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Dealing with Injury

“As a runner how do I deal with injury and the frustration of not being able to participate in the sport that is so much a part of my everyday life?”

Most likely at some point in our running careers each of us will be faced with a running injury and possibly be asking ourselves the same question. Whether it be a major or minor injury, if it affects our running routine it can be frustrating. Why is this when most of the world would be delighted to have an excuse not to run? Runners are a different breed.

Over time, running becomes not only what we do, but it is how we identify ourselves. Running can become so much a part of who we are that when this aspect of our lives is taken away from us we are left feeling lost (I know, I know—pathetic, but true). Our focus, our drive, and our motivation become fuzzy. Now we all know it is not the end of the world to take a break from running (we do have lives outside of running…don’t we?), but when we are the one on the “injured list” life can seem kind of bleak.

I started running in junior high and I continued to run all through high school. After high school I competed for four years on the track and cross country team at Weber State University. Interestingly enough, throughout my junior high, high school, and college career I can’t remember having an injury that ever took me out for more than a week or two. It wasn’t until after giving birth to our first child in 2009 that I dealt with my first major injury. I had started running again, but I soon developed some lower back problems that halted my running pursuits for several months.

It wasn’t until the beginning of 2010 that I was feeling pain free and at a point where I could start building up my mileage again. After only a couple of months of training, I was encouraged by how good I was feeling.

So, in April 2010 I decided to run the Salt Lake Half Marathon just to see where I was at. I hadn’t raced in a long time and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I surprised myself when I finished in third place (out of the women) and ran my best half marathon time of 1:21:50. I was still a long way off from where I wanted to be, but it gave me confidence and I began considering pursuing one of my “big” running goals again—qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials. My plan was to continue training hard through the summer of 2010 and then look to run a fast marathon in the fall.

Things seemed to be falling into place when I found out the Salt Lake Half Marathon time qualified me to participate in the Chicago Marathon (a great fall marathon to run a fast time) under the elite development program. I set out training with my new goal in mind, but about a month after the Salt Lake Half, I started having problems with my right foot. At first I tried to run through it, but eventually I realized I needed to take time off or it was never going to heal. Any training at this point was just counterproductive. Well, days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months and I ended up taking 5 months off from running. It was a very frustrating time in my running career, but I did learn a lot from the experience.

Here are my top four suggestions to help runners deal with a running injury:

1) Focus on what you CAN do.
2) Ask yourself “What can I learn from this?”
3) Track and monitor your progress/regression
4) Be positive and patient.

#1 Focus on what you CAN do:

When you are injured it is easy to focus on the things you can’t do (like run), but progress and sanity can occur more quickly when you can focus on those things you can do. In many cases, you can still find ways to get cardio time in. There are a lot of really fun cross training options that can keep you fit and healthy without aggravating your injury.

It obviously will depend on where your injury is and the extent of the injury, but biking, swimming, aqua jogging, and using the elliptical are great cross training activities. Often times we can do things like core strengthening exercises or strengthening exercises specific to the weakness of our injured area (my physical therapist helped me a great deal with this) that will help strengthen our weak areas and come back from our injury with a stronger foundation to build from. Eat better, sleep more, do yoga, stretch—whatever it may be, find something you CAN do and DO it!

#2 Ask yourself “What can I learn from this?”:

Because running injuries are often overuse injuries it isn’t always easy to pinpoint what initially caused the problem. However, looking back at the development of your injury you may be able to realize some things you should have done differently. Reflect and analyze your injury and try to learn what to do differently next time. Become an expert on your injury. Study an anatomy book, research online, ask doctors and physical therapists questions, and learn how the body works and what is going on with yours. You may just stumble upon something that rings true to you and helps you discover how to make progress. What else can you learn from your injury? I know I learned to appreciate running more and to never take being healthy for granted.

#3 Track and monitor your progress/regression:

Part of getting through a running injury requires a certain level of trial and error. What strategies are helping or not helping you make progress? Keeping a log of what you are doing and how you are feeling will help you determine what things are helping or hindering your progress.

#4 Be positive and patient:

It is so easy to get discouraged and frustrated, but I am a true believe in the power of the mind. Attitude can have a huge affect on how well you deal with being injured. Focus on the positive and realize that sometimes all your body needs is time, so be patient and hang in there.

For me, my injury killed my plans of running the Chicago marathon in the fall of 2010 and postponed my attempts to qualify for the Olympic Trials. It was a disappointing blow, but I came to the realization that getting better was more important than any other big running goal. It simplified my perspective. My goal went from “qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials” to “get back to running a few miles a day”. This experience was definitely a “valley” in the rollercoaster of running, but I learned a lot from it and although at times I felt like it would, it didn’t last forever. I am now back running pain free and back enjoying what I love to do—Run.

by Janae Richardson – Runner | High School Cross Country & Track Coach

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 at 11:37 am and is filed under Expert Answers, Injuries and Pain, Utah Running. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

8 responses to “Dealing with Injury”

  1. Jake says:

    Hey Janae – this is a great post. I think everything you said is right on the money. #4 is the most important – ATTITUDE! Keeping a positive mindset not only helps you deal w/ the injury & stay motivated to cross train, but I really believe that in some cases, that mind-body connection can play a crucial role in enhancing the recovery!

  2. Katie says:

    You are fast!!

  3. Andrew Pullens says:

    I’m was sitting at home, feeling sorry for myself over the injury I got while training up for my first marathon. It’s not just that I can’t run, but I feel like I wasted months and months and miles and miles of training. Then I saw the email in my inbox with the subject “Andrew, Dealing with injury” I thought, “Hey, how did they know?!”

    Thanks for the encouragement and advice!

    – Andrew

  4. Nancy says:

    Great article, and encouraging to hear that even a spectacular runner like yourself has had to spend time out of the game. When running is so much a part of your life, it is hard to not feel like you are somehow missing out on everything and being left far behind when an injury hits. I admit, sheepishly, to always thinking people were just being wimps when they let an injury stop them. Just run through it was my motto — until terrible plantar fasciitis wiped me out for a year. Thanks for the article.

  5. Angela says:

    Just wanted to say thanks too… I was signed up to do the Grand Slam this year and during/after the Ogden marathon I developed a case of achilles tendonitis. I’ve tried a few times to start running again but it’s still bothering me and it’s been almost 2 months. I missed out on Utah valley marathon and a few other races already and it’s VERY frustrating… Thanks for the encouragement… I look forward to when I can run again! It WILL happen right?

  6. Barb says:

    Thanks Janae for sharing the good & the bad. I am in the process of training for my first marathon in St. George but having a set back with plantar fasciitis. Took two weeks off & ran short distances at turtle pace twice this week. So far so good but know I need to be realistic…supposed to run the Bryce Half on the 16th but know this is not what I should do so will cheer the rest of my group across the finish line.

  7. Janelle says:

    You are amazing and such an inspiration to me!

  8. Jode in MT says:

    I am 58 years old and still running. Over the many years I have had to take time off to heal. During the healing periods I kept active with alternative cardio as you described – doesn’t replace running for sure but keeps your eye on your goal to get back to the day when you can lace up your shoes and head down the road once again. You’re so right about the attitude. Two years ago I sustained a hip flexor injury (didn’t happen while running, tho). I had to take nearly a half year off, my PT told me to try yoga, I did, and that saved me physically and mentally. Now yoga is part of my running regime, strenghens your body and mind. I did the SLC Half this past April, my first long race since the hip. I am no where comparable to your speed (1:58) but nonetheless I felt great!

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