Injuries Suck—Here’s How to Make the Best of Them

Injuries suck. They are the horrible nightmares no runner wants to wake up to, be it from an accident or a product of overuse. Any medical setback throws a major wrench in training as well as sanity.

The good news is there’s a silver lining. Time off can serve as a rebalancing period to fine-tune mental toughness and focus and improve physical problem areas.

I wish someone told me that five years ago when my three-and-a-half year collegiate running career was cut short by redshirts, countless hours of cross-training and rehab, and the inability to train consistently.

Although I couldn’t get ahead of my injuries and wouldn’t have thought of my injuries as blessings in disguise at the time, those setbacks armed me with tools to become a better athlete, which I’m now reaping the benefits from as a marathoner.

There are many pros to your unfortunate injury con, which we’ll discuss in detail below. Be proactive and use this setback as an opportunity to revaluate your goals, improve your mental game and reignite your competitive fire.

Fine-tune mental drive and focus

Recovering from injuries is undoubtedly difficult, but it also gives you an opportunity to remember why you want to recover in the first place.

Why do you enjoy running? Why did you set the goals you have? Why is it important to you to achieve them?

These are all vital questions, as they are the reasons you do what you do every day. Take this time to reflect on them and realign yourself with their answers. It will refuel your desire to run, helping you persevere through the injury and appreciate running in a new light once you’ve overcome it. You’ll likely be more hungry to achieve your goals than you were before.

Rely less on the “schedule”

Sometimes we get so caught up in the little things–like our mileage plan, weekly training schedule and daily routines– that we forget why we’re doing them in the first place, or we panic when something out of routine happens.

It’s unrealistic to think you can stick to a set plan 100 percent of the time. You may not recover as well from a workout, not get enough sleep one week, or feel more fatigued than normal. Whatever the case may be, life happens and that’s okay.

Plans are in place to keep you on track, but remember they are fluid structures. They should ebb and flow according to your needs. So, be flexible and open to adaption; take it day-by-day. Doing so will also help you overcome adversity when it comes to race day. Because let’s face it, despite pre-competition visualization or training to accommodate for different race scenarios, there’s no telling how a race will go.

Listen to your body

The recipe to success is not necessarily a set quantity, consistently hitting your planned mileage, or always having workouts on Fridays and long runs on Sundays. It is being aware of your body, giving it what it needs, and trusting in the process. If you aren’t in tune with your body’s needs, you put yourself at a greater risk of future injuries.

Yes, motivation and dedication are excellent qualities to have as a runner, but it is just as important to know your limits. There’s a fine line between pushing yourself and training through aches and pains to hit your daily mileage or get through a workout.

Abnormal fatigue and pain are warning signs: your body telling you it needs recovery or you’re overworking it. The more you work on opening communication between your conscious mind and your body’s requirements, the better equipped you’ll be to avoid injuries and optimize your training and performances.

It takes some practice to know when your body is telling you to ease up and when you should keep pushing through. Are you tired or hurting simply as a result of having a good training day, or because you’re lacking proper recovery or you’re overtraining?

Often, simply stopping to ask yourself these questions can help you determine the best course of action. Other times it’s more difficult to tell, but conversing with a coach or training buddy can help you determine the answer.

“Recognize that most injuries are simply a temporary setback,” says Joseph Potts, a sports performance coach in Kansas City, “and can serve as a time of self-evaluation and progress where you can really work on your body and correct any individual weaknesses. Approach your rehabilitation and continued training with the same aggression and focus that you could use in competition.”

Beat your toughest competition

The biggest opponent is the one in your head. Come to grips with him or her through means such as meditation and establish a routine that will last post-injury. It will help you cope now as well as benefit your athletic performance later in numerous ways:

  • Focus: Something every runner can work on, and it will give you a competitive edge over your competition.
  • Cope with pain: Whether to help with the pain of an injury or the burn of a workout or race, runners are always dealing with something.
  • Mental Toughness: Be it self-doubt or dealing with adversity, being resilient will help you achieve your goals.
  • Reduce stress: Meditation is an effective option to help decrease some of the stress from being injured or other stresses in your personal or work life.

Just 10 minutes a day can go a long way.

An injury is a prime opportunity for athletes to exercise other cognitive implements, according to Vanderbilt Athletics Sports Psychologist and former FBI Supervisory Special Agent, Dr. Vickie Woosley.

“The athlete would be able to spend time on techniques such as visualization, mental imagery, develop a strong mental toolbox of skills that are easily accessible for dealing with situations [during and outside of competition],” Woosley says.

She suggests athletes engage in talk therapy with a professional to learn how to best implement these techniques and to discuss fears, expectations, and what returning to a competitive environment may look like.

Harvest gratitude

It’s easy to get caught up in your routine when training. You put your head down and get it done. Each day is a checked box on your grand to-do list. Often times we’re so focused on the outcome, we forget to appreciate the process. Truly, “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone,” and time out of your routine makes this apparent. Recognize that every healthy day, whether an easy run or a tough workout, is another chance to do what you love and improve.

Have more time for other things

Look at the time needed to heal yourself from injury as an opportunity to reach out to family and friends who you otherwise had less time for when training. It’s the perfect excuse to reconnect. Fill your time with any and all people and activities that bring you joy, and the injury blues will fade away.

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