For many runners all over the US (and potentially the world), the Boston marathon is the pinnacle of their racing lives. Hitting a BQ is the ultimate goal. Although I have not raced the Boston Marathon, when I achieved my number one running goal of representing GB in the World Championships, it was a magical moment.
I might not be running at the moment, and chances are, if you are reading this, you are not running Boston either. Maybe it is because you are taking a break for health reasons like me, maybe you have no interest in it, maybe you are still trying to qualify, or maybe you are injured.
I have to admit, thinking about the race that will be going on today is giving me my first real pang of missing running, and I know if you are injured, watching the race you want to do so badly is absolutely heartbreaking. No matter how much passion you have for running, if you are constantly plagued with injuries, it can leave you wondering:
When will I ever be able to run healthy again?
So, rather than sit here feeling sorry for ourselves as running Boston, London, or whatever race you had planned is not happening, I thought it would be helpful to create a guide with coping mechanisms for injured runners to deal with the mental aspects of injuries, to know how to handle the depression associated with injuries.
That is exactly what it is, a depression.
Might sound dramatic to non-runners, but if you have worked so hard, day after day, putting in endless hours of blood, sweat, and tears, but you don’t make it to the start line, and therefore get to enjoy the reward of running that magical race, it can be devastating.
It can be tough to get over the thought of all that fitness you worked so hard for just melting away.
Not only is it isolating to be injured, and you feel like all your running friends are bonding while you are on the outer circle, but you feel like you lose part of your identity. As you know, I am kinda going through that myself right now, it has now been four weeks since I ran, or did any cardio for that matter.
Don’t even get me started on Instagram (or any social media for that matter). Instagram, Facebook, twitter, all of them, seeing others running accomplishments can rub salt into the wound when you are injured.
How to Cope With a Running Injury
Today, I am going to show you that you are not alone when injured.
When you view running as therapeutic and a huge component in your mental well-being, when we don’t have it, we tend to feel resentful, sad, anxious, lost.
But no more my friends.
Hopefully the rest of this post will help to turn that frown upside down, and remind you that there are actually quite a few good things that come out of an injury, even on Marathon Monday.
Here we go:
Start writing your thoughts
I was very fortunate in that my last big injury requiring more than a few days off was 2011, but journalling (is that a word? I just made it one!) is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about how you feel lonely, misunderstood, and anxious when you have no control of when you will next run again.
Go to the store and head to the journal or notebook section. Stand in the aisle and scan around the shelves. One will be calling to you, it will stand out in front of all others, and this is what you should buy.
Yes, it probably will be a little more expensive than you would like to spend on a notebook, but it will become your friend, a moral supporter for you during this process, so it is worth it. A friend of mine had actually purchased my first journal for me. It had a beautiful leather cover and on the first page, my dear friend (thank you Tim!) had written a few quotes, including this one, which spoke to me the most:
I wrote in that book from cover to cover, and he actually ended up purchasing me another beautiful, homemade book for future injuries, I still have that one now. I still go back and reflect on it sometimes, not only the hard times I went through, but how good people are.
As journalling is my favorite and best suggestion for learning how to cope with a running injury, I created more detailed instructions on how to use a journal when an injury hits.
If you are someone who worries the whole time you are injured about whether your dreams are shattered, this is definitely going to be for you.
I could write a whole blog post on journalling, but I wanted to give other tips too, so make sure you download the guide below. You will even get to see a page from my journal during my calf tear in 2011, to see how I used it to run PRs in the 5k and 10k just a few months after 4 weeks of no running.
It comes down to spending up to 10-20 minutes each day writing about things you are grateful for, and then letting your thoughts flow. I find that I usually started my journalling writing to myself, kind of like the be kind to yourself that I talked about for mental training in races.
“I know things are tough right now, but you will get through this”
By the end, it has often switched to first person, as the fighter in me has joined the rally:
“I am strong, I am going to come back faster than ever”.
Write as much or as little as you need, and once it starts flowing through your mind, do not stop. Do not think, just let your fears, doubts, and frustrations come through.
No-one but you will see it…unless someday you decide to publish it on your website like I am doing on mine. You can read a page of mine in my journalling guide!
