It can happen in two ways. Firstly, there is the niggle, the niggle that is sometimes there and sometimes not. Not causing you enough pain not to run at all, it lets you know every now and again that is hasn’t gone away. If you are lucky, you carry on running and it never gets any worse; if you are unlucky, it deteriorates until you are forced to pull up injured. Then there is the unexpected injury, which for some reason often decides to appear at a time when your running is going really well. Sometimes these can be running-related, and sometimes they are not. I’ve experienced both in the last couple of years; falling up the stairs and most probably breaking a big toe put me out of action for weeks over a summer when I could have been out exploring on the trails, and an injury to my foot during a running-along-the-edge-of-freshly-mown-fields trail race the following summer caused more missed weeks.
This summer, I told myself, was going to be different. My own running was going well, as was my very newly-established Mud and miles trail running business. Fresh from a fantastic coaching course with some inspiring fell runners, I was all fired up to accelerate my own training and bring new ideas to my clients. It was during a session with a client that I was shot; at least that is what it felt like. Whilst demonstrating a drill, something hit the back of my calf, very, very hard. I immediately looked to see what had hit me, expecting to see a cricket ball lying on the grass. But as nausea overcame me, I came to the horrible conclusion that the bullet sensation and the loud popping sound was inside me. A long hobble across the park and a visit to the Minor Injuries Unit later, I was on crutches and painkillers and my summer of running was over again.
After a couple of hours moping on the sofa, I decided that I needed to take a different approach. If my torn calf muscle was not going to allow me to run for a while, I would not let it get me down. Instead, I would challenge myself not only to keep active, but to see if I could return to running fitter than I was pre-injury, and I would find as many ways as possible to keep mentally involved in, and motivated by, the sport.
Here, then, are Mud and miles five top tips for surviving injury time:
Follow orders, the orders of your doctor, physio or whoever is treating your injury. They will be thinking of the bigger picture and getting you back on your feet long term, and you should heed this too. Yes, it can be incredibly tempting to sneak out for a run because it’s a beautiful morning, or to think that you will have wasted money if you don’t start that 10K. Ask yourself which you want more, a short run out with a potential setback in recovery, or a season of good quality running? This is, of course, much easier to do if you have an injury that means you physically can’t run at all.
Read; read as much as you can. Whilst Googling to make a self-diagnosis is not recommended, there is a wealth of information on the internet that can help you understand your injury, hear from others who have experienced the same injury, and get ideas to aid your recovery and rehabilitation. If you are not sure where to begin, the Kinetic Revolution website is a great resource, covering all manner of biomechanical issues, strengthening exercises and workouts to ensure the injury does not happen again. And when you have had enough of reading about your injury, there is a whole other world of running books out there to keep you inspired, biographies being top of my list.
Keep involved. If you can’t run yourself, spending time with those who can is a great way of keeping your mojo. If you are a parkrunner, volunteer; your time will be very much appreciated. Belong to a running club? Then offer your time at training sessions. Whether its welcoming new members, selling kit or setting out cones for technical drills, it will help you to feel connected. For longer term injuries, consider getting involved in coaching – your own running will benefit from your increased skills and knowledge too when you are able to return to it. If you have entered a race but know you won’t be able to start, ask if you can transfer your place to another runner and then go along and spectate. Clapping and cheering will spur the runners on and help you feel great too.
Be active, keeping as fit as you can. There are few, if any, injuries where you can do nothing active at all, so as part of your reading, find out how you can safely exercise. Be it through swimming or upper body work at the gym, time on the cross-trainer or daily stretching, find something to do that will not only maintain at least some of your fitness while injured, but will also improve your running and reduce the risk of injury in the future. Yes, it may be torturous being stuck in a busy gym on a beautiful sunny day, but keep the end goal in sight; being back outside on those trails.
Do other things, as in things that have nothing to do with running; yes, they do exist! If your evenings and weekends have been consumed with eating up the miles, you probably have a whole list of jobs to do at home, and places and people to visit. Take some time to do them now and when you do return to running, the backlog will be cleared, leaving you feeling rather smug.
Being on the sidelines is never fun, but with a positive mindset, you can use injury time to better yourself, and your running, for the future. Good luck!