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How to deal with the frustration of a running injury

Apr 04, 2024

I was reminded recently of how quickly our running future can change as I chatted to a runner who described how he broke his ankle while posing for a photo with other runners. One side-step into a hole in the ground and his running plans for the year ahead were in tatters. I myself tripped and broke an arm shortly before my first marathon in a moment of distraction. No one is immune to a bit of bad luck, but very few of us ever prepare for it. When it does happen it can put a serious dent on the confidence and positivity of any recovering runner.

Our routine, identity and possibly even social circle can be taken away from us in the space of a few minutes. The uncertainly in recovery time, the disappointment of race days passing by and the endless social media posts of smiling running faces can make many an injured runner anxious, frustrated or possibly even depressed. It may sound very dramatic but having coached runners through the ups and downs of running for so many years, the same emotions tend to rise to the surface when someone is forced off the road out of the blue. Telling a runner to keep positive can only go so far. We need practical solutions to help fill the time that can be spent dwelling in self-pity.

It is very demoralising to feel you are losing strength, focus, fitness and possibly even friendships. A runner’s social circle can come close to a family. Whether you train with a friend, club, group or your colleagues at lunchtime, most of us have running buddies we either run with or more importantly talk about running with. Yes, we all do like to talk about running. Its only when we can’t run that we realise how much running may have dominated our conversations and weekly plans. You can keep this conversation going by volunteering at running events or indeed meeting running buddies for their post run coffee if you can face being around happy runners.

It’s not just other people who might be missing from your weekly routine. You may possibly lose the opportunity to be outdoors by not having running in your calendar. If injury allows, try to walk or cycle and continue to get fresh air and vitamin D. Even if you don’t feel that runners high for a while there is still healing in the outdoors. Keeping moving and mobile in some form is essential, and it’s perfectly ok to feel jealous and resentful at every smug looking runner you do see when you are out and about.

Add up the hours you would have spent running each week before your injury. Allocate this time to helping you make a comeback as a better runner. Think of all the complementary activities you promised yourself you would do if only you had more time. You have it now. Experiment with finding the best yoga/pilates videos, dust off your foam roller, work on mobility, balance, flexibility while you do you have the chance. None of this is wasted time. Whether your injury is in your ankle or your hip, having a stronger, more supple body will stand to you when you do return to the roads. See this time as an opportunity to try something new and learn more about your body. Indeed listen to running podcasts, read running books or organise your running wardrobe or playlist if you feel physical training is not quite the right option for you just yet.

As planned race days pass without you getting to put on your race bib, it is helpful to look outside of running for comfort. It is worth remembering that there is life outside running (yes really) and its important to have some other interests too. It doesn’t have to be a new hobby, it might just be making time to check in with family or friends you have lost touch with as life gets busy and we all fall into our individual routines. Taking a step back and seeing how we value our time and the people in our life can be one bonus of your setback.

If you are reading this and are thanking your lucky stars you are not injured, remember to be grateful that you can run. This is something we can often take for granted and we can get caught up on minor frustrations like our speed or the weather. You never know what’s around the corner but having some form of a Plan B in your training plan can help you deal better with any unexpected future situation. There are always other races, events and days out. When all the focus is on one particular day, it can be hard to look beyond the setback.

An injury can be an opportunity to broaden our perspective a little, even if it just helps us realise all that we really do enjoy about running and learn to value it even more. It can also teach us plenty of lessons in relation to our own stress management and resilience. When most runners return from injury, albeit cautiously, they are extremely grateful for the comeback. They appreciate every mile. We can’t plan every step in running, but we can choose to celebrate the steps we can take. When we are off our feet we can do our best to get back on the road in the best shape and mindset we can. There are so many positives that can come from an injury setback, the only problem is that we have to be on the far side of the injury to appreciate them.

Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with

This article was first published in The Irish Times in 2019. 

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