Enough about journalling, whats next?
Write a list of things that bring you joy
This is another of my favorites, and one that can work anytime. I recently wrote out a new list, once I stepped away from running and realized I had to peel my identity away from being an elite runner, I needed to find other things I enjoyed doing.
In your new journal, on the back page, write down a list of everything you can think of that brings you JOY, not happiness. There is a difference here. My friend Lisa and I were discussing this the other day, and it is something I have been thinking about a lot lately.
This list is for those things that make you smile, even if someone just says the word to you. They bring you pure, childlike, simple joy.
For example, here are some on my list:
- Eating dessert 😉 Of course
- Watching the sunset or sunrise
- Going for a drink with friends
- Cuddling baby Charlotte
Try to write at least 20-30, and then start making your way through the list.
If painting is on your list, sit down and do it. Even if you are not artistic and do not have paint, sign yourself up for one of those Wine and Canvas classes, then you can take a friend and use it to hit two of your joy activities.
These can be as simple as “eating a bowl of cereal” to “flying in a helicopter”, but while you are injured, you have the time to do this, and that is one of the advantages of being injured, you don’t have to worry about your training.
So go enjoy those experiences that running doesn’t allow you to do..your running friends will probably be jealous of you for being able to just go have fun 🙂
Use the time as self discovery
This is kind of related to the joy activities I mentioned above, but if you stop looking at your injury as the thing that is keeping you from missing out, then you are going to keep that pity party going.
I know this might be hard to believe, but I am actually happy that every single one of my injuries happened during my running career. I know that sounds crazy, and if you are in the thick of it right now, you are probably hating me for saying this, but hear me out.
You learn so much about who you are during an injury. You have to face those big mental gremlins, telling you that you are not good enough, that you are weak, that you are lazy.
You are not enough.
But you ARE enough.
Whatever they are telling you, that is something about yourself that you are not addressing in the rest of your life. I guarantee to you that if you do face those fears, not only will you fight back, come back from this injury more determined than ever to succeed (and you will), but you will notice that you are better able to deal with the stressors in the rest of your life too.
Injuries allow us to step back and remember that we are only human. Something in your training or life is overworking you too much.
Maybe it is that you have worn those old shoes for just a little too long.
Maybe it is that you have been slacking on your strength training or your supplemental training for injury prevention, it is definitely easy to let that slip in busy times.
Or maybe it is the rest of your life; the emotional impact and stress is running you down or your high heels that are overworking your muscles. It may be that your body is just not able to cope with the demands being put on it.
It is impossible for me to ever tell you what caused your injury, as most of the time it is a combination of things, BUT if you really allow yourself to address all the possible causes, not only will you discover some mental demons your running was allowing you to push aside, which you can now face, but you will learn just how strong you really are.
Are you going to give in or are you going to keep fighting?
Volunteering feels so good
If you are injured, and trying to get over the heartbreak of not being able to race, chances are, you are feeling pretty angry towards running, and you just wanna know when you will catch a break.
Yeah, I have been there.
One way to help is to volunteer. Volunteering helps us to spin our perspective, to be the one giving the good into the world, and to see the gratitude and love that is given back to us by dedicating our time to something other than ourselves.
You probably thank volunteers at races as you grab a drink from them as you run by or when you stumble around the finishing area and they hand you a medal or water. Well, now you can be that person. You can see the pure joy on someones face as they cross the finish, and all their hard work is made worthwhile.
You know there is that quote from Kathrine Switzer that says, “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”
Well, this is exactly that, but you can get even more satisfaction in that you were there for them to celebrate their success too.
So find a local event in your area, contact the race organizer and offer to volunteer. If it is a big enough race, they might have a specific area of their website explaining how to volunteer. They will be so thankful you did, and so will you.
If being around the running world is too painful for you, I know sometimes it was for me, then volunteer somewhere else. A local pet shelter, an environmental agency, a food bank. The possibilities are endless.
One thing is for sure though, you will leave there with a smile on your face knowing that you made a difference.
Do something else running related that will help you when you can run
There is a whole lot of guilt associated with not running, and usually we focus on that. What we are missing, what we cannot do. We get into a cycle of self-pity, end up crying into a tub of ice cream (or is that just me?), and letting everything fall away.
