Running after Injury
Around this time last year, I was just about to hit taper week of the training cycle for my first full marathon. I had put in the work of long, solo 20-milers, the fast, intense speed workouts, and the grueling, sisyphean-like hill repeats. I was so proud of the growth that I had seen in myself as a runner, and I was so excited to actually take on the coveted title of “Marathoner.”
Unfortunately, I ended up being sidelined during race week by a “stress response” in my right femur. Due to the confluence of poor nutrition, lack of sleep, and excessive stress (hello, academic job market!), I ended up with an injury that my doctor just couldn’t allow me to take into a 26.2 mile endeavor.
As I’m sure you can imagine, I was heartbroken. But I was thankful that we had caught the injury early enough that it didn’t require a significant recovery. But the real work began after getting over the initial hurdle of missing the race and sitting out on running for 6 weeks.
I know that many of you can relate to the challenges of getting back into running after time off. Some of you might be dealing with a return to running after pregnancy, or a particularly busy period in life, or, like me, after a significant injury. For those of you who are in this proverbial boat, I hope that my words will offer a bit of encouragement. For those of you who have been around this proverbial block a time or two (or more) before, I hope that you will feel compelled to comment with encouragement for those who might currently need a boost or gentle nudge.
As I tend to do, I am going to provide a quick disclaimer here. I’m neither a sports med physician nor a physical therapist. Thus, I am not going to offer you a back-from-injury running plan. I have ZERO qualifications for that! I am, however, going to give you 2 tidbits of advice that have helped me immensely as I have #workedtowardacomeback in my post-injury running. Here are my two suggestions: Listen to your body (and your healthcare professional!) and Be kind to yourself.
Listen to your body (and your health care provider)
My injury occurred for a couple of reasons. First, I had allowed myself to get run down. I was stressed, tired, and overcommitted, and my body paid the price – especially as it tried to sustain 40-mile weeks. I began feeling pain when I was running. Then I started feeling pain when I was walking. Then I started feeling pain when I was resting. I failed to listen to my body until I finally reached the point of pain during rest. Since coming back from injury, I have been committed to listening to my body. Whether I’m overtired or overworked or feeling a bit of a twinge, I stop and try to understand what is causing my difficulties and discomforts. Now I know that temporary pain comes with any athletic endeavor, but I no longer ascribe to the “ask no questions / no pain no gain” school of thought.
I also was immensely blessed to work with an amazing PT during my recovery. The root of my injury was – as many of us runners discover about ourselves – weakness in my hips and glutes. I worked closely with a PT at my previous university (thank you, student health services!) to gently and slowly build the strength in my lower body that would be required to carry me across long distances of running. Just FYI, I know that this option is not available to everyone. In fact, the amazing resources available to me as a student at a large state school are now a thing of the past with my being a faculty member at a small private school. With that being said, if you can work out the finances for seeing a sports med PT, I’d highly recommend it!
Be kind to yourself
Listening to your body is great. And strength training is awesome and vital. But, even as I made amazing strides in my strength and post-injury recovery, getting out and hitting the pavement was tough. In all honesty, y’all, it still is! It’s been almost a year since I was injured, and I am still nowhere near where I was in September 2017, or even February 2017. As many of the folks who have dealt with a return to running (or any exercise) after injury/time off know, coming to terms with a loss of fitness can be a major challenge. And the hardest thing that I have found is understanding that you just can’t compare yourself post-injury to yourself pre-injury. Sure, it’s great to have goals and to KNOW that you have it in you to sustain a 20+ mile effort, but you can’t beat yourself up for not having the fitness to sustain that effort as soon as you lace up your running shoes.
I have been dealing with this challenge for the past 11 ½ months. Despite the frustration, disappointment, and even lack of motivation that it can cause, however, it is also a great chance to grow spiritually. When I get down about my lack of fitness in September 2018 compared to September 2017, I immediately remind myself that I am darn lucky to have the ability to get outside and run. When I get angry with myself for not wanting to run in the morning, I remind myself that, even at the height of my fitness, I still had to fight with myself to get out the door. And when I’m just disappointed with myself overall for taking so long to get back into extended training, I remind myself that I must be kind, especially because lots of life has happened over the past 11 ½ months that has taken my attention away from intense training. Finally, I remember that the growing pains of getting back into shape are the perfect chance to #offeritup for the many people in our world and in our Church who need and deserve our prayers.
So, if you are in the thick of it and #workingtowardacomeback with me, please know that I understand that it’s tough and frustrating. I’m right there with you, friends! And I’m here to remind us all that we need to listen to our bodies and show ourselves kindness and grace. I pray that we all enjoy the journey as we regain our fitness.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also be interested in When Injury Strikes.
Jennifer is a wife, mom of three, runner, and PhD. She and her family recently moved back to the Carolinas after a five-year grad school stint in the Midwest. Jennifer is a cradle Catholic, and she began running almost thirty years ago, participating in her first road races as an elementary-school kid at the annual Knights of Columbus Turkey Day Run. She frequently turns to both the rosary and distance running (oftentimes simultaneously) for assistance in embracing the joys and the demands of family life and academic life. You can connect with Jennifer on Instagram.