Ask any runner about their worst nightmare, and many will probably say “an injury that sidelines me from running.” Unfortunately, the repetitive and impact-driven nature of the sport means that at some point, it happens to the best of us.
And when it does, you may find yourself wanting to sit at home wallowing in sadness and having a self-invited pity party. But it’s not the time to let the negative emotions take over and get you down. Instead, have a shorter party and then focus on the reasons it’s good to be injured.
Use It As An Opportunity
Start with embracing your time off running as a rare opportunity. Maybe it is a chance to hone your skills in another sport that you haven’t been able to commit to because of lack of time, such as cycling or swimming. Maybe you start hiking more instead of trail running or take the kids out for a walk instead of finding a babysitter while you pound out a run. While there will always be negative sides to pressing pause on the thing you love, focus on trying to be optimistic and see the good in the initially bad-seeming situation. And it will likely present itself as a great way to give you a break mentally and physically, while simultaneously developing additional skills and strength.
Do The Things You’ve Sacrificed
One of the things you can embrace and see as an opportunity is more time. Running is demanding on our schedules, and as a result, when it comes to chasing big goals and working towards dream races, it often means that a lot of other things get pushed to the side. Whether it is canceling Friday nights out with friends due to early Saturday morning runs or simply less time spent with family to be able to fit in training. Being injured lets you take a step back and spend some time doing other things. This is your chance to use the injury to your advantage and spend those extra hours devoted to something else that you love just as much (like sleep!).
Commit To Recovery
There is nothing like being injured to remind you how important it is to focus on recovery and repair. Run hard, recover harder is the truth, and when you start to neglect your recovery or take a passive role in it, injury will eventually be the outcome. While you are injured, you will have extra time to focus on a few important recovery activities:
- Sleep more. Given how much your body repairs and rebuilds during sleep, this is an essential one to consider.
- Check in with your nutrition and commit time to establishing and continuing a balanced and nourished energy intake that you can carry with you when you go back into training. Don’t slack off on eating well just because you can’t run as often.
- Start completing daily foam rolling or myofascial release activities, both on your own and with a sports massage therapist.
- Visit the professionals and take this time to use for appointments with specialists who can offer you rehabilitation support.
During an injury many of us are worried about losing fitness and having all that hard work we did to build up our running strength start to disappear. That’s where strength training comes into play.
Depending on your injury, being sidelined from running presents a great opportunity to work on your other muscles that will help you when you get back to running. Look into strengthening your glutes which has been shown to significantly improve your running, or attend regular Pilates classes to build core strength and stability. Alternatively, now is a great time to finally stick to that upper body routine you created: heightened upper body strength allows you to have better posture and form which improves breathing, and as a result, performance.
Perhaps even more important when it comes to talking about strengthening however, is that, in many cases, the root of the injury isn’t where the pain is. Coach and author Matt Fitzgerald details the importance of strengthening your hips to combat weakness in the knees, while focusing on developing strength in your calves could help with issues in your ankle and the surrounding tendons such as your peroneal.
Take A Break
One of the benefits in disguise of a running injury is that it forces us to take a break. As runners we aren’t always good at listening to our body when it tells us it is fatigued, and instead just want to push through that key workout on the calendar or make sure we get through the long run. But an injury or the early stages of one is the signal that it is time to press pause.
Even the elites follow this rule. Neely Spence Gracey recently wrote about how pushing too hard “can sometimes set the goal back,” and that listening to our body is never bad advice. “Give it what it needs today and tomorrow (you) will be better off because of it.”
If nothing else, take consolation in knowing we have all been there, watching from the sidelines, as everyone else keeps on running. If this is you, reach out to your running family for support when you need it, embrace the opportunity to try new activities and recover, and before you know it, you’ll be back grinding.