How to Handle a Running Injury

It is a law of nature that every runner will suffer injuries that prevent them from training as planned. Equally all-encompassing is the feeling of invincibility that characterises any runner who has yet to encounter debilitating injuries. These two facts of running life combine to ensure that almost every runner is woefully underprepared when they eventually have to face up to the reality that when running is your passion, your body will work against you at some point.

My training log entries from week 4 and week 5 of 2019 are good examples of how this usually plays out. I feel so sorry for myself, and every word I write reflects that. But it is OK. It is even natural to feel sorry for yourself when you can’t do the thing that makes you happy. However, do not let that get in the way of taking a productive approach to managing your injury.

A Positive Mindset to Handle a Running Injury

Take some time to feel sorry for yourself. But once you get that out of the way, you need to shift your mindset. As an injured runner, your goals immediately turn from running more and faster. Instead, the aim is now to minimise time away from running and the amount of fitness you lose while not being able to run.

It is essential that you take some time to reflect on this change. It will help will two critical aspects of injury recovery: Keeping the itch to get back to full training too soon in check, and overcoming the dread of cross-training. Spend all your time while injured thinking about your near-term goals, and you will likely rush your recovery. Instead, focus on coming back stronger than ever.

One trick to keep a positive mindset, shared by Run161 Twitter friend Harold Shaw, is to look to others. Every runner has faced injury at some point, and many have shared their stories. Learn from their experiences, both the ups and downs. And, most importantly, become convinced that you can come back faster and stronger than before.

Find Out What’s Damaged and How to Fix It

I know it is tempting to think that this point boils down to a combination of googling and guessing. However, if you want to figure out what’s keeping you from running, you have to consult a professional. Depending on the severity of your ailments, that can be a general physician, or you could go directly to a specialised expert.

Regardless of what you opt for, it is critical to find someone with experience in diagnosing and treating athletes. The last thing you want to hear is that you are just running too much. Someone with expertise in athletes will help you chart the way back to full training. And, additionally, guide you on how to maintain fitness safely without aggravating your problems. Experience with injured athletes likely means that he or she has already worked with others with similar troubles as you are facing. This experience will help with both pinpointing the problem, and how to address it.

Work On the Root Causes of Your Injury

An injury is the body’s way of informing you that something is wrong. And, tempting as it might be, waiting for the damage to heal and then get back to regular training is a recipe for reinjury. Instead, you should identify the reason why you ended up injured in the first place.

Instead of brushing it off as “too much, too soon!” you should look at which weaknesses in your body or deficiencies in your gait cycle led to the injury. A qualified professional, such as a specialised physiotherapist, will help you with identifying the root causes. But, more importantly, she will also help decide what you have to do to combat these weaknesses. Attack these corrective exercises with the same ferocity as you do with your running.

Strength and rehab work targeting your weaknesses is of the utmost importance, and I cannot overstate this point. Being diligent in this aspect of your recovery will let you come back stronger, and minimises chances of reinjury. Additionally, strengthening your core and hips, glutes and hamstrings will likely help improve your running economy. Or, put another way, it will help you run faster.

Cross-Train to Minimise Loss of Running Fitness

An injury never comes at a convenient time. Whether you suffer an injury during marathon training, or while training for a shorter race, trying to handle a running injury is frustrating. To relieve that frustration, and to keep your hard-earned fitness from disappearing, you need to cross-train.

Related: Elliptical Cross-Training for Improving Running Fitness

There is a multitude of cross-training possibilities out there. Generally speaking; an injured runner is looking for an activity that minimises impact while stressing the cardiovascular system. Activities more similar to running will likely produce more positive effects for your running.

In a response on Twitter, Fluid Running points to deep water running or aqua jogging as an excellent option for cross-training. It essentially allows you to run without any impact, and apparently, studies have shown that you can even improve fitness through aqua jogging.

If accessing a pool is inconvenient, there are many other good options. Biking can help you maintain fitness, and let you continue to enjoy the fresh air. If you have access to a gym, you can bike there or jump on the elliptical for a highly specific cross-training session. Rowing, inside or out on the open water is also a great option. Of course, the cardiovascularly most efficient form of cross-training, cross country skiing, is a fantastic option. That is if you have access to gear, snow and trails.

Cross-training is important if you have to handle a running injury. XC skiing is a great option.
XC skiing is a great option for cross-training

Regardless of what you do, be mindful of the fact that you are still putting a load on your body. Get help from people who know how to do your chosen activity properly, and make sure you are doing it right. Aim to dedicate a similar amount of time to your cross-training as you would your running, and your fitness level might surprise you when you return to regular training.

Engage In Other Activities Besides Running

While I touched on the mental aspect earlier in the article, I want to explore this aspect a little further. To many of us, running becomes more than a hobby. It is not just an activity we do to stay fit and, hopefully, healthy. Instead, it becomes part of who we are and, in many cases, part of our identities. In many ways, this experience of running growing to something so much more than just an activity, and this is a shared experience among so many runners, is undoubtedly part of what makes running magical.

At the same time, it also causes much frustration when injury keeps us from running. In the article “Running has gone from ruling my life to giving me a sense of freedom” British runner Natasha Cockram discusses this point. She details a situation many runners will find familiar, where running means so much to you that an injury is devastating. In turn, this leads to rushing your recovery, and overdoing it when you return. And, then, injury strikes again, and the negative spiral has a hold of you.

Cockram talks about how realising yourself through other aspects of life has helped her become a more balanced person, and benefited her running. This critical point is something we would do well to keep at the top of our minds. Not just when injury strikes, but when your running is going well, too. Having your identity and self-worth tied to other avenues in addition to running will help you when injury strikes, and every other time you face adversity linked to running.

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