When an athlete is injured, their mind often ping-pongs daily from hope to despair. I spent most of October through December in that state as I dealt with not one, but two bizarre (non-running related!) injuries that left me unable to run. I'd wake up hopeful: maybe today I'd feel better! But the despair would flood in: It's going to be forever until I can run again - and I'll be starting from scratch. The truth is, I often had a hard time choosing to be hopeful - even though I know that psychologists have proven that hopeful people live longer, happier and healthier lives. I tried each day to choose hope. To choose to be hopeful, to be grateful for everything in my life that was going right, even if the running wasn't going the way I'd wanted. I know that statistics say that around 79% of runners will be injured in a given year, so most of us are in good company when we do suffer an injury. Of course, that doesn't mean we like it. Running is a source of great joy - and for me the need to run feels akin to the need for a daily shower. It has simply become a part of my daily routine. So how do we keep our spirits up when we are forced to be apart from the sport we love? Do Something Different:
I decided I'd take the opportunity to try some things I'd never done - like a BodyCombat class - and surprised myself at how much fun I had getting my cross-training groove on. Yes, it definitely wasn't the same as running and I missed my running friends and routine, but thankfully I got to get to know several amazing women at my gym and their friendship gave me lots to look forward to when I was putting in miles on the elliptical instead of on the roads. If you are injured, use the time to do something you've maybe always wanted to do but hadn't had the time or energy to pursue. It doesn't have to be a physical activity, but trying something that you are interested in can help remind you that there are so many things in this world to be passionate about.
Count Your Blessings:
Study after study has shown the positive effects of practicing gratitude: happiness, reduction of stress/anxiety, better sleep, and improved health are only a few of the many well documented benefits. I tried hard during the weeks rehabbing my injuries to write down a few things each day that I was grateful for. Most of them were not athletically related and that's okay - it helped me open my eyes to the fact that while running is a big part of my life, it's not the only part. Taking a few minutes to write down three things you are grateful for each day can go a long way to improving your mood during a time of forced rest.
Keep Your ATHLETE Mentality
When I'm injured I tend to go one of two ways: I either let everything slide (nutrition, sleep, core work, stretching) or I use the forced time off to focus on improving each of those things. I'll let you guess which one helps more in the long run. :) I started off with the first option (way too many cookies!) but halfway through my time off I decided that I wanted to feel better - less down in the dumps about not being able to run. And in order to do so, I needed to get back into an "Athlete" mentality. That means realizing that even though you are injured, you are still an athlete. And you can choose to use this time to get stronger and to work on establishing good habits that will improve your running when you DO make your comeback. And speaking of that....
Believe You WILL Come Back
For most of us, though we may feel like we'll never run again, an injury just means we have to take a certain amount of time away from doing what we love. We are fortunate that for 99% of us, these injuries do not spell a total end to our running career. It simply puts it on pause for a bit while our body heals. While we rest, we are still allowed to dream of big PRs, of hard tempo workouts, of long runs on crisp fall mornings. Even if you have such a layoff that you are essentially starting from scratch, know that your mind and body will remember how to do this - the road back will not be as steep nor as long as you fear. You must believe that you WILL come back, and that it will be worth the work to do so. And your success will be all the sweeter for the struggle.
As for me, I was very, very cautious when I finally got back on the roads. I ran 2 days the first week, then slowly added in a day at a time. I am being rewarded for my patience - I am back to running 6 days a week and even had a small workout this week! I am just SO, SO HAPPY to be back out there.
Run happy, friends, and be grateful.