The Greatest Test of a Runner’s Mental Toughness is an Injury

For an injured runner, the HARDEST part of recovery is all mental. Okay, yes, there will be the cross-training, the physical therapy, any necessary strengthening exercises, stretches, icing, massage, etc…that stuff is never easy but the TORTURE is all mental.
injured runner
Strip the miles from a runner and they feel naked. Half of themselves. A shell. The mentality a runner takes and holds throughout their recovery will either make them stronger or cripple them.

Running is wrought with highs and lows, injuries are unavoidable, as are the lows. Retaining sanity entails keeping the right perspective during the lows and the crappy injuries…because an injury never comes at a ‘good’ time.

Faking Rainbows

I just wrote an article for Competitor.com: “The Mental Side of Recovery”. Do read it but what I’ve said time and time again is that a positive outlook allows an injured runner to 1) be proactive in their recovery 2) gather the strength to keep moving forward 3) makes them even tougher when they do get back to running.
rainbow run
* Staying Productive: Hey, cross-training does suck; but it’s the medicine we suck down. It feels overwhelming imagining yourself ellipticalling away for months, so DON’T. Think of making it through this single workout and that’s it. Deal with this moment before you tackle the next.

* Money in the Bank: Doing that cross-training makes a world of difference when you get back to regular training. You can bust out some dang hard workouts on a cross-trainer; remember EFFORT is what counts.

* Appreciation: These injuries should give you a renewed appreciation for healthy running. When you eventually DO get back to regular training, when you catch yourself feeling ‘greedy’ take a moment to remember that your running is NEVER a given. Also remember on the days you’re thinking about wimping out on those 400’s, remember the hours spent on the elliptical where you thought, “Gosh, I can’t WAIT for the day I can tear it up on the track!” Then…follow through on that.

* The Key to Staying Positive: Faking it. Laughing. Laughing at yourself. Making light of the current suckiness of the situation. Do it. Because it does suck, but turn the suckiness into an ironic, sarcastic, snarky joke rather than let it build into a depressive black hole that sucks you in.

* Runner Mentality: It’s always easy to keep working hard when things are going right. Injuries and the tough stuff is what tests us; an injury is one of the greatest MENTAL tests of a runner.

Will you let it break you? Don’t, because it’s an opportunity to PROVE how much of a runner you are, you’ll get back to your miles. You will again feel like ‘yourself’…even better, instead of a shell you’ll be all that much stronger than the pervious you.
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There are more tips in the Competitor article.

Need to laugh at suckiness? Here are some opportunities.

It’s not all just laughs and giggles, but finding motivation from others helps too. HERE are some motivational posts to revisit.
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1) What’s the worst and longest injury you’ve ever had?

2) How did going through that injury make you stronger?
Appreciation for running…hands down.

3) What are you grateful for about your last run?
best running shirts

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31 thoughts on “The Greatest Test of a Runner’s Mental Toughness is an Injury

  1. The only running injury I have had was last spring when my it band was causing problems. It turned out to be my shoes that were the issue. I got some stability shoes, thinking I needed them, when it turned out a neutral shoe is perfect for me. I tried everything and took several weeks off before finally realizing it was the shoes. It cleared up the second I got rid of the motion control shoes. That was still pretty early on in my running “career” so it didn’t make me as antsy and angry as it would today.

    • i’m SO glad u found the right pair of shoes for u! it KILLS me when people find out injuries stem from the wrong pair of shoes because it’s an ‘avoidable’ thing…BUT u’re all set and rolling now…yay! 🙂

  2. Worst – recent hip stress fracture (left hip), 11 years ago hip stress fracture in my right hip. Most painful – tore my calf muscle in high school!!!

    The drawing about the injured runner is my favorite!!! Wanna make a T-shirt with that one? I would get it for sure!!!

  3. Longest injury: Busted my ankle up pretty badly trail running. Booted for 7+ weeks. Ugh. While on crutches, stress fractured a metatarsal in my OTHER foot, from hopping around too much. [Hilarious conversations with my insurance provider ensued.] It was about 3.5 months before I could run again.

    I definitely felt a renewed appreciation for running – AND a newfound respect for ankle stretching and strengthening – which I now advise to lots of my runners, for various reasons. So, definitely a few rainbows hidden in there! 🙂

    • oh no!! u poor thing stuck hopping around until u got another stress fracture!! i swear, all us runners come away with the ‘craziest’ stories which aren’t funny at the time but once healed they do get some ‘hahas’ at our own expense. 😛

      • Honestly, as depressing as it was – it was even funny at the time. I hobble into x-ray:

        Technician: Can you take off your (stabilizing) boot?
        Me: I can…but that’s not the foot you’re x-raying.
        Technician: *really confused look*

  4. The fact that injury hangs over me as a fear I want to stay far away from highlights just how mental it is. What else do you dread in advance as well as flounder with if it actually comes?! It is really tough. This is a great list of tips though 🙂

  5. I’ve realized that every single aspect of running/not running is mental strength!
    I had a quad injury for about 6 months last year. terrible! I tried to run on it several times because I couldn’t stand NOT running. Even worse idea since it made it worse!
    Like you said, I’m now SO, SO appreciate of every single run that’s pain free. No matter how long, short or hard that run was!

  6. I’m injured now with plantar fasciitis since November. Did the pt, strengthening, stretching, and icing. I was a mess of “suckiness”, ha ha. Then I came back too soon and was back to square one. I am stronger in my core and upper body now, which will continue. I will NEVER take running for granted again. Never. Who knew how much I would love crossfit?

    • keep on healing up!!! i’m so glad u were able to embrace crossfit and work on all the other areas of fitness while u’re healing up…ur running WILL pay off big time!

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  9. Wow, this article was EXACTLY what I needed to read right now!
    my worst injury is the one I got last week: a stress fracture in my femur.
    I was absolutely devastated when I found out, and couldn’t stand thinking of the next 8+ weeks cross training and not doing my beloved running.
    I’m trying to stay positive and think of the things I can improve, like core and upper body, or even become a better swimmer!
    take one day at a time, but also look forward to races you can do in the future.
    I know I’ll appreciate running so so much more!
    I’ll become a stronger and smarter runner because of it 🙂

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  11. On Valentine’s Day 2013 I was hit and ran over by an SUV while running. I had a couple broken ribs from impact and crush injuries to my legs (muscle, tissue, etc), partial tear of my patellar ligament on my left leg with a dislocated knee cap. The first week I was on crutches and in a full leg brace, then started physical therapy. I wore a smaller bracer for about 4 weeks then we switched to KT tape to hold the knee cap in place. Its been 8 weeks and I am almost back to 100% range of motion in the left leg and my ribs are finally feeling healed up. I am swimming (A LOT), elliptical, recumbant bike, and lifting weights in total about 10-12 hours a week! Sometimes 3 a days! Nothing I do can replace the high of running! I miss it sooo much! The weekend before I was hit I was seconds from qualifying for Boston again. They are telling me I may never run without pain or needing a patellear brace but I do not believe them!!! I was made to run and will run again soon!!

    • oh my goodness, HUGE hugs, Lia!! i’m SO thankful that u’re alive and recovering, it’s so scary how common these accidents are becoming. you stay STRONG and keep doing the rehab, u WILL get back to running! it’s horrible that this happened to u, but it’s a testament to just how TOUGH u are…keep at it!! XOXO

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