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Injured and can't run: The mind of an injured endurance runner

Crutches, running shoes and the treadmill :(
Ironmancab's Photo

If you've been running a long time  or you're an endurance runner, you know that there's nothing worse than being injured and not being able to run...well there are worse things in life but not as far as being a runner goes.

You get up early every morning and look forward to a good run to energize yourself, relieve your stress, plan your day and greet the morning.  When you're finished, you feel refreshed and you feel like you've already accomplished so much and your day has just barely begun.  Running is part of who you are.  Everyone who knows you well knows that running is a big part of you and your life. 

What happens when you get injured and you can't run? I'm not just talking about for a week or two or even a month....I'm talking about for MONTHS with little hope of running in the near future.  Short lived injuries are one thing but having a long term injury is really tough for runners mentally. 

Being injured and not being able to run feels like a part of you has died.  In your mind, you're still that same runner and you want to run so bad, but your body won't let you.  You're so used to that stress relief and having races to train for and a social running life and now that you can't run...there is something majorly missing in your life.  You feel frustrated and you feel sad...and to top it all off, everywhere you look, there are people running.  You feel envious and secretly maybe even resentful.  After awhile, you start to get angry.  I really believe you go through the grieving process--five stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.   That's exactly what it feels like to me anyway.

My personal experience...which I'm currently experiencing is exactly like grieving a loss.  I went through a denial for about a year and then realized that I made my injury worse.  After that, I got pissed off...pissed off at myself mainly, because I know better.  Then...I tried to bargain, only running here and there--not doing any races, running only on the treadmill...until it hurt too bad to even do that and besides that, I wasn't getting any quality running in anyway.  Running hurt and it didn't make me feel good physically or mentally at this point.  Depression set in and then the realization that I needed to go to the doctor finally hit me.  This isn't something that is just going to go away on it's own.   Now I have accepted it and have been going to the doctor. 

I have a stress fracture in my 4th and 5th metatarsals of my left foot.  This is a tough spot to heal because you're walking on your feet and the bones are so tiny.  After 6 solid months of no running...and my foot isn't any better after seeing one doctor, I have another appointment this week with another doctor.  I'm frustrated, but I've accepted it and am being pro-active in trying to find a way to heal it and have had to come to the realization that there are other activities that I can do besides running in the meantime. 

I'm going to become one with the elliptical machine, cycling, along with swimming and lifting weights as alternatives to running until my foot is healthy.  I've learned to use breathing, relaxation and the hot tub to relieve my stress.  Also watching some funny movies and laughing is a great way to lift my spirits.  If you too have found yourself sidelined with an injury, hang in there....I know how you feel and keep in mind that running on an injury will just prolong it and your run won't be good quality anyway.  Let your body heal and then when you get back out there, you can be 100% and get back that part of yourself that you've lost!  I can't wait to feel whole again :)

Update (Aug. 28, 2009):   Had a doctors appointment yesterday with a specialist, he says it isn't a stress fracture, it is arthritis in the joint of the 4th Metatarsal.  He injected it with lidocaine and had me go out and run on it to make sure he pinpointed exactly where the problem is and sure enough he nailed it.  He put me on a prescribed Anti Inflammatory to see if that does the trick...if not, he'll either give me a cortisone shot or do surgery.  I was so glad to know that it is something more fixable than a stress fracture.  I could be out running again in 2- 3 weeks to test out whether the Anti Inflammatory is working!

If you need a good laugh...I thought this little video was pretty funny....Enjoy--I hope it makes you smile today :)