For a long, long time I was not an injured runner. Sure I had twinges, tweaks and flares along the way but I never really dealt with a true injury until 2016. Then when it hit it was serious and it hit hard! Three seasons have come and gone since then and I think that my runner’s knee is the sort of thing that will pop up from time to time as long as I run. Having an injury taught me a lot of practice things but also made me grow as a person and as I runner. I think any runner who’s never been injured deserves to know all about that the easy way. With that in mind I wanted to put something together that passed on all the positives with out having to go through the negative experience of getting injured.
1. Running injuries can strike any runner
You could be fast or slow, old or young, thin or fat and elite or the most casual of runners. Anyone can get injured at any time. You might have already trained for and run many marathons when injury strikes or you might only rack up five or six runs a month on average. Some runners are injury prone while others seem to be injury resistant for no really great reason. Last year my mom and step-dad took up running. For all intensive reasons they are pretty similar. Neither had significant histories in athletics, both were similarly older, similarly paced and similarly weighted. One turned out to be injury resistant and the other injury prone. In university I never really had an issue much beyond a re-occuring twinge in my knee. The girl I ran with had an issue about twice a year that made our runs together into walks. Again similar in every way but no explanation as to why she was often injured and I was not. Just because your milage isn’t high, you’ve won local races for years or so far you’ve remained injury free take the possibility seriously because you’re time might come yet.
2. For a lot of runners your first injury takes you out of the game for good
Even though an injury almost never means you have to stop running I’ve seen so many people never, ever get back to it after their very first injury. Runners who have been injured want you to know that mostly because it doesn’t have to be that way. While you’re still healthy we would ask you to please take some mental space to think about why you love and want to stay running. We generally deal with a few re-occurning things. Things like runner’s knee, ITBS and plantar fasciitis. Especially the very first time these things occur they are pretty easy to re-hab. I know lots of runners who take up the sport, fall in love, race a ton and then quit for good the first time they get injured. Think about it before it happens because you probably don’t want your first injury to take you out of the game for good.
3. It’s only a matter of time
No matter how long you’ve been a runner you will someday be injured. It might happen in your first 100 km but it might take you a few thousand km to have injury strike you. Someday though it will happen. Many, many studies show that a runner can expect an injury to occur about every 100-1500 km. It’s actually kind of weird how consistent the studies are in their findings. Of course that’s on average so if you’re at km 999 nothing is guaranteed to happen tomorrow. If you haven’t been hit yet or in a long, long time try not to let that fact make you smug or over confident. Pay attention always to the signals your body is sending you, the 10% rule and signs of over training. Learn everything you can before it happens, listen to other injured runners stories with care and try to internalize it as much as you can because more than likely your time is coming.
4. Start taking preventative steps now
On that note just because you don’t seem all that injury prone or have never had the experience doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be taking preventative steps now. If I had a wish for every runner out there it’s that you will never experience a running injury. Pay attention to your form from the start, never increase your milage by more than 10% per week. Cross train and strength train regularly, ideally every week. Seek out and take feedback and advice from more experienced runners you trust where possible. Know certain facts like that running 15 -20 km a week consistently makes you more resistant to injury. Listen to your body and take steps to correct imbalances before they become a big deal. For example if you’re feeling twinges in your knees there’s a huge benefit to doing the physio exercises for runner’s knee before it becomes your life’s problem.
If however you’ve struggled with an injury in the past there is a pretty significant chance you’ll deal with it again in the future. Recognize that and the habits that lead you to having problems reoccur. Is consistency key for you? Do runs of a certain length cause flare ups? Does your weekly yoga session seem to be the key for calm? Once you’ve dealt with injury it’s time to think a bit deeper about getting and staying healthy long term.
5. The sooner you admit it and start taking it seriously the sooner it will get better
Lots of times runners who are injured actively try to stay in denial for as long as possible. Statements like “No of course it doesn’t hurt” when it does. “Running didn’t cause this” or “it was just one funny step yesterday” are not helpful in getting you better sooner. Neither are ignoring pain and running through it, pushing through until race day or running your weekly milage no matter what. I’ve done all of those things and not only did they not help me get better sooner they kept me injured longer. Taking a week off from running when you have a bad knee day (like this week), doing physio at the first sign of a twinge and skipping a training cycle will all help you get better sooner. If not a six week rest and exercise cycle can drag on for a whole year. Ignoring my knee injury and pushing through injury has cost me a season and lead to a lot of FOMO and pain in the past. Now taking care of my knee consistently and at the first sign of flare ups I’ve completed my biggest challenges to date and my knee feels better than it ever has since I first had an issue. Let that be a lesson to you.