Actually, that is making things worse.
What you need to do, is spin your perspective to work on your weaknesses. You are always saying how busy you are, how there is not enough time for everything, well, now you have that running time slot to use for something else that will help you once you are back running.
Foam rolling, stretching or stability work, food prep, reading running books with advice for runners.
All those things that get pushed aside, well, you now have a dedicated time to work on them, and it is only going to help you as you get back running again.
Don’t believe me? Listen to my interview with James Dunne, he will have you convinced that this stuff makes a difference and does prevent injuries.
You know how crappy injuries feel, so let’s work on building a stronger you, so this doesn’t happen again.
Oh, and physical therapy, that is essentially strength training, so you are building a more resilient runner, who can then advance onto the higher level strength training exercises.
Listen to (running) podcasts
Okay, so they don’t have to be running podcasts, it can be anything. There are a whole lot of motivational, spiritual, uplifting podcasts that can work during this time. I especially like to listen to ones addressing body image and the way we view ourselves, as I find those can get me out of that “woe is me” thinking, and instead focused on what I can control.
Some of my favorites are:
FitFluential Radio with Kelly Olexa
And some running ones:
Running for Real Podcast….is that a shameless plug? 😉
Get out and walk
Now, I am not gonna lie, this one has been a little tough this week.
The first few weeks, I was kind of enjoying walks, only a few a week, but I did enjoy getting out and taking time to look around me, rather than running by in a blur. I explored new parts of our neighborhood, and came back feeling refreshed and at peace.
This week has been tough for me to get the motivation to go out there, so trust me, I hear you if you are thinking UGH!
Let’s commit to this together. It is worth it, just like when you lose motivation to want to get out there and run, but a few minutes in, you are glad you did, walking is much the same way.
You can go about it two ways:
- Hold the time you would usually spend running, reserve it for your walking time, and just get out the door, maybe while it is still peaceful and calm out before life gets in the way.
- If you are going to cross train as well while you are injured, and have that running time reserved for that or therapy, find a different time in the day, maybe around that 3-4pm area, where the munchies hit, set an alarm, leave your desk, and go for a walk.
You could use that walking time to call a friend you have been meaning to catch up with for a while, or you could listen to one of the podcasts mentioned above. This is the best way for me to motivate myself out the door, but if you can just leave the phone at home, and enjoy looking around and being in nature, that is the best way to do it.
There is something about being out in nature, feeling the ground on your feet, and admiring the beauty in the world that really feels good, and besides, when you walk, most people you cross paths with will smile at you.
And you know what the old quote says:
Even just forcing yourself to smile can be enough to turn your mood around. I am sure you will come back from your walk in a better mood…unless of course you step in dog poo, then maybe your mood might take a few hours before you can laugh it off 😉
Speak to an expert
In the past, I shared that I think we should all be able to admit that we are not always okay, and we are going through a rough patch. I told you I had plenty of those over the last few months as I decided where my future was going.
I talked to Evie often, and went through my feelings with close family and friends. However, I realize I am more open than most, and talking to people who know you well is not that easy, especially if they are not a runner and don’t understand what you are so upset about.
I don’t understand why there is this stigma against talking to someone about hard times, I really encourage it, and my sleep therapist really helped me process other things in my life, in addition to the sleep struggles I was having. I would really encourage anyone who is having feelings of depression or sadness around injury to talk to someone.
Evie is of course there too, she is now offering consulting, so you can talk to her, if you aren’t sure of who you can talk to. She definitely understands running too 🙂
This is the one that is often forgotten, but can be incredibly powerful.
When we are injured, not only do we have the runner withdraws symptoms like the endorphin rush after a good run (and lets face it, cross training can only do so much!), but we are also missing the social interaction.
The private Facebook group I created for the Running for Real community fills a little of that void, it becomes a place for people to vent with people who understand, but at the end of the day, it can be very easy to stay down in the dumps, pretty much until you start running again…which then brings a whole new round of paranoia as you realize how out of shape you are.
