I experienced my first running-related injury in the fall of ninth grade. Our high school’s cross country course started with a significant downhill through a grassy field. Moments after the start of one of our weekly meets, I bolted downhill and immediately twisted my ankle.
Diagnosed with an ankle sprain and sent home with a pair of crutches, the one thing that I remember most was the doctor saying, “It would have been better if it was broken, because then it would heal completely. Ankle sprains never really heal one hundred percent.”
Fast-forward 25 years later to last fall when once again I was recovering from an ankle sprain after running through the grass during a trail race. At this point in my life I know that crunching sound my ankle makes when I roll my ankle all too well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sidelined from spraining my right ankle, but I can tell you that how I handle being injured has evolved over the years. As I’ve matured as a runner (and as a human) I’ve learned the right ways and wrong ways to handle any injury.
The wrong ways I’ve handled injuries:
Denial—This way of coping with an injury was my best friend in my mid-twenties. If I ignore the injury, it will just go away, right? Nope. I hobbled my way through a marathon with an injury and didn’t run for six months after I crossed the finish line.
Giving Up—Once I was diagnosed with an injury (which let’s be honest, it’s really easy to diagnose a sprained ankle over and over again!) I just stopped doing everything and sat on my couch waiting for my injury to heal itself. This approach did allow my injury to heal, but giving up completely and letting something heal are two very different things.
Pouting—Crying over spilt milk is fun to do, until no one wants to talk to you anymore because everyone is sick of hearing your complaints. I’m embarrassed to say there have been times when I’ve been that horribly annoying runner who just won’t stop talking about their injury. I now allow myself to pout about an injury for up to 24 hours and then it is time to move on!
The right way I’ve handled injuries:
Sought Professional Help Immediately—Now, if I have a minor ache or pain that lasts for two weeks, I make an appointment to see my physical therapist. I follow his guidelines and do every exercise he tells me to do, so that I either avoid ending up with a full-blown injury or can work on chronic issues like ankle stability and ankle joint mobility.
Set New Goals—Just because I may not be able to achieve my running goals while injured, it doesn’t mean I can’t set other health-related goals. For example, right now, my goal is to walk for 45 minutes and then do 15 minutes of strength work, six days a week.
Embrace The Reset—No one likes to be injured and missing the fall racing season isn’t fun, but I’ve learned that an injury can have a positive effect on other areas of my life. Not running means I have time to regroup and focus on the things I’ve been slacking on while I was focused on training.
Injuries are challenging to deal with, but having the right mindset and having a good relationship with my physical therapist has made a huge difference in how I handle them. I also know there will be other races to run during the next season and that goal races aren’t the most important things in life.
What have you learned from injuries?
This post first appeared on Women’s Running where I blog weekly. Catch my weekly posts here.