Since I started running, I have learnt that unfortunately, injuries are inevitable when you run a lot and you run frequently. PERIOD. The thing with injuries is that they can not only impact us physically, but also mentally. Take my ability to run away, and my mental anguish is just as painful as the injury that set me back. This is because for many of us, running is more than just a ‘way of getting fit’, it is a ‘way of life’.
Coming out ‘on the bright side’ from an injury is just as important as the physical rehabilitation (cross-training and seeking help from an experienced physiotherapist). Your perspective and attitude can play a key role in not only how well you recover physically from the injury, but also how well you come back to running. Returning back to running not only with a healthy body but also with a healthy mind are equally important for me.
I often find that some negative emotions need to be dealt with first before I can lace up again and start to enjoy my runs again after a period of ‘enforced rest’. This includes for example anxiety about getting injured again, a dent on my self-confidence, cynicism, coupled with reduced mojo and feelings of being a ‘failure’.
Here are 10 things which have helped me repair my relationship and fall in love with running again, once I was given green light from my physio to hit the roads and trails after an enforced break:-
SEE RUNNING AGAIN AS PART OF YOUR HEALING JOURNEY
There are a lot of negative views out there that running can be damaging your body, and indeed many health and even fitness professionals are ready to prescribe complete abstinence from running as the only solution. I very strongly disagree with that approach. The question here is not ‘run or not to run’, but more like how much you run, what type of running you do, how often you push yourself beyond your limits, whether you carry excess weight and whether you are genetically predisposed to injuries. I am a firm believer that moving again and exercising is fundamentally good – stressing the tissues the right amount promotes healing! Running can be a very helpful and important part of the final stages of your rehab if you do it at the right level, which takes me to my next point.
One common mistake that runners tend to make when they are back from injury is to compare themselves to the runner they were before the injury occurred. Try to accept that it may not be a while until you are back at your pre-injury fitness levels. Think long term instead – Rome was not built in a day, right?! Work on getting back to running gradually and do not rush back, because you will likely be setting yourself up for another injury. Let your body be your guide, and keep your ego in check. If necessary, take a notch back; in fact, it often takes one step back to be able to take two steps forward. The bottom line is that if you work within the limits of your body by pacing yourself and building up your running gradually, it is less likely you will suffer a setback again soon.
HAVE A GOAL, NO MATTER HOW SMALL
Naturally, the time it takes to return to your previous levels of running will depend on a number of factors, such as the nature and severity of your injury, and the total length of time you had to abstain from running or exercising in general. Having a plan is always helpful to focus and aim towards, like in marathon training. Goals also help with motivation and give you a way of measuring your progress, no matter how small these goals may be to start with. When you set goals, break them into smaller and manageable pieces to ‘eat the elephant one bite at a time’.
UNDERSTAND YOUR INJURY
You are ready to run again now, your symptoms have resolved. However, addressing the symptoms alone is not going to resolve the problem. Knowing the ‘why’ will equip you with a prehab/maintenance strategy to injury proof your body as much as possible for the future. Speak to your Physio/Osteopath and become a detective by researching reliable websites for evidence based information to learn more about your injury. I can wholeheartedly recommend Runners Connect by Jeff Gaudette, Strength Running by Jason Fitzgerald and The Sports Injury Doctor by Chris Mallac – these guys are totally amazing.
FOCUS ON THE CONTROLLABLES
Chances are that you are doing the best that you can, and you still get injured again. Inevitably, shit can happen to anyone, at any time, because this IS life. However, instead of giving in to worrying about what if you get injured again, focus on what you have control over.
This includes regularly devoting time to maintaining your ‘running engine’ by working on areas that you may have previously neglected and getting expert advice on your running form to see what you can improve on. (Some physiotherapy clinics offer running gait analysis). This way you can be assured that you are giving yourself the best chance to run injury free. Your maintenance/prehab strategy could include working on your overall flexibility, balance, core strength, glutes. Try to incorporate stretching, foam rolling, self massage into your daily routine and cross-train. You can do these in front of the telly or at the end of a running session a few times each week, it does not need to become an arduous task!
I can’t emphasize enough that even after you have recovered from your injury, it is important to not stop paying attention to the problem area(s) and strengthening the surrounding areas to mitigate the chances of your injury recurring.
Do not wait until the next injury comes along. Arrange to see your physio/osteopath to get a running or body MOT done once a year, even if you never felt better running. Ironically, I always get injured when things seem to be going remarkably well for me in running, when I am at my peak. This is probably because I tend to let me guard down by getting lousy with my prehab routine, and get carried away with focusing on my performance instead of listening to my body and being mindful of my running technique.
FORGE A POSITIVE MINDSET
If you are a seasoned runner, you have probably been injured before. It always helps to remind yourself that you have been able to defeat injury before and successfully return to running, so there is no reason to believe that you cannot do the same again now.
Before heading out for a run or toeing up the start line at your first race post injury, use positive mental imagery: imagine how much you will enjoy running again, instead of picturing the worst case scenarios. Make a conscious choice to take the more positive approach.
Having just come back from injury, look at it as a fresh start to try new ways of training, to improvise, adapt, and overcome… This could even lead to a new PB! An injury can be a setback or an opportunity to do things better and to get better. Phoenixes rise from ashes! This attitude could be transferred to other areas of your life, too, not just running.
DRAW ON YOUR SUPPORT NETWORK
One thing I really love about running is the feeling of being part of a ‘tribe’, a very inclusive and supportive community, regardless of ability, age or gender. Join an online forum where you can exchange your experiences with other runners coming back from injury, and share advice. Chances are that you even end up being an encouragement to others who are not ready to run yet but are looking for some reassurance and someone to listen.
Tell your running buddies about your recovery journey and what stage you are at so that they can cheer you on and understand that your key focus is ‘getting back into running’ and not being the speediest one in the pack for a while.
However, you might find that running alone initially instead of re-joining your group/running club can take away the pressure of having to ‘keep up’, so you are able to return to running ‘on your own terms’ and in your own time.
I always look at running as a gift, and as such, it should never be taken for granted. When I get out of the door, I never feel that I have to run, but more like I get to run, because I am healthy, I am able bodied and strong, and I thank God for that every day. Mindfully observe the beauty and all the good things around you as you are running, instead of getting caught up in how fast or how far you are able to run. As Cheryl Strayed said in her book called Wild: ‘There is always a sunrise and always a sunset and it is up to you to choose to be there for it. (…) Put yourself in the way of beauty’. There is much more to running than your performance stats.
PUT THINGS INTO PERSPECTIVE
Injury is not the end of the world, and at the end of the day, running is just running. If running keeps being a source of frustration for you and you have lost your joy, perhaps it is time to take a sabbatical from running for an indefinite period of time, and explore other forms of exercise and challenges in the meantime. You never know, you could be hanging up your running shoes to become the next weight-lifting champion or the winner of a bikini body competition!
Which one of the above strategies have you found to be the most helpful? What has helped you in the past mentally/physically speaking to return to running from injuries?