Coming back from injuries
Tere Zacher

When I started to run I noticed many differences with the way I used to train when I swam. there weren't as many drills. Technique was important but not the key element of training. Speed work was not something we would do every day. Location for running could change to trail, pavement or track whereas the pool os pretty much the same (just long course or short course). And, the most important one, running was harder on my body than swimming. 

I am not trying to compare both sports for they both are unique and have many advantages and disadvantages. I have never trained as hard as when I swam. I don't think I will never do anything merely as intense and grueling. I am not saying I don't train hard now, I do, it's just different. For once maybe it's just that my body is built as a runner and it comes "easier" to me... so, How come I ended up injured at some point of my career?

I remember a conversation I had with a fellow runner where he told me at some point everybody gets injured. I refused to acknowledge that was true. i still don't think that should be true. But then, I got injured. While it's true that running probably caused a strain in my muscles, the real injury didn't come from running per se, it came because WE FAIL TO LISTEN TO OUR BODIES and we don't want to take time off. If I would have stopped for three weeks after i got a pull in my muscle I wouldn't have caused more damage and I wouldn't have to end taking months off. But I didn't listen. I wanted to keep running. i toughed it up because I thought I could take anything and I didn't want to give up on my short term goals. What came later was a life long lesson with a happy ending, a better understanding of running and my body, and much more mental strength, but not before I endured years of pain, frustration, and many broken dreams.

So, What to do if you get injured? How to get out of there?

1 The first thing sounds easy but it's actually the hardest one: STOP.

The moment that something doesn't feel right, just stop. Right there. Not one more step, not on the next mile, not when you are done. If you listen to your body and something doesn't feel quite right, it's probably because it's not. Stopping is frustrating because we all want to finish our workouts, but at the end of the day it's better to have one (or 3 or 4) less miles than one less month of training.

Let it rest for a couple of days (yes, a couple of days without running). If it keeps hurting even when you are not running go see the doctor immediately. If it doesn't hurt, try a short, easy run after a couple of days off. If it hurts again stop and go see the doctor. If it doesn't hurt keep running easy for a couple of more days and slowly resume training IF EVERYTHING FEELS OKAY.

2 So, let's say you go see the doctor and you actually have something. The next step would be to cry and blaspheme and feel awful.

I am not saying it's okay to be miserable but it is okay to feel bad when things don't workout the way you wanted them. This step is very important because if you cry right away you will be able to move on faster. If you pretend you are okay with it, it will probably come back as a recurrent negative thought. 

I cried at the doctor's office and after I came home I gave myself a day to be miserable. The following day I started my mental training and my way to recovery.

3 Time to revisit your goals.

You may have been training for a specific race and you may still want to convince yourself you will be healed on time to race it. Let's focus on what's important here: Do you want to run in one race or do you want to keep running the rest of your life? I am pretty sure most of us want to keep running for the long haul so it's time to change your goals. I am not saying you shouldn't think of racing and going fast again, I am just saying right now is not the time for those goals. your main goal now should be to be healthy and injury free. that's your short term goal. If you are not healthy you can't run. If you can't run you can't race. If you can't race you can't get the goal you had set for you before. So, put those training and racing goals as the second step, being the first one "to get healthy'. 

I remember laying out a plan to recovery just as I lay out a plan for my training and racing. I changed daily runs for daily meditation and gentle yoga. This was helping me in more ways than not. It kept my peace of mind, it helped me to train my mind for when I trained and raced again, it helped me put things in perspective and it helped me to keep my flexibility and core strength. I also started aqua jogging 4-5 times per week. It was not exactly the same as training but it was better than not doing anything at all. It helped me keep some of my fitness up. I was aqua jogging for half an hour straight once per week, then doing intervals (sets of 8x50 yards run on a specific time) and I was also aqua jogging with a resistant cord to add endurance and strength.

Another thing I did was going to cryotherapy (I swear by it) and keep visiting Dr Moore (my chiropractor) and getting a massage as often as I could to help the injury heal.

4 Let go of control. 

Another one that sounds easy but it's not. I kept putting a dateline to heal. Every time the dateline was there and I was not completely healed I would get frustrated. So I finally understood: the body needs time to heal and only the body can tell me how long it is. I reduced my expectations to zero in terms of dates and I realized I would heal when it was the right time for me, not when I wanted it to happen. During this time I kept thinking about what a privilege it was to run and how much I would love to do it again, even if I couldn't race again or be fast again. It humbled me and changed my perspective of running. It brought me back to why I started running in the first place: because I love it, not because I want to win races or be faster or things like that. I let go of control BUT I ALWAYS KEPT BELIEVING I WOULD RUN AGAIN. This is key, you have to believe you will heal completely at the right moment. Then just do your physical therapy exercises and sit and wait. I actually remember thinking "I have the opportunity to live life as a non runner for a bit. Let's experience it and see what it is about and then I can decide whether I embrace it or not". I thought about when would be another time in my life when I would not run (never!) so I decided to experience life for a little bit in a different way (I didn't like it by the way, as you can see since I keep running)

5 Once you can run again get the doubt out of your mind.

So you get to your first run and it's just awesome. I remember feeling my heart beat, the wind on my face. i had tears coming out of my eyes. It was perfect. I didn't care I couldn't run fast or far, I just care that I could run pain free.... but then I started training again. I had a slight pain in the same area I was injured and I panicked. I stopped immediately. i didn't want to go back there! I didn't run for a couple of days and then I tried again. I had some pain again. I stopped... this came to a cycle until I realized I was afraid of getting injured again and I was letting this fear rule my run. It's completely normal not to want to go there when you have had to stop because of pain. But it's also okay to assess if it is real pain or just discomfort (so we go all the way back to step 1). It's okay to be cautious but at some point you have to trust that you are healed (considering you followed everything your doctor said and you were gave the a-ok to run and train again) and you need to start pushing pass that mental slump. Will I get injured? be honest with yourself: Is it pain, fear or discomfort? If it's pain, you know how it feels, it won't stop and it will interfere with your daily life. If it's discomfort, it will stop after you stop running and rest a little and, in this case, it's okay to keep going since discomfort will help you get out of your comfort zone and run faster and longer. If it's fear, well, fear is generally based on assumptions and not on facts and the only one who can get you away of it is yourself, by facing it. 

I hope none of you are never injured and, if you happen to be there right now, I hope this helps. Hang in there and enjoy the ride. your injuries will make you stronger and wiser and will make running more enjoyable when you can do it.

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