Have you ever experienced an injury so severe you thought you would never come back from it? Do you remember the thoughts that ran through your mind? Or the disappointment you felt? In 2017, Hillary Allen was ranked first in the Skyrunning World Series. This series consisted of high altitude endurance races spanning anywhere from 50k to 100k. Hillary, sponsored by The North Face, was at the top of her running game when she suffered a catastrophic injury after a 150 foot fall during the Hamperokken Sky Race in Norway. Hillary suffered two broken arms, two broken vertebrae, two broken ribs, ligament damage in her foot, and several bruises and lacerations. While many people may have seen this as an impossible setback, Hillary took it as a challenge and faced it head on.
What is Strength
As runners, we define ourselves as runners. When you experience a runner’s high, it is an experience like no other. But when we can’t experience that high due to an injury, especially one that will keep us away from the sport we love for so long, we will experience both physical and emotional pain. It is in these moments that you can define yourself as someone who gives up, or you can define yourself as someone who is not only a strong athlete, but a strong person.
Being a strong person may seem easier said than done. So, how do we find the strength to press forward when the situation seems so dire? Try starting a journal. Writing down affirmations to yourself will help pull you through these hard times, even if you don’t believe them. Write positive messages to yourself and then go back and read those messages. You can empower yourself and nurture a belief that your strongest athletic days are ahead of you. You may not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, you may even think it’s not there, but it is! The more you affirm this within yourself, the more you will buy into it.
Strength is also being able to rely on other people. It is ok to be vulnerable. It is in moments of vulnerability that we find the most strength. We can ask for help and that’s ok. It takes strength to rely on other people. Strong isn’t always, “Let me do it myself,” but can be, “Please, I need help.”
Be Honest with Yourself and Don’t Give Up
One of the more serious injuries Hillary suffered in her fall was a Lisfranc injury. This type of injury typically takes close to a year to fully recover from. Hillary’s doctor told her she may jog again, but most certainly would not run again. As heartbreaking as this may be to some people, Hillary made the decision to not allow this diagnosis to eliminate hope that she may not run again. Instead what she decided to do was allow the impossible to motivate her and make her optimistic. If you sustain an injury and want to get back to running, you can do it.
The first step is realizing it will not be easy. You and only you make the decision on how you are going to handle the hard times that are sure to come. It is ok to doubt yourself. It’s human nature to experience feelings of reservation and uncertainty; but doubt has the ability to foster belief. Think back to the last time someone told you that you couldn’t do something. How did that make you feel? Did it motivate you to prove them wrong or did you decide to believe what was being said? We can become so overwhelmed by focusing on our inabilities that we forget about how much we are truly capable of doing.
Surround yourself with people that want to see you succeed, with people that will listen to your negative thoughts and fears. Put those scary thoughts out there and be honest with not only yourself, but with your support group. Sometimes honesty can be hard, and if you find that you can’t do it, fake it. And continue to fake it until that self-doubt is gone and you begin to believe in yourself. People are stronger than they give themselves credit for, but you can do it. If you give yourself permission to suffer a little bit, you’ll surprise yourself with how strong you really are.
Don’t Call it a Comeback
Your return to running following an injury or a break may insinuate you are coming back, but don’t call it a comeback. Coming back means you are coming back to the same place you left off. But you are not. The journey back from an injury should make you feel like a completely different person. You cannot compare yourself to the person you were before. By doing this, you will put a lot of unnecessary pressure on yourself which will diminish the joys you should feel while running. Know that while your pace may not be where it once was, you are now a stronger athlete, with new knowledge and a greater love for running.
By calling it a comeback you put a lot of internal pressure on yourself. Pressure that is unnecessary and that can take away from the joys running should bring you. Not only do you put pressure on yourself, but it can also be frightening. However, the opposite of fear is courage. Getting back out there and running is what courage looks like. Lacing up your shoes and hitting the trail or the road and competing with yourself. Running is a celebration. It is liberating! Overcome your mental block and allow your body to do what it knows how to do: run.
You can tell yourself you are going to give up, but don’t ever give up. Look at challenges as an opportunity to dig deep into yourself, to pull from within you something you never knew you had. This will create experiences for you to draw from as you encounter future trials and will give you the strength to conquer setbacks, as improbable as they may seem. In the words of Walt Disney, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”
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