Last Updated on December 20, 2019 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
Injured? Facing the prospect of missing your goal race? Pissed off and so upset that you can’t even handle your own self right now? I feel you my running friend. “How to mentally cope with a running injury” wasn’t one of the topics you researched in detail when planning for your goal race, but here you are. In this post, we’re going to discuss how to keep your attitude up when an injury’s got you down.
And I promise to not once tell you “it could be worse”.
SO YOU’RE INJURED…
You’ve trained for months leading up to your goal race. You’ve hit all of your training runs, you feel healthy and strong. Race day is within sight, you’ve almost made it! Then suddenly the universe rips the proverbial rug out from under your feet. Your biggest fear (besides sleeping through your alarm and missing the start of the race) has come true: you’re injured. Maybe you stepped off the curb wrong and sprained your ankle. Maybe you tripped, slammed your foot into a rock, and broke your toe. Whatever happened, chances are all of your hard work instantly feels like it was done in vain. You’re pissed. Heartbroken. Nothing short of dismayed.
I feel you.
I’ve had rogue injuries sideline me from goal races more than once. A torn ligament in my ankle (thank you Warrior Dash) two weeks before a marathon. A ruptured calf muscle one month out from a 100 miler (that I had to enter via lottery).
Oh and there was that one time my guts fell out.
How to Mentally Cope with a Running Injury
Take Time to Be Pissed.
Throw a runner’s temper tantrum. Seriously, go ahead, I’m giving you permission. Cry, yell, feel sorry for yourself, bitch to your running pals or spouse. Be upset, be pissed, FEEL all of those feelings, do not try to bottle them up. And it doesn’t have to be JUST about missing a potential race, maybe you never had one planned to begin with. When running is your passion, and potentially even a coping mechanism for something more, suddenly realizing you can’t run sucks.
Once you’ve given yourself permission to truly feel – and release – those emotions, you can get to work on a more constructive, positive attitude.
Remind Yourself of What You’ve Gained
Instead of focusing on what you’ve potentially lost, instead think about what you’ve gained. That last training block, the one you were absolutely nailing? It was not done in vain…even if it feels like it right now. There are benefits to cumulative training and experience over years. The physical adaptations you made during this training block may not carry over 100% to the next time you are able to train, but unless you end up taking years off, those adaptations aren’t going to fully disappear.
Further, the confidence you built during this training cycle will absolutely carry over into your next training cycle. You know what you are capable of, you’ve done it once, you can absolutely do it again.
Focus on What You Can Do
Instead of sitting around thinking about what you can do (run) focus on what you CAN do. Perhaps now is the time to finally get back to yoga, or work on core strength – two things you kept saying you were going to do, but never got around to because you were too busy running. Focus on building upper body strength. Take time to research and work on emotional and mental strength. There’s always something you can do to better your running in the future (just be sure to follow doctors orders and stay within their recommended limitations.)
Heal Your Body.
You’re injured. You’re sidelined. These are unfortunate things you cannot control. But what you CAN control is how you approach your healing process. Similar to training for a race, following a “plan” can have a positive approach, while being stubborn and ignoring suggested guidelines can prolong healing time. Take this down time to focus on healing by:
- Complying with doctors orders.
- Following up with recommended physical therapy – and actually DOING your exercises.
- Eating well: nourish your body in a way that will promote healing.
- Hydrate well.
- Get plenty of rest.
I know that you’re going to get stir crazy, and miss running more than you miss chocolate during lent or margaritas during pregnancy. But, think big picture: do not do anything stupid to compromise your healing.
Choose Positivity over Jealousy
Confession time: when an unexpected hernia surgery meant I had to miss a 6 day stage race I was really looking forward to, I was so jealous of my friend that did get to go, that I had to block her photos from popping up on my Facebook feed. When a hurricane evacuation meant that I had to last minute miss the Barkley Fall Classic, a race I trained my ass off for, I was so bitter, I stayed off of social media completely for the entire week of the race.
While these feelings of jealousy that others get to do what you trained so hard to do – but now can’t – are understandable, I’m here to tell you they are also pretty toxic. They don’t make you feel like a good sport.
No one will blame you if you check out from the running scene while injured. That said, positivity truly is contagious. Cheering on your friends and fellow runners who do get to make it to the starting line might bring you more joy than you expect.
Even better: volunteer your time at the race. Even if you can’t run the race, you can still be a part of the race. And it will earn you good karma points in the running universe.
Plan your Comeback
Last but not least: plan your comeback. No, you didn’t make it to THIS goal race, but guess what? There are THOUSANDS of other race options out there when you are healed and ready to run again. Picking a new race to focus on will give you something excited to look forward to, instead of dwelling on the past.
Further, you can take this time to analyze what went right – and what went wrong – with you last training cycle, to hopefully ensure success next time around.
This is the point where I could tell you “just think, it COULD be worse” or “running injuries are first world problems”, or any of those non-helpful tips. Yeah, we know, it’s not actually the end of the world. Yeah, we know people have much bigger, more important issues to worry about. But at the end of the day, when running is an important part of your life, NOT running can be an emotional struggle. I hope that these tips on how to mentally cope with a running injury help bring you some peace, and that you are back to running in no time.
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.