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Overcoming the Obstacle of Injury And How To Stay Sane During Recovery

Professional runner Neely Spence Gracey shares how to stay sane during a tough injury and tips for easing back into training.

I’ve been trying to think of how to spin the process of overcoming injury in a positive way. Yay for late nights, no early morning sessions in the dark, extra round of drinks on Friday night; but the façade only carries me so far. Injuries suck. I don’t want to tell you otherwise, but I do want to show you how injuries can be a part of success. It doesn’t mean it’s easy or fun, but here are some tips on how to stay mentally strong throughout your healing time based off of my personal experience. And lastly, I share the difficult, yet so important, necessity of slow progression back to training. Since we can’t get running, let’s get reading.

Part of Success

While it is hard to believe, injuries are part of the pathway to success. Each injury provides an opportunity for growth as a person and athlete. An injury means I pushed the body too hard, the miles were too long, the life stress was too much, or there was too little rest. Often it’s a combination of multiple factors that have created this perfect storm. What it comes down to is that I pushed my body to the point where it wasn’t able to keep up with recovery to match the training load.

The way we all get better in many aspects of life is by pushing the limits to see what we are truly capable of. Even though injuries suck, it shows that we are working hard towards a goal, and that with smarter training, and recognizing which factors we need to be more cautious with in the future, we can heal and get back to training with an even better plan towards success.

Mental Aspect

Being committed to a goal means that you don’t just sort of do something, you do it with mind, soul, and body fully invested. I’ve had my fair share of great performances, devastating injuries, solid training blocks, season ending illnesses, and incredible moments of seeing commitment and perseverance through it all pay off two fold.

The emotional and psychological part of being a runner with an injury is that running isn’t just something that’s done occasionally. Runners are a community and running is a lifestyle. We prioritize our training, we structure life around getting in our miles, we absorb what we do and it becomes part of who we are. Injuries derail us from running, and then we feel lost, out of sorts, and on the brink of an identity crisis. Who am I if I’m not a runner?  Everyone handles their time away from the sport differently. A few key things that help me while I’m injured:

 1. Stay busy. Use the time you would otherwise be running to catch up with friends, deep clean, travel, focus on your other hobbies, and emphasize resetting the body while keeping life moving forward. Often with injuries, it’s just a waiting game. Time has to pass for you to heal. And time flies when you’re busy!


 2. Stay Sane. Sometimes I just need to sweat. Of course your options are varied based on the nature and location of your injury, but I utilize the pool, elliptical/elliptiGO, spin bike, hiking, lifting, core workouts, rock climbing, TRX, HIIT classes, bar classes, pilates, and yoga. When I had knee surgery, I even used the rower and arm bike. If I can get 30-60 minutes of exercise in the morning, I feel so much more positive for the rest of my day.

3. Stay Supported. The most crucial part of dealing with an injury is understanding what is wrong so you know how to heal it. Get the answers, then get a plan. I work closely with my support system of trusted physical therapists, chiropractors, doctors, coaches and mentors to develop a progression back to chasing my goals. Having those who you can lean on helps us not feel so alone in the process of recovery.

The Slow Come Back

We take all this time off, and all we think about is running again. But when we finally get the go-ahead, it is essential to not rush fitness. I usually take a week to run lightly every other day. Only 20-30 minutes at a time. Coming back after surgery in 2014, my first run in 4 months was 2x5min jog with 5min walk in between. It was the best/worst run of my life. I was so elated to finally run again. And I was so devastated that it was so short. It made me feel like my goals were impossible. How could I ever run PRs and train 100 miles per week when I could only run 5 minutes at a time? (Just so you know, I was fine. Within the next year I ran a PR in every distance and qualified for the Olympic Trials.)

Taking your time, easing back to training, and listening to the body is how you will have a steady progression back to fitness. If you rush it, you risk having to start the healing process all over again. I hate this part, but having my husband being firm about my low mileage is something I so appreciate (even though we fight about it). I need him there to not let my crazies get me overzealous. Find someone who can help keep you accountable too!

I have good days during injury where I am positive and motivated. I do everything I am supposed to and I’m upbeat about getting through and coming out better on the other side. And then I have bad days where I am depressed about not running and unmotivated to cross train. I give up on my body because I don’t think it’s healing quick enough, and I’m not a fun person to be around. I’ve learned this is normal. But striving for more good days than bad is essential. Remember, you’re not alone, because within this awesome community of runners, mostly all of us can relate to being derailed at some point with injury. It is part of the process as we strive for success.

Until next time, stay mentally strong, ease back to training slowly, and I will see you out on the trails and roads again soon. Let’s get (back to) running!