That is why I recommend you find comedy in your life. Hang out with friends who make you laugh, watch comedies on TV, go to a comedy club. Laughing is a surefire way to bring you out of that funk, and even if you are in the sulky mood….whcih lets face it, especially us girls out there can make the most of it, laughing can at least get you to the point where you smile.
There is so much out there, and it really depends on your sense of humor. My favorite comedian is Michael McIntyre, so I will often watch his videos, but there is a lot more out there, and especially if you are American, a lot of his humor might not make sense.
Either way, comedy has this power to knock us out of a bad mood, and remind us that laugher really is the best medicine.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Okay, I am not gonna lie, this one is definitely my weakness, and something I am working on.
I really struggle to relax, and I definitely struggle to not feel like I am wasting time by not being productive.
For me, the best way has been to find time in the day to sit and read, or sit in the sunshine for a few moments. I have not got to the point where I can actually allow my mind to be still, but baby steps, right?
There has been SOOOOO much buzz in the world about how meditation is a game changer, no matter what stage of life you are in, and if you are injured, this is a way to bring you back to the present and focusing on what you can control in your life right at this moment. It is calming, it is relaxing, and it is a way of making the simple thing of just “being” the focus of your attention.
There are now lots of apps which help you with it, the one I have heard the most good stuff about is Headspace, so I would recommend that one to you.
Give it a try, and let me know how it helps you.
Spend time with friends and family
When you are training for a big race, especially when it is something that takes months and months of preparation like a marathon, it can be easy to push everything else to the side.
I am more guilty of this than anyone.
Making your family move their plans around so you can get your runs in, forgetting to call friends to find out how they are doing, missing out on social occasions because you need to get an early night for your long run. My good friend, Tom Foreman talked about this when I interviewed him on Run to the Top.
Running can easily overtake our lives.
But having an injury gives you the time to focus on what is most important; the people you love.
Running is great, and it helps us achieve that higher level of happiness through the self fulfillment and accomplishment, but without anyone to share it with or without relationships, it means nothing.
So start to repair those relationships, or if you have managed to keep them a priority, strengthen them even more. Running feels good, but knowing you are loved feels so much better, and reminds us that we are so much more than just runners.
The people who love you will love you no matter what. No matter how fast, slow, or if you ever run again. They love YOU, what is inside of you, that beautiful person who they cherish so much.
I have learned this first hand lately, thinking that people would not longer respect me, or think I was quitting, wasting my talents.
Quite the opposite actually. I think my friends and family were thankful to have their Tina back, all of me, not just the exhausted shell who had to rev up the energy to have a conversation.
You will probably find the same thing too, and especially if you have kids, focus on them. They will only be young for a short period of time, so cherish those memories you make with them, as that is more important than any run or race.
Go explore new places with them, spend more time giggling and being silly with them, and meet up somewhere new, so you can make the most of your time to explore.
Mimic your running while cross training
I debated whether or not to include this one, as I feel like it doesn’t really help you emotionally to deal with injuries, but it can help you to stay focused and positive.
I have talked before about how to use cross training to stay in shape while you are injured, and I said that you should try to mimic your workouts in the pool or on the bike. I won’t go over it again, but you can watch this video where I talked about it.
If you spend some of the time cross training visualizing coming back from this injury, achieving the goal you have set out in front of you for when you are healthy, and really feel yourself achieving it, and believe in your heart it is possible, it will help you to feel confident and positive that this is for the good.
Now, I have thrown a lot at you today, and believe it or not, these are only half of the suggestions I have, but without making this a 10,000 word post, I am going to stop here and make it into an ebook for future reference.
BUT remember, you should download my how to journal guide with an actual (handwritten) page from my journal while I came back from my worst running injury of my career.Very helpful for injured runners. 12 ways to mentally cope with running injuries from @tinamuir Click To Tweet
I hope this has been helpful for you, and if you have a friend or loved one who is injured right now, please share this with them. It could help to make them feel so much less alone AND remind them that you are thinking about them, which will put them in a good mood anyway to know that you care that much.
This doesn’t even just have to be for injuries either, it can be for anyone who works out, for a career change, for dealing with the loss of a loved one. I called it injury depression, but really, these tips can make all of us live a life full of joy 🙂
How do you cope with injuries?