An open letter to injured runners

An open letter to injured runners

Dear Every Runner Who's Dealing With an Injury,

It's the worst. We know. New runners know, veteran runners know. Your dog knows. Being injured is the Absolute Worst. You're sad. You feel sluggish. You signed up for a race that's fast approaching and there's just no way you can slog through...except, maybe, you think you should try?!

Deep breath. There are many ways to cope with sudden injuries. And not a single one of them involves strangling someone, which is probably what you feel like you want to do.

First, you should find out what's really wrong.
Worse than having an injury is having an undiagnosed injury. Not knowing how much time you should take off might drive you crazy. "Can I run today? How about today? Should I do sprints??" If you have a race you're trying to "tough through" or get injured in the middle of a marathon training cycle, save yourself a lot of grief and see a physical therapist or other professional to get a prognosis and timeline for recuperating. And when that's out of the way, it's time to talk next steps.

You didn't choose your injury, but you get to choose your attitude.
Two choices: Week or months of self-loathing and anger over forces you can't control—or clear-eyed acceptance? Anger is certainly an easier default, while acceptance takes work (trust me, at various points, I've chosen both). But if you're playing the long game—and as a runner, you definitely are—you know that dwelling is a short-term strategy for failure.

You'll still probably be a little jealous...
Just because you're couch-bound doesn't mean your friends have stopped running. A quick (two-hour) scroll through Instagram and you'll be reminded of all the workouts you're missing and races you're skipping. Knife. To. The. Heart.

But you can keep showing up for your friends.
Even if you can't make it to the track, there are other ways of showing up. Text them "Hi, I'm still alive!!" Meet for coffee or a drink in (*gasp*) non-workout clothes. Ask about their races—or better yet, make some signs and go cheer for them. Getting a view from the sidelines might give you a new perspective on the sport you love so much.

Even so, you'll miss the regular rhythm of your training.
If you set your body clock by running (up at 6 a.m., out the door by 6:15, etc.), then the radical change of not having that anchor might make you a little, um, discombobulated. When one runner I know got injured, she went from being a dedicated early riser to a late-night vampire and her productivity took a hit. Don't make her mistake. (Not naming names, but she was me.)

Because you can, however, cross-train like a beast.
Who says your schedule has to change? Get up at the same time, as if you were still running with the sun, except now you're hitting the pool or bike or yoga or whatever your heart desires. Approach this form of training with the same enthusiasm and dedication you give to your running. Yes, this will take work, and maybe a little self-delusion, but you will reap rewards. Work that core, get stronger and more stable, keep up that cardio, and suddenly your "break" looks more like an intense—dare I say fun?—new regimen. (Get started with these resistance training exercises that work especially well for runners.) 

The thing is, you're great at focusing on finish lines.
How many runs have you done? Seriously, check your Strava. Every one of those workouts came with a finish line, whether it was the official tape at the end of a 5K or the curb on your street corner. You made it to—and through—all of those. Injuries have finish lines, too. Set your eye on that one like you set your eyes on the free bagel after your last half-marathon, and something's gonna happen quicker than you thought... (When you are ready to lace up again, you should totally sign up for these bucket-list half marathons.)

You're going to get better.
That stress fracture or IT band syndrome? It will heal. It may take a while, but it will heal. You will run again, on the same paths, with the same friends, at the same speeds, and you'll quickly forget all the frustration you felt during your layoff. Even better: You'll appreciate running all the more for your time away.

So, Injured Runner, I know your pain. Every runner does—whether they've had a stubbed toe or a slipped disc or anything in between—and we're all here to say the same thing: We can't wait to see you back out there, healthier and happier than ever before.

Read this story on Shape.

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