Becoming an injured runner is a title that just about no one wants to claim. Any type of running injury, whether it’s a minor pain or something more serious, is incredibly discouraging.
Most runners feel that running is a big part of their identity – so when they are forced to take time off, it feels like they lose part of themselves. The temptation to continue running while injured is something most runners grapple with when feeling desperate during their time of healing.
Why do runners get injured?
The motion of running itself is incredibly repetitive, and consistent training without proper strength, balance, fueling or recovery exposes weaknesses that become more susceptible to injury.
What can you do as an injured runner?
In most cases, running injuries require rest in order to heal. If you are lucky enough to continue running while injured, it is likely that training volume will have to significantly decrease. While it might sound like a minor inconvenience, being forced to take time off in the middle of a training season can be devastating.
As an injured runner, you’ll probably be able to continue cross training. Some injuries will limit the types of cross training activities that are safe, but in most cases, pool running and other low impact activities are a great way to stay in shape.
Common thoughts of an injured runner…
Whether you’re looking at a few days off, a full month or more, dealing with a running injury means facing many mental barriers. Many injured runners find comfort in knowing that others out there feel the exact same way when injured.
If you’re struggling mentally with a running injury, know that you’re not alone and the thoughts are entirely normal. Here are some common (and possibly dramatic) thoughts of an injured runner.
- I’ll never be able to run again
- My entire training will be ruined if I miss that one run
- All of my fitness is going to disappear in this week off
- Why am I being so dramatic about this?
- Look at all of my other friends nailing their runs and workouts
- What do I do with all of my free time?
- Everyone else is in the best running shape of their lives
- This SUCKS
- I don’t think one slow, easy run will hurt
- Let me just finish this training season and then I’ll take time off
10 Reminders for Every Injured Runner
If you’re dealing with any of these thoughts, you’re probably questioning whether or not taking time off is best for your situation. Just about all injured runners face the temptation to run through the pain when they’re feeling desperate.
Here are a few reminders that every injured runner needs to hear – to know that you’re not alone, your body will heal, and all of your fitness won’t be lost. However, there are a few things to keep in mind along the way during your journey to recovery.
Every running injury is different
It’s important not to compare your progress, pain or recovery to that of another injured runner. While it may be tempting to commiserate, you’ll need to remember that each type of injury requires different amounts of time for healing and recovery.
A stress fracture might require weeks or months of complete rest, while a sore knee only requires a few missed runs. Leaning on your running friends can be very helpful, but don’t get discouraged if you notice another runner back to training when you still have weeks left to rest.
A few missed runs will not affect your progress
In most cases, running injuries require just a short amount of time off to heal. If you’ll need to miss a few runs – or even a week or two – of training, remind yourself that this time of rest won’t affect your progress as drastically as you might expect.
Many injured runners are surprised to discover that they can pick up right where they left off even after a week of skipped runs. On race day, it’s unlikely that your performance will suffer due to a few missed mid-week runs, or even a long run in the middle of training.
It’s normal to struggle with identity loss
As dramatic as it might sound, many injured runners struggle with losing their identity during their time off. When running is something that you do every single day, losing it often feels like there is a huge hole in your life.
Accept the feelings you are experiencing and remind yourself that this time off is temporary. You are still a runner even if you don’t run for a week or two. Try to spend the extra time focusing on recovery – being proactive about strength training, stretching and fueling your body to set it up for success upon your return.
The journey will not be linear
No matter how seriously you take your recovery, there are bound to be some unexpected obstacles along the way. It might take your body longer to heal, or you might be ready to run again sooner than expected.
One really good day might be followed by a hard day with lots of pain. Remember that these set backs are normal, and still a sign that your body is healing. Trust the process, and stay patient as your body heals.
It will feel harder when you return
If you’ve taken more than a few weeks off to heal from your running injury, you’ll need to accept the fact that it is going to feel harder when you return. Those first few runs back will likely feel a bit sluggish, and getting back into the routine will feel like a struggle.
Accept that running will require a bit more effort than you remember when you first get back out there to help avoid feelings of discouragement. But remember – this period won’t last long.
It doesn’t take long to gain back fitness
When injured runners return after taking weeks or months off to heal, running will feel like a bit of a struggle at first. However, most are surprised to discover that the sluggishness doesn’t last long.
Often, it only takes a few runs to get back in the groove. Your body will re-adapt to the activity of running much quicker since it already has that muscle memory. Persevere through those first few difficult runs and you’ll be surprised to discover that they don’t last long.
Speed up the process with more than just rest
Recovering from a running injury usually requires more than just rest. While it can be tempting to slum it out on the couch, incorporating some other recovery measures can help speed up the process.
Taking the time to assess for any muscle imbalances that may have contributed to the injury will help determine exactly what areas to rehab. Try implementing some safe, low impact cross training to keep up your fitness, while adding in strength training exercises that are specific to your injury.
Non-runners will not understand what you’re going through
As an injured runner, it’s natural to want to complain or seek sympathy from those with whom you are closest. However, you’ll want to remember that most non-runners will not be able to relate to what you are going through.
Those who do not identify with running in the same way might not be able to understand why you are so upset about your injury. Take this to heart as you pour out your story, and remember that no matter how they respond, they are only trying to help.
Listen to your body – not your peers
When you are facing a running injury, you’ll become exposed to many different opinions, pieces of advice and recovery plans. If you’ve gone to a doctor or physical therapist, stick to their plan regardless of what advice you might find on the internet.
Friends and fellow runners, while well-meaning, might provide varying pieces of advice. When assessing your injury, remember that no one else knows exactly how you are feeling except yourself. Listen to your body as you return to running, and prioritize the signals it sends over anything else you might hear.
Trust the process
Recovering from any running injury is a process. Progress is never linear, and it can’t always be predicted.
If you’re taking time off, completing your physical therapy or strengthening exercises, and listening to your body – you’re on the right track. Trust the recovery process and give your body as much time as it needs.
It might feel like forever that you’re stuck with the title of “injured runner”, but in the grand scheme of things, it won’t be much time. Taking time off now will be the best thing you can do for any future training or goal races. Be patient, keep the faith, and trust in your body. Before long, you’ll be back to running – with more gratitude than ever.