80% of runners get injured, so if you are a runner there is a pretty high chance you have experienced an injury since you decided to lace up the shoes and give this awesome sport a go.  You might have had an overuse injury where one day you’re out enjoying your runs, next minute, you might start to feel something tightening up,  then all of a sudden its too painful to run.  Or you might have experienced an acute injury like having a fall and banging up your knee. Either way an injury sends you spiraling into a world filled with pain, both physical and mental.  

I had the joy of straining my back recently after sleeping for 5 days on the soft, not so good for your back couch, with the flu. Excruciating back pain is not fun. No running for at least 4-6 weeks even less fun!

The thing is the thoughts and feelings we have when we are injured can influence how quickly we recover and get back on track with our training.  And also, very importantly, how likely we are to get re-injured. 

Here are some suggestions to help you navigate the mental hurdles with pratical strategies, enabling yo come out the otherside stronger and a more resilient person.

Know what the problem is

The amount of times I have heard a runner tell me they know what’s going on but haven’t actually seen a health professional is A LOT.  Instead of telling yourself a hundred different stories of what it could be, go and see a trained professional who knows what they are doing so you know what is  wrong.  And make sure you understand what they are saying.  I have been to too many health professionals who say a lot of technical things and I come out having no idea what they said. 

Ask lots of questions until you understand (there is no such thing as a dumb question – it’s their job to help you understand).  Say what you understand back to them in your own words to confirm you are getting it.  Understand the root cause of the injury and what the treatment plan is.  My tip is to write it down during the consult or straight after – not 3 days later when you have forgotten the details.

I actually keep a spreadsheet with all health professional visits over time (I’m that kind of person).  It does help to have a holistic overview in putting together the causes and noticing any trends, especially if you have recurring injuries.

Acknowledge the feelings

I don’t know about you, but anger, frustration, general moodiness comes to mind when I can’t get out for my morning endorphin fix.  Our routine is disrupted, our goals may be affected like not being able to do a race that we have put time, energy and money into.  It’s not an easy thing. Do what’s going to help you acknowledge and process the feelings.  Good options are journalling, sharing with runner friends or family who empathise and meditation.

Learn from your mistakes

Doing an honest review of your training, warning signs, your decisions, thoughts and feelings leading up to your injury.  Most overuse injuries are due to increasing your training load too quickly or doing too much too soon.

Reviewing your training can help you process what happened and also avoid it happening again.  I know this exercise can be difficult and self-judgement, regret can come up (especially if it’s fresh).  You can’t change the past, but you have the power to change the future.  Don’t bury your head in the sand, go out there and take control.  If you do the same things over and over you get the same result.

Take note of your self-talk

What you say to yourself matters.  Write down any negative self-talk talk like ‘I’ve lost all that progress’ or ‘I’ll never get back to where I was’, ‘I’m soooo slow’.

I’m not going to lie, some of these thoughts did cross my mind after 4 weeks off running when those mid-year race goals started looking unlikely.

The thing is the more you say it, the more you believe it.  Instead offer your brain something different like ‘I’ll focus on today’s session, it’s too early to say whether I have lost all the progress’  or ‘I have time now to improve aspects of my training that I otherwise wouldn’t have had’.  Focus on facts and true statements rather than the stories we tell ourselves.

Embrace your runners identity

What do I mean by that? We run because we love moving our bodies, our health is important, we enjoy being outside and love a goal or two.  Instead of opting out, taking a holiday from your training and feeling like crap (unless of course rest is required). Take this opportuning to focus on your rehabilitation and what you can do.

There is always SOMETHING you can do and set a goal for it, if goals are what keep you moving. 

Use the time you would have spent running for things like strength training, water running (my fave for improving form, efficiency plus getting that endorphin high), cycling, elliptical, swimming and hiking/walking.

Even focusing on improving your mental strength for your running and nutrition are great goals/ways to spend that time focusing on something else that can help your running.

As long as it doesn’t impact your recovery, controlling the controllables and focusing on what you can do, setting goals around that, will 100% make your return to running a lot smoother.  Plus keep you in a happier place mentally rather than wallowing in frustration about the things you can’t do – especially if it’s for an extended period of time.

Navigating the mental challenges of injury recovery demands patience, self-compassion, and resilience. By knowing what the problem is, learning from your mistakes, acknowledging the feelings, switching to more positive self-talk, embracing your rehabiltation and focusing on what you can do you will enable you to comeback to your running with a positive mindset and as a much more rounded runner.  Remember progress is rarely linear.

Want to progress your running with effective and sustainable run and strength training, plus nutrition support?  Find out more about my 16-week program The Sustainable Run Method here.

 

References:

A. Ivarsson et al, “Psychosocial factors and Sport Injuries: Meta-analyses for Prediction and Prevention”, Sports Medecine, July 12, 2016.

S. Marshall & L. Paterson, ‘The Brave Athlete – Calm The F*ck Down and Rise To The Occasion, 2017. (I highly reccomend this book if you are interested in improving your race day mental game).