How to Set Yourself Up for Success After an Injury

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In Part 1 of our injury episode we talked about how I’ve been dealing with my hamstring injury, what injury is, and how to get past denial to find a solution.

If you haven’t checked that episode out it may be helpful to go back and listen.

In this episode we want to go deeper into coping with injury, especially mentally and emotionally, and how to set yourself up for success in the recovery process.

How to Set Yourself Up for Success After an Injury

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If you’ve ever been injured you know that aside from the physical ramifications of the injury there are a host of mental and emotional struggles to deal with as well.

In my view, injuries are simply information that have started broadcasting more loudly to get heard. So, let’s talk about some ways to cope if you’re going through a period of injury.

1. Don’t Beat Yourself Up (Mentally)!

Sometimes we can feel that we may deserve to be injured because we weren’t listening to our body. We can point back to a time when we pushed ourselves too hard and think “if only I didn’t do that.”

If you can point to a moment in time in your training or racing that you regret, realize that hanging on to the regret is not going to move you through the process of recovery any faster. In fact, hanging onto regret may be holding you back.

At other times we may feel that injuries are unfair because we were doing everything “right.” We take rest days, get massages, stretch, strength train, focus on sleep, eat a healthy diet, etc so we may ask: “why is this happening to me?”

  • When we’re injured it’s normal to go through the stages of grief as identified by psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.
  • The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

An excellent book on coping with injury is Rebound- Train your mind to bounce back stronger from sports injuries by Carrie Jackson Cheadle and Cindy Kuzma. We interviewed the authors on episode 311 and this is a book that I recommend to any athlete going through injury.

They write,

Allowing yourself to really feel the loss of your goals and your athletic ability is often an essential step in turning the corner toward active recovery… Injury is difficult, but not hopeless. To rebound you must: understand that injury is mental and physical, believe that your mindset affects your recovery, and embrace your power to positively influence your trajectory.

2. Injury Does Not Make You Less of a Runner!

You will learn from the process. It’s important to be able to separate the ego from the injury. Just like running isn’t the totality of your identity, this injury isn’t either.

You shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed of being injured. It may just be part of your journey as a runner. And injury is something that most runners go through. It’s just that being injured doesn’t seem as Instagram worthy as running a PR.

Many runners tend to withdraw from social media during periods of injury so it may seem like you’re the only one. I really admire those runners who document both the highs and lows in their running journey.

As long distance runners there is a certain amount of risk that we take on. And the more you challenge and push yourself the more the risk of injury increases.

On the flip side, not taking risks prevents you from getting anywhere near your capabilities as a runner. One of the compelling things about marathons is that we choose to run marathons not because they’re easy but because they’re hard.

If you look at professional/elite runners you’ll notice that most of them have dealt with injuries. They’re surrounded by the best of the best in terms of coaching, medical support, physical therapy, nutrition, equipment, etc. And injury still happens to them.

I’ve heard many elites say that their breakthrough or world class performance resulted in dealing with injury and coming back stronger.

Shalane Flannigan had to drop out of entering the Boston Marathon 2017 due to a sacral stress fracture. After her recovery she came back to win the 2017 NYC Marathon. She said,

“Sometimes we don’t realize the moment when we feel like dreams are taken away, that actually there’s some delayed gratification down the road. I think it was a blessing that I got injured this past winter, and I came here full of energy and motivation and desire to put on the best performance of my life.”

Shalane Flanagan winning NYC Marathon

Another quote from Rebound relates to the learning that takes place through the process of injury:

“Nearly all athletes—especially those who push hard to achieve their full potential—will likely deal with injury. Even if you know injury is an inherent risk, getting hurt can still come as a shock.

During your injury process, you will experience hundreds, if not thousands, of shifts in your emotional state. Some of these emotions can be deep and powerful—you may grieve the loss of your identity. Acknowledging, rather than burying your emotions is what enables you to work through them.

The injury journey looks different for every athlete depending on both situational and personal factors.”

3. Be Accepting of Change!

The more we resist what’s happening and think “this should or shouldn’t be,” the longer it takes to come to a place of acceptance. When we really think about it, change is one of few things that is guaranteed in life.

Moving past denial and accepting the reality of change is the kindest thing we can do for ourselves. In fact, it’s the only true path to dealing with the injury and getting back to being healthy.

The fact that change is the only constant part of life is something that we have to keep in mind when we’re going through adversity.

It’s also important to realize that unwanted change is also part of being human. We get sick, injured, deal with lack of motivation, we sometimes don’t make the time to run, our bodies get older, and so much more.

Remember to examine your whole career as a runner when accepting the process of change. And by career we don’t mean that you do this for a job. Start to evaluate your running trajectory. There most likely won’t be a straight line to achieving your running goals. You might not always be going onward and upward.

You may notice more setbacks than victories. It’s also normal for running goals to change over time as we respond to the environment, our changing passions, and the changes in our bodies.

Professional mountain runner, Hillary Allen, who we interviewed on episode #357 says,

“There’s this physical piece of being injured, not being able to push your body, that is one athletes struggle with a lot. But it also brings [out] these emotional pieces we can literally run away from when we’re feeling healthy. When we have to slow down, they’re more in the forefront, and just as important as your physical limitations.”

Hillary Allen. photo:

After recovering from a near death fall in the mountains she went through the hard work of rehab only to get reinjured 18 months later in a fall that broke her fibula.

She said,

Of course I’m angry and disappointed and the transition to recovery is difficult. I know I’ll learn something from it—I’m positive of that. It’s an opportunity for growth, to learn—that’s progress.

We know that it’s never desirable to be injured and understand that prolonged injury can be a disheartening process. But you can get stronger during this difficult time and develop skills that will make you more resilient going forward.

And believe me, once you’re on the other side of injury you’ll have a greater appreciation for the gift of running!

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