An injured runner is like a feral animal. Our instincts tell us to move, to flee, to run like we have for so long. But, we know that we must stay still and heal before we can go back to doing what it is we love. The trail beckons, but we have to resist.
Injuries are physical. We pull muscles, we tear ligaments, we break bones. But, the mental anguish of losing your identity and freedom cause the most pain. I'm a runner, but I can't run. Am I still a runner?
Aside from the identity crisis caused by a running injury, we must also deal with a loss of hard-earned fitness. The miles, the track work, the hills, the racing season... it all blows away like dust in the wind. Poof! And we must start again.
The first steps will be gentle and uncertain. The strength and endurance we once took for granted will be missing. Even a short run will feel like an eternity in those first weeks. It's a humbling process that requires faith and determination.
5 Steps to Recover Like a Champion
Often injuries result from tight muscles and the excessive strain they put on connective tissues and even bones. Dynamic stretching before runs helps warm up the body, but more prolonged stretching should be done after runs to increase flexibility. Make time for it. A little prehab goes a long way.
Weak muscles cause imbalances that lead directly to injury. Now is a good time to visit a physical therapist and pinpoint your weakness. Is it the glutes or the hips? Both are common culprits among runners.
Strength training also contributes to better overall health and improvements in running speed. Consider adding upper body work to strengthen your arms, chest, shoulders, and back. You'll have the strength for a killer kick when you get back to racing.
3. Investigate and Reflect
Call the CSI team. It's time to figure out how this tragedy unfolded. You can start with your running journal or online running log. See if you can find and shifts in training that may have led to injury.
Often, runners will find that injuries occurred after months of mileage build-up, intense speed sessions, or even new running shoes. Every runner is different. We all have to find our own kryptonite.
4. Set New Expectations
Maybe it was the high mileage weeks leading up to a marathon that caused that stress fracture. Maybe it was the intense hill repeats that aggravated that plantars fasciitis. Whatever went wrong will likely happen again unless you learn from your injury.
Running is a sport with lots of challenges and exciting racing opportunities. If you can't run a marathon, maybe you can explore trail running and find your endorphin fix in the woods. If you can no longer race a 5K at 6-minute pace, maybe you'll find your niche in the half marathon.
5. Enjoy the Present
Life is happening now. Always now. Shift your thinking and embrace the stillness that you might otherwise not have the time to enjoy. Find some new and interesting things to do. Spend more time with those you love.
This injury affords you the time to make your life richer. Running will be there waiting for you on the other side. It will humble you as it did when you first began, and it will reward you as it always has. Life goes on.