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Lessons from an Injured Runner

Have you ever thought about how “easy” training seems when everything is going well? You’re getting up early to run like it ain’t no thing, crushing your speed sessions, and maybe not even acknowledging how in-sync everything feels – it just is.

That was me. After a rough start to 2017 (note to self: don’t try to train hard in the PNW winter without a running group and without taking vitamin D when you’re prone to depression), I started to hit my stride – 15K PR, half marathon PR, another half marathon PR, marathon PR, oh and why not throw in my first 50K “fun run” to cap it all off with a cool 2nd place. I felt good, I felt invincible, and I took it all for granted. I was on the up and up and never stopped to take it all in. There’s a reason periodization (structuring training cycles to maximize growth over a long timeline, incorporating building periods, goal races, and down time) exists in training – we can’t continue to build and reap the benefits without ever cutting back.

So there I was, feeling like a stud, probably in the best shape of my life, and definitely not appreciating where I was. I wanted to break 3 hours in the marathon for awhile, and I finally accomplished that at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, MN. My time got me a spot in the American Development corral at the Chicago Marathon, which had been another goal of mine for the year. I was happy with my Grandma’s time, but I wanted faster times. I was fit enough to run faster and everyone around me told me so. So, why not recover a bit then turn it on in Chicago?

My coach thought it would be tough to recover from Grandma’s and my 50K and jump back into training for a faster marathon, but he had faith I could do it. So we got back into things. I got my friends together for an early Tuesday morning 5x3min hill workout. We crushed the workout and decided to take the local trails back to our cars for a nice cool-down. And just like that, I stopped paying attention for a minute and rolled my ankle on a branch… pretty badly too.

What I thought was a week off, turned into two weeks, which eventually turned into months. I went to ART (active release therapy), did my physical therapy exercises, biked, and worked to rebuild strength. My goal throughout recovery was not to rush things so that I could run the Chicago Marathon. I wanted to be SMART, give my body the time it needed to heal, and come back strong (in body and mind!). Every injury poses its own unique challenges, and from this situation I learned a few things.

Trust your body and be honest with yourself

When can I start running again? All I wanted was that answer. I talked to doctors, physical therapists, fellow runners, and my coach. While they all offered helpful advice to aid my recovery, no one would tell me if or when it was okay to start running again. But the thing was… they couldn’t. Only I fully understand my body and it’s limits. I was solely responsible for making the decision to not run Chicago and spend my October rebuilding my body. And because I made that decision myself, it belonged to me and my recovery felt more meaningful. I learned to recognize the signs my body was giving me – when to push it a tad more and when to back off.

Identify your weaknesses and show them compassion while you’re injured

I need structure, purpose, and movement in my life. Without these things, I enter into a downward spiral of negativity. So, I planned time to cook new recipes, meet friends for hikes, and figure out activities like yoga and biking that I could do without pain and without overdoing it. Recovery is a time to give your body and mind a break, but for me, too much total rest and lack of daily plans is harmful, not restorative. So I added daily dog walks and an easy active recovery to my google calendar to keep me focused and feeling like myself as I recovered.

Think big picture

Is jumping back into running too early now potentially jeopardizing future success? Sure, I missed weeks of running and a huge race, but I wasn’t going to let this injury become a nagging issue. That meant being overly cautious and patient and constantly reminding myself of my larger goals (those big, scary, down the road ones). The time I took off in that moment was building me into a lifelong runner, not just someone who goes hard for a few years and burns out.

An injured runner is still a runner

Running is my identity, my happiness, my confidence. I probably place more significance on it than I should, but it has taught me how to push hard and appreciate small achievements. When I’m logging zero miles, it’s tough to call myself a runner, but it shouldn’t be. It’s in my core, and no silly ankle sprain can take that away from me. It was easy to shy away from #BibChats and Strava, but why? I was still a part of the community, injured and all.

Join your friends for post-long run brunch (just miss the actual run), give your friends kudos, and enjoy the running-related conversations. Appreciating other runners’ success was essential to me maintaining my runner-identity while I recovered.

Appreciate every single run and every single injury

This sounds cliché, but so often we take our ability to run for granted. There are few things that match the feeling of peaking in training, like you’re on cloud 9, crushing every workout seamlessly. If you’re like me, work, friends, happiness, all fall into place when my running is going well. When you’re there, love every moment of it, because you have no idea when it’ll be gone. But when it’s gone or your find yourself injured, that’s OK too! It only makes you appreciate the highs even more.

The next few months are going to be tough. I’m still managing pain, I have completely lost my fitness base, and I probably sacrificed most of my speed. However, the rebuilding of our bodies and mind through tough training is what makes this sport so incredible, and I can’t wait to jump back in.

4 comments on “Lessons from an Injured Runner

  1. Awesome post!

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  2. Great lessons for recovery and not just from a physical injury.

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  3. Great article and very poignant to me as I am just finally getting over an injury as well. The mental effect of not running was pretty overwhelming. I did a little of everything trying to stay active and healthy and tried to enjoy the foray into previously undiscovered activities (yoga, pilates, biking) while simultaneously fine tuning my somewhat inadequate diet. It has been a struggle, and I am still “recovering” but hoping this little hiatus will end up being a benefit to me and my body in the long “run”!

    Like

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