The loneliness of the (injured) long-distance runner

As some of you may know, running is one of my all-time favourite things. I just love the feeling of complete freedom, bounding through frost-tipped fallen leaves like you’ve got wings on your feet. I love the fact that every time I go out to train I feel like I’m building myself up to be a stronger, swifter, more powerful runner. And most of all I love the feeling of satisfaction when you cross the finish line, completely exhausted and drenched in sweat, knowing that you’ve just raced over a given distance faster than you ever have before.

I love the rush. As someone who is at their absolute happiness when they are achieving the goals they set, running gives me so much. Although I’ve only being running semi-seriously for a couple of years (previously, I was a competitive swimmer), I already couldn’t imagine my life without it. Running has helped both my mental and physical health in so many ways.

So, unsurprisingly, being an injured runner is not something I cope with very well.

Injuries are a totally normal (though frustrating) part of being a runner. For all the positive things running does for your body, it also puts quite a lot of strain on your various joints and muscles, and the more you train (and the faster you ramp up your training), the more likely you are to hurt something.

This year, I’d managed to go for my longest ever time as a runner without picking up any major injuries. I mean, there was the time I fell over running through Central London (so many witnesses; so embarrassing), and had to limp the six miles home with my knees scraped and bleeding (something that has literally not happened to me since I was in primary school). And, the time when I twisted my ankle on a trail so badly that my Dad had to come and find me (covered in mud and crying like a baby) and give me a piggy-back home (I am 25). But, aside from these unfortunate incidents, I had managed to train pretty injury-free from April to mid-October this year.

Post-run stretching <3

And it paid off. I managed to (finally) go sub-1.30 for my half marathon (1:26:50 – Oxford Half Marathon, October 2017), and join the sub-19 club for a 5k ParkRun (18:55 – Hackney Marshes, October 2017). I was feeling so positive, and so excited to see where a solid block of winter training could get me in 2018. Then, I got injured.

The day after my fastest ever 5k, I decided to go for a nice, easy 10 mile run. After about 7 miles, I started to feel a twinge in my right hip. Foolishly, I decided to ignore it (‘I’m in the best form of my life right now, what could possibly go wrong?’), and finish the run.

I spent a couple of days just ignoring the fact that it was sore and trying to train like normal, then a few more trying every possible ‘cure’ for hip pain that Google could give me. There would be some mornings where I would wake up and it would be feeling better, and I would tell myself that it was starting to heal.

After a few weeks of it gradually feeling more and more painful, I finally admitted defeat and went to the Urgent Care centre at London Bridge. By this point, I couldn’t even balance on my left leg to put a flip-flop on, so it wasn’t honestly that surprising when I was told I needed to stay off it as much as possible for a couple of weeks, and that I wouldn’t be able to run for at least 6-8 weeks.

Staying happy with coffee and art

Obviously, I was totally gutted. As I am admittedly somewhat of a drama-queen, I left the hospital in floods of tears, to cry down the phone to my parents. I know that most people would consider this to be a massive over-reaction (and honestly, it probably was), but running has become such a big part of my identity, and is such a major contributor to my self-esteem, that the thought that I would just have to lounge around, losing my fitness, while all my competitors kept improving, was really difficult to deal with. I was not in a good place.

This was a few days ago, and although my hip isn’t any less painful yet, I’ve started to pull myself together, and come up with some strategies for dealing with being an injured runner.

Coping with being an injured runner

  1. Treat recovery as a part of your training cycle. Rather than sitting around sulking (which honestly, I am quite prone to do), I find that I’m able to stay so much more positive if I approach my recovery the same way I approach training. By this I mean, commit fully to the process of recovery; take the proper time to do all the physio exercises you’re given, ice / heat the injury as much as necessary, take painkillers regularly, and make sure you keep fuelling yourself as well as you can.
  2. Think about the long term. Okay, so after the first couple of weeks of being injured, I was due to race my first ever Ultramarathon. I was so excited about it, and convinced that at the end of a really good season I could put in a good performance. Up until about two days before I was still seriously considering racing it, and just dealing with whatever happened to my hip afterwards. In the past, I definitely would have done this. But by really thinking about what I want in the longer term (aka not to be so badly injured that I can’t race next season), I finally did the right thing, and pulled out.
  3. If you can cross-train, cross-train. Unfortunately, I’ve been advised to do literally nothing at this stage. But as soon as I can (see point 5), I’m going to get in the pool, and start working on my core.
  4. Focus on something else productive. If you can’t train, the temptation to just lie on the sofa and binge on Netflix and chocolate fingers can be extremely overwhelming (and sometimes probably a good thing to do). But rather than spending all your evenings doing this until you recover, you’ll feel so much better about yourself if you spend some of that time on something more productive, be that blogging, reading, or finally picking up the guitar that’s been sat in your room since 2006.
  5. Don’t go back too early. Okay so when you genuinely think you’re ready to go back, give yourself another 48 hours. Mentally it’s really hard, but physically you’ll be thankful you did in the long run.
  6. Keep linked in with the running community (if it helps). I know this isn’t for everyone, and some people feel more frustrated when they’re surrounded by friends who can run, but for me, I find making sure I keep feeling like a runner (going to watch team mates race, volunteering at ParkRun, etc) is really helpful, and keeps me motivated.

So, I better go and practice my (poor, abandoned) guitar and eat something with a large amount of carbs. If anyone has any more advice on coping with being an injured runner (or like, just wants to moan along with me), I would love to hear it.

x

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