Runners are a different species. Not only is running our sport, but it is our passion, our mental break, our chance to distance ourselves from the world and the stressors of everyday life. However, as a runner, I am sure you have suffered injuries and setbacks. You are not alone. According to Cindy Kuzma, journalist for Runner’s World, and Carrie Jackson Cheadle, mental skills expert and nationally recognized for her expertise in sport’s performance, about three quarters of runners will suffer an injury within their first one to two years of running, and an even greater number will suffer some form of injury throughout a running career. Kuzma and Cheadle, authors of the book Rebound: Train Your Mind to Bounce Back Stronger from Sports Injuries, have studied injuries and the mental toll that they can take, and educate people about the importance of your mental health during times of injury.
Is There a Good Time to Take Time Off and Reset
Runners are stubborn and do not like taking time off from their sport. However, after sustaining an injury, rest will become an important part of your recovery. Cheadle says, “It takes more mental toughness to stop and to take that break and to focus on your recovery then it does to push through. A true sign of mental toughness is wanting something so bad but be willing to back off for a little bit to give your body what it needs to hit your goals.”
We tend to focus so much on the now and the current situations we find ourselves in. But when we set a goal, we focus on the future and where we want to be one month, six months, or even one year from now. The same should apply to our injuries. We have the amazing gift of internal knowledge. We know more about our bodies and how they are feeling than anyone else. One benefit of tapping into the psychological aspect of recovery is that we allow ourselves a chance to conduct a “self-inquiry.” As you heal from a running injury, you can ask yourself, “Is it time to push hard or is it time to rest? Will pushing now benefit me three months from now or will it hinder my recovery process and push my goals back further?”
Running Becomes Our Identity
Running, or being an athlete in general, can provide you with an athletic identity. We all have different identities and play different roles in life, whether it be the role of a mother or father, an employee, or a student. At times our feeling of self-worth may be more connected with one identity than another. This tends to be especially true with endurance athletes. When we sustain an injury and are unable to train or compete, we lose a part of ourselves when we lose that athletic identity.
It is in these moments where your true identity will come out. As opposed to looking at the situation through a microscopic lens, we need to pull back and view the bigger picture. You are still an athlete; however, recovery is your new sport. The time and energy you used to put into running now gets put into your recovery. This is the time to mentally reset, work through the healing process, both physically and mentally, and learn something from the experience that will make you a better runner as you begin to train again.
The Hero’s Journey
What is a hero and how does a hero become a hero? If we think about heroes, both fictional and real, these individuals suffered major setbacks and had to overcome them in order to obtain “hero status.” For example, arguably one of the greatest athletes of all time, Michael Jordan, did not make his high school basketball team. This devastated him. So, what did he do? He got in the gym throughout the course of the next year and worked hard every day, letting that experience motivate him to be the best. The same should be done by each of us as runners.
There are mental drills that can help us push through the mental agony that comes with being unable to perform the sport we love. Kuzma said that following an injury, we each have the natural human reaction of, “Well this sucks!” But if we change our thinking, we can come out on the other side stronger than before. Change “this is going to suck” to “this is going to be hard,” and see how that makes you feel. Then take, “this is going to be hard” and change it to “this is going to be a challenge.” Now, how does that make you feel? Then you can eventually change “this is going to be a challenge” and arrive at “this is going to be an opportunity.” See how that makes you feel? Do this with small situations and practice it so that it becomes easier to do with bigger obstacles. Obstacles can be opportunities and you get better as you practice.
Being Disappointed is Alright, but Don’t Let it Consume You
As runners we belong to a very unique community. We train hard. We push ourselves to the point of exhaustion. We get excited when we set personal records and we get excited when our training partners set personal records. But what happens when we sustain an injury and we can no longer train with our training partners or friends?
As someone who has experienced a runner’s high and who loves to run, it is a common reaction to become angry, not only at yourself, but at your training partners who are still able to run. Those same training partners who are still setting personal records while you are unable to run. Being unable to train with your team or your friends may make you feel isolated, whether it is real or perceived. For this reason, Cheadle and Kuzma founded The Injured Athletes Club podcast and The Injured Athletes Club Facebook group. One of the hardest parts about being injured is the comradery that you feel your missing out on. However, The Injured Athletes Club podcast will provide you with the necessary mental skills to cope with sports injuries and the mental side of rehabilitation and recovery. Kuzma and Cheadle will also provide you with tools you can use to stay positive and resilient during your recovery.
The Injured Athletes Club Facebook group allows you to interact with other runners who are dealing with injuries of their own. It is a chance to talk about how you are feeling, both mentally and physically, and receive support from other runners to assist you in your journey. Sometimes all we want to do is talk. The Injured Athletes Club Facebook group is a great place to vent your frustrations or, even better, share stories of your successful journey.
Whether we are elite athletes, endurance athletes, or Saturday 5k runners, we are not immune from injuries. At some point it is very possible that we may sustain an injury or a setback. The most important thing to remember is, it is not the end of the world. While it may frustrate us, aggravate us, or downright cause us physical and emotional pain, it is a journey. It is your journey. Every hero suffers a setback before they reach their full potential. With that being said, remember, it may suck, it may be hard, and it may be a challenge, but in the end, it’s an opportunity to grow and come back stronger and more determined than you would have been had you not sustained the injury.
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