
Now, this is where I will admit that there have been times when I have sat in the car outside the gym sobbing to myself not wanting to go in to get on the elliptical or the bike for the second time that day.
Yes, cross training can be a lonely place.
Yes, it can be boring.
Yes, it can drag on.
And yes, it can suck to end up on a bike next to someone on a running machine.
But it is a means to an end, and can be very productive if you give it a chance and commit to it. I’m not going to kid you into thinking that an hour’s session on the elliptical is as fun as 20×400 on the track, but if you work hard enough you can gain the same physiological outcomes. Treat cross training just as seriously as you treat your running. However, you can not train hard on a bike, in the pool or on the elliptical ALL THE TIME.
Your body still needs rest and recovery. I have fallen into the trap in the past thinking that because I couldn’t run I had to ‘smash it’ every time I stepped on to the bike or the elliptical. I was wrong and dug myself into a hole, which then required getting out of, on top of getting my injury sorted.
Rather, treat cross training like you would running. Have easy days, some hard sessions and do some aerobic ‘long’ work. ‘Treat’ yourself to some awful TV to pass the hours when you’re not deep into a sweat, and use the time as productively as you can. In a follow-up article, I will outline some cross training examples.
It can be challenging to keep motivated when you are injured. You see others out running, you see results from races you should have been in, and you have a lack of instagramable running photos.
But it is possible to keep motivated by setting yourself little goals along the way when injured. I would suggest that you get into a routine. Hit up the gym at the same time every day. Have a nice post session meal ready. If you have spa facilities at your gym, why not treat yourself afterwards. Whatever it is that keeps you in the groove, remember that it won’t be forever.
Do your rehab/prehab exercises
As boring as they are, and yes, they are long and tedious, but these little exercises will help you get back up and running as quickly as possible. It is very likely that the physio will give you a long list of what seems like pointless exercises, but trust me they are not.
I have personally found going to the gym, instead of at home, helps to get the rehab/prehab exercises done. There are fewer distractions and I haven’t got the excuse of ‘I’ll do it later’.
I tend to get them out the way in the morning after my main session, so I haven’t got them hanging over me for the rest of the day. Even more important is that when you do return to running, you keep them up (unless advised otherwise), as they can vitally important to ensuring that you don’t regress on your road to recovery.
If you’re anything like me, the worst form of exercises are the ones to activate muscles before you go running. I tend to just want to get up and go, but I have come to learn that those extra 20 mins pre-run can help keep my body ticking over – so do make the time.
Don’t be too hard on yourself
Even though you may be frustrated, upset and angry, remember you are still a human. Be kind to yourself when you are going through a tough physical and psychological stage. I have always found that injury is as much a psychological battle as it is a physical one, and this can often be overlooked.
The sooner you remember to be kind to yourself, the sooner you come to accept that you will get over it. If you can keep yourself mentally positive, the whole process will be a lot easier. Obviously, this is a lot easier said than done, as I know all too well. But are not the only one to ever go through an injury, and you will not be the last.
Yes, injury sucks, but learn as much as you can from the experience. You will make mistakes, learn from them, alter where you are going wrong and you will appreciate the sport even more.
A setback is just a springboard to the great comeback.