A: This question has personal significance for me, since I am injured at the moment. Boo. My hip had been feeling a little sore for a while, but running didn’t seem to make it worse. So a couple of weeks ago I ran for 80 minutes on a challenging trail because everyone else was doing it and the next day it hurt to run on flat pavement and it even hurt to walk. It hasn’t been right since then. I’ve laid off running since then. When it felt better, I ran a mile and then it hurt again, so I’m back to laying off. I’ve been biking, TRX’ing, and swimming instead. I have a bike set up on my trainer and a TRX in the basement so those are very time efficient workouts. Today I biked to an appointment. I love when I can exercise and go somewhere at the same time.
The bad news I am going to bail on the 5k I signed up for this weekend. The good news is, there are many ways to cope and none of them involve Bon Bons or Lifetime movies.
This article was originally published in the October/November 2014 issue of Colorado Runner Magazine.
The sooner you stop beating yourself up about your situation, the better. While none of us has an injury-healing magic wand, we do have the capacity to cut ourselves some slack. If you’re injured, you’re already in a rough spot. Let yourself mope, throw the seasons’ goals out the window, find another hobby, and remember, you will run again someday.
Take a deep breath, and remember…
It’s ok to be sad
Of course you’re going to be sad if you can’t run. Running is what you do, after all. How sadness manifests varies from runner to runner. Some of us will analyze the injury the way we would a failed romance, trying to pinpoint the exact moment things went downhill, or recalling all the red flags that are now obvious, in hindsight. Some of us will wallow in our misery, listen to Nick Drake, and eat our secret stash of Girl Scout cookies by the box. Some of us will complain. And while there is nothing wrong with that, proceed with caution if you choose to share your feelings with non-runners. They will be as sad to hear the news as they were to hear of Gwyneth and Chris’s conscious uncoupling; They will get that it sounds sad but they won’t begin to comprehend the situation. No matter how you express sadness, allow yourself to feel as sad as you need to.
It’s ok to bail on a race
Once upon a time, I injured my hamstring. Though the pain grew progressively worse, I refused to admit I was injured. I told myself it was just an aggravation and ran the Fourth of July Four Miler I had my heart set on anyway. I paid dearly for my folly. After that fateful race, it was a year, hundreds of dollars worth of physical therapy, and hours of home exercises until I could run again, pain-free. Here’s a little secret: Your body doesn’t care whether you’ve already paid for the race, whether all your friends are going to be there, or that you desperately want a chance to PR. Bodies are inconsiderate like that. Even worse, if you ignore your body, it will exact revenge- maybe not today or tomorrow, but eventually, you will suffer. These days, at the first sign of any nagging aches or pains, I skip at least a day or two of running, and I avoid racing- even if I’ve already paid my registration fee.
It’s ok not to embrace your inner Buddha
Being in the now is great- unless you’re a runner who can’t run, in which case, now is horrible. It’s ok to feel that way. Present moment be damned, you are freaking out because you have no idea when you will be able to run again, which means you have to modify or cancel your carefully planned race schedule. What’s a runner to do? Lots of things, actually. Physical therapy is a great place to begin. A physical therapist skilled in sports rehabilitation can diagnose and treat you, or will be able to tell you whether imaging, such as an MRI, or consultation with a sports medicine physician is necessary for a diagnosis. You could also try acupuncture, massage, or chiropractic. Every body is unique and what works for one runner may not work for another. That said, if you are overwhelmed by all the choices when choosing a care provider, obtaining recommendations from other runners is a good starting point. Once you start on a course of rehab, you might find your ice bath or your deep tissue massage is the perfect time to get in touch with your breathing and focus on the present (excruciating) moment… Or, more likely, you’ll want to use that time to daydream about the races you’ll run once you’re back in the game.
It’s ok to get distracted
Nothing can replace the joy, the relaxation, or the sense of accomplishment that running brings. No matter what you do for rehab, time is often a necessary salve for injuries. While you wait, running will understand if you find another hobby. Spin class is a great way to maintain your cardiovascular fitness. Swimming, though logistically more complicated, is another great workout. Maybe now is the perfect time to buy a punch card to the local yoga studio or gym. If time is a constraint, search “workout at home” on You Tube and you will be bombarded by great workouts you can do in your living room with little or no equipment. If there’s a home improvement project you’ve been procrastinating, a craft you’ve wanted to try, or an instrument you’ve always wanted to learn, now is the time. Perhaps this is the perfect opportunity to edge the backyard or take cooking lessons. Whatever you pursue during your hiatus, running will still be there when you’ve recovered, and you will have gotten out of your comfort zone and had fun in the meantime.
It’s ok to gain weight.
Yep, I said it. While most of us have no problem talking about how running elevates our mood, gives us more energy, improves our mental focus, and gives us a chance to enjoy the outdoors, we don’t love to admit we also love running because it helps control our weight. I know I’m not just speaking for myself when I say that one of the reasons I love running is that it keeps my jeans from fitting too tightly, even if I enjoy dessert or a second helping most evenings. If you stop running without substituting another form of exercise, or modify your diet, the simple fact is, you will gain weight. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you gain a few pounds. You will get back to running eventually. For now, consider buying a new, well fitting pair of pants or two. It’s amazing how much better you feel when you’re not worried about a little muffin top. Just like being a fast runner doesn’t make you a good person, neither does a certain number on the scale.
It’s ok to lose fitness
Certainly, you can maintain general fitness and strength through cross training. While it depends on your body and how long you take off from running, chances are good that your running fitness will suffer, however. And that is ok. What you lose in fitness you will more than make up for in motivation when you make your comeback. The best things to ever happen to my running were actually eye surgery and having a baby (not at the same time). Both experiences required prolonged rest. Once I came back to training, I had a serious fire in my belly. While it took time for my fitness to come around after each of these events, the increases in my mental focus and physical energy were immeasurable. While I would never recommend anyone undergo emergent eye surgery or give birth as a training technique, a period of deep rest can have profound benefits. Think of this time off from running as a spa vacation for your legs and a meditation retreat for your mind. When you come back to running, you’ll be stronger, both mentally and physically.
As the famous adage goes, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” While it’s a fact of life that every runner will have to cope with injury sooner or later, how you cope with it is up to you. Allow yourself to feel grumpy and unmotivated, then do your best to move forward with your rehab, cross training, or even a new hobby. You’ll come back to running with fresh legs and renewed motivation.