6. Don’t put off your goals forever
As you get older you get slower, creakier and that can lead to having more issues that you have to work harder to sort out. Coming back from an injury is harder, hurts more and takes more work the more time passes. The runner’s knee I deal with is linked to an accident I had when I was only 16 years old, bursitis in my hip that resulted from a low speed car-pedestrian accident. It stayed relatively acute for about 2 years especially after pull-outs when I was a life guard. Years later when I started having pain while running and then that escalated as I casually entered into overtraining territory I realized it was time to s$%t or get off the pot. If I continued to do nothing about this I wasn’t going to be able to be the type of runner I wanted to be. Sure when dealing with injury sometimes the best thing to do is try again next year, which I’ve done too, but every year you don’t get serous it’s only going to get worse. If you still have #goals left out in front of you at some point you might just have to get serious about them and put in the hard work now.
7. The physical pain is the easiest part
Don’t get me wrong there is physical pain. Athletic injuries have cause me to limp, cry, not get off the couch for a whole day, take pain meds and descend the stairs on my butt. That pain kind of pain fades fast in day to day life but the mental anguish that goes along with injury is so much worse! If you’ve run enough to get injured you probably like or even love running. For me it I say major mood stabilizer, energizer and act of self care. Maybe you don’t have love for running but it’s the efficiency of conditioning that makes you keep coming back for more. Having something like that taken away from you all at once, even if its temporary, is REALLY hard on the head. Just being told or worse realizing on your own you can’t do something you want to is way more terrible than it sounds. Imagine it’s a beautiful, perfect running day, you have the time and you’re stuck in doors. Even worse than not getting to do something you want to I the moment is the doubts you’ll have if you can ever do it again. There are many stages to dealing with an injury and you’ll notice most of them are mental.
8. You’re going to have to decide how important running is to you and work for it
Injured runners want you to take some time to think about why you run, why its important to you and what it means to you long before you ever end up on the injured list. It’s true that being forced to take some time off and wondering if you’ll ever recover makes you take stock and think about why running is a priority in your life but you don’t have to wait for injury to strike. Once it has though and you work hard to get back to your sport you do so with a renewed love and after a lot of thinking it means so much more to you. We’d like you to be able to get to that thoughtful priority stage now without having to go through all that hurt in the mean time.
9. Almost not matter what the injury you can get better pretty easily
If you so end up dealing with an injury in the future know that it’s not that big a deal in the scheme of life. It’s actually pretty easy and fast to move past it. Usually it’s just a matter of doing the physio exercises for 6 weeks and not running and then like magic you’re back at it. Some things are actually doable to diagnose on the internet but best to see a doctor and meet a PT at least once to learn your exercises. The nice thing is doctors love to help runners get back to it as fast as possible and so they take your concerns seriously as a rule. When and if you do get injured it will literally feel like the end of the freakin’ world, it’s not. If you do the minor amount of work required, you will get better, you will get back to running and accomplish all of your goals. I promise!
10. If it’s not going to be running anymore you will find something else
Sometimes, for very, very few people they end up injured and for some reason they just can’t return to running. For a few others no matter what they try, re-doing their form, different shoes, orthotics or a personal trainer they keep getting injured when they run. So ultimately an injury or lots of them might lead you away from running. That’s really, really rare but if that’s you that’s okay. There are so many other activities out there you’ll find something else you love. Injured runners tend to freak out about losing fitness the very moment they stop running so they turn to cross training while they’re benched. I can’t tell you how many runners discover a love of yoga, cycling, lifting or swimming along the way. Lots of professional athletes and up loving and competing in their rehab activity long after they return to running. Remember that even though you love running the most, there are other things you could try that you’ll love too!
I wanted to write this one because being an injured runner does suck and I don’t want you to have to experience that if you don’t have to. If it does happen to you I want you to be prepared. If you’ve been injured how did it ultimately effect your running long term? What’s the one thing about being injured you want other runners to know?