Notes from an injured runner (on the road to recovery)
When I woke up and put weight on my leg to find shooting sensations of pain in my calf and ankle I was pretty sure I’d broken it, I couldn’t put weight through it, I couldn’t even rest it on something like the bed without being in agony, I must’ve broken it, right?! Wrong! I hadn’t broken it, and I knew that deep down, but that didn’t mean it was simple. In some ways it was harder because it took time to figure out what was happening. As the chiro said “you’re not an easy case”. It took 10 weeks for me to be able to start to run properly again. 10 weeks is nothing to most people, it’s nothing in a lifetime, but in the agony of not doing the thing you love to do, it most certainly feels that way. I thought as I’m building up strength and not exactly racing, I’d switch tact and write a few things that I’ve learnt on my way to recovery. It may help if you find yourself in that situation, or it may just pass the time for 5 minutes, either way I guess you gotta read on to find out…
1. People will be incredibly confused about what to talk to you about…
And it’s totally not their fault. I’ve run pretty much 5 times a week since I started, I’ve had a few minor niggles here and there that have taken me out for a week, but nothing major. Running is the thing that I do and everyone knows it, frankly because I don’t shut up about it. That really is the thing I talk about, the thing that breaks down my social anxiety, it’s what lights me up. So after the 1st week or two of the “when do you think you’ll be back at it” line of questioning, people just get totally lost with what else there could possibly be to engage with you on. Note to self, be more interesting.
2. They will also now be really smug that running is the actual devil
So you know all those people who told you that running will damage your knees, feet, elbows, toe nails (well ok they are totes right on the toenail thing). Well yeah they will come at you like wildfire with their ‘I told you so’ glance. Don’t worry though I took smug to a whole new level telling them that my injury was way more likely to have been caused from sitting at a desk for too many hours, than it was from running.
3. You will secretly hate everyone who can run
I tried so hard to be incredibly supportive of everyone in the running community, I promise I did. But there was still that little, totally terrible, part of me that wanted to mow down every single runner I saw; especially on the sunny days, when there’s a light breeze in the air. I was jealous of every single one of them, pretty constantly. It’s not a nice colour to wear, but it’s totally normal.
4. But volunteering is the actual cure
I missed being around running so much, I missed getting up and out first thing in the morning or last thing at night, and then I realised I didn’t have to miss any of those things. I started volunteering at Parkrun and then at races and events. It gave me that sense of community and involvement, sure I was gutted when the start line went off and I was stuck behind it, but far less gutted than if I was sat at home not being a part of it. Plus just think of those run karma points!
5. You’re only as resilient as your resilience strategy
ok so we’ve had a little fun and now for the heavy stuff. I am incredibly open about my mental health, I think I can be because I’ve been in control of it for so long now. I can see the black dog coming and even greet him like an old friend, he’s not scary anymore or so I thought. This completely changed that mindset. I unravelled fast without running. It was scary to see myself as this incredibly resilient human who had been through pretty much the worst of things and survived, be so lost and alone, and so quickly. I didn’t like it at all, but it reminded me of my own vulnerability. I came up with a new strategy and things started to lift, but it reminded me that we are all incredibly fragile. Anything can happen in life that might completely throw you, you might be expecting it or you might not. That doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human. For me I know I’ll be ok if I call it, if I tell someone or tell the world. If I’m hiding it I know I’m in deep trouble, and at the start of this I was. Whatever your checks and balances are, its good to check in on them and make sure you’re not too dependent on one thing or one person to bring you happiness, you have to find a way to remain balanced even if that all important jenga piece is removed.
6. Goal get it
Just because your goals may have been interrupted that doesn’t mean you are now goal-less, change them, they’re yours to do with as you wish. For me having a goal and achieving it is pretty important, I’m the gold sticker girl in primary school. Mine started small, get back in to a fitness routine, then it was to improve swimming, swim a mile, swim 3k, swim in the sea, get a bike, ride that bike, ride the bike further, don’t fall off the bike… you get the gist. It may not be what you thought you would be doing, but that’s ok, life is surely about twists and turns. Having something to work towards amidst the turmoil is a way to stay grounded.
7. Everyone is a doctor
I feel like I’m giving people a rough time here but I mean well as do they. Seriously though everyone will diagnose you, and give you there two pence as to what you should be doing. Just listen to yourself and the professionals, even if someone has had the exact same thing as you, your body will respond differently, it’s great to canvas views and get advice, but it can be overwhelming when your recovery routine goes from 3 exercises to 747 exercises in the space of one pub chat. Take what works for you and dump the rest. And I know I’m basically a massive hypocrite for writing this whole point 7.
8. Professionals aren’t perfect
Just like the rest of us, professionals have good and bad days at their job. They have aspects that they are good at and those that they are not so good at. Just because you are seeing someone doesn’t mean you are stuck with them. If your rehab isn’t working, your progress isn’t happening or you’re not in agreement with them then move on. It’s your body and your money at the end of the day. I switched 3 times before I was satisfied, and I’m so glad I did. I now have a routine that is working, a diagnosis that makes sense and a road out of this whole mess.
9. Knowledge is power
If something goes wrong then I implore you to use it as an experience to learn about your body and the why this is happening. One, it is pretty fascinating, and two, you really don’t want this to happen again and again. Sure sometimes you trip and fall over and hurt your knee and you need to wait for a week for the swelling to ease before you run. If however like me you end up with something totally random going on, understand why, and how, and what you can do about it. It’s all a learning experience and something to add to your arsenal of tips and tricks when you’re playing doctor to your friends.
10. Follow the rules
right, you wouldn’t turn up to the start line of a marathon having done no training, well some of you might but most of us wouldn’t. You don’t ignore your training plan, so don’t ignore your recovery plan. For the most part your rehab routine might take 20 minutes, that’s nothing compared to the 6,7, 10 hours you’ve been spending running each week for the last god knows how many years. You won’t get better by doing nothing, and you definitely won’t get better by ignoring it and doing everything. Rules can be broken sure, but when you’re broken the rules really are the best way to get back in the game.
The last thing I guess I want to say is just remember to be kind to yourself, both in the sense of giving your body the time and attention it needs to heal, but also be kind to your mind. For me it was honestly like losing a chunk of my identity, it hurt. I got annoyed at myself for feeling all those emotions, but that’s crazy. I’m allowed to grieve the loss of running, just as I was allowed to grieve the loss of Pepsi the rabbit when I was a kid. Ok so one of those was permanent loss and one of them was temporary, but I can feel them in whatever way I need to get me to other side, as can you!