If there’s one thing we runners hate, it’s an injury. In the middle of the training season, an injury can be a massive setback, causing us to lose weeks of progress. When you’re used to high-impact exercises, like endurance running, an injury can shake things up. Not only must you wrestle with the disappointment of having your training schedule thrown off, but in many ways, it can feel like starting from square one.
As your body heals, you have to slowly figure out what you’re capable of and how far you can really push without risking another injury. There’s a balance between getting back in the saddle and hurting yourself again.
However, I think we as endurance runners can rethink how we cope with our running injuries. If we reframe our thinking and approach it not from a place of setback and inconvenience, but of growth and rest, we can truly benefit from this forced downtime.
4 Ways to Make Being Injured Productive for Endurance Runners
1) See rest as integral to training.
A mistake we tend to make as endurance runners is believing that we’re only moving forward if we’re active and moving. We’re only making progress when we’re training. While this is true in a sense, it ignores the holistic nature of exercise and training as an endurance runner.
Rest is something we need. It’s not an option. There is this temptation to constantly push ourselves to the limit, and often past it, for the sake of meeting distance and time goals. The body, however, needs downtime to recover. We often don’t give it that space. This isn’t to say neglect training, but it is to say give yourself room to rest even when you aren’t injured. When you are, don’t push yourself before you’re ready.
There are other areas you can focus on, such as your mental focus, your diet, sleep habits, and even your form. We’re running not just for the joy of it, but for our overall health, so tackle it holistically.
2) Learn to truly listen to your body.
When you’ve been set back by an injury, it’s prime time to become truly attuned to your body and its needs. As you slowly begin to grow accustomed to running again, you’ll find that the small aches and pains you felt before will become that much more noticeable. You’ll be cautious for fear of hurting yourself again. While this is irritating, it doesn’t necessarily have to be all bad.
What it can teach you is how to listen to your body. This is valuable in evaluating yourself down the line when avoiding injury again. It’s knowing where the line is between a natural ache and true pain. This process will help you learn how to feel everything. It also helps you identify where you are weak and what needs work—you can begin slowly strength training to avoid future injuries where you’re perhaps not as strong as you’d like to be.
3) Practice patience and self-discipline.
In the interim of an injury, you no doubt will want to get up and running as soon as possible. One of the most valuable lessons you can learn from this time of rest and recovery, however, is patience. It takes patience and self-discipline to acclimate yourself back to your running routine without over-doing it.
You’ll be told to take it easy. You’ll tell yourself to take it easy. But when the rubber meets the road, you will want to push yourself. It takes restraint to walk instead of run. It takes patience to train back up to where you were and where you want to be.
This, however, is a valuable lesson. You may feel frustrated that you can’t perform as you feel as though you should, but if you are focusing on your whole self, that shouldn’t matter. The focus on form, rest, diet, and your exercise come together and create a you that isn’t concerned with times and miles, but rather, focuses on being healthy and able-bodied for the long-term.
4) Identify and eliminate weak points.
Last but certainly not least, your time spent injured should help you learn how to avoid future running injuries. You can do this in several different ways. First and foremost, stress rest in your routine. Allow yourself to take breaks, for both your physical and mental health. You shouldn’t feel guilty for not running all the time. Allow yourself to gauge where you are and when you need to break to avoid injury.
Second, incorporate strength training into your routine. This can be a pre-run routine, or take the place of one of your running days as a full workout. Either way, strength-training can be a way to target and strengthen the muscles that are more prone to stress and injury.
Don't allow an injury to stop you in your tracks. Instead, channel that time and energy into other kinds of productivity and health.
How have you used downtime productively in your life? Share your experience in the